Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Beauty Behind the Madness (2015)
Part of what makes The Weeknd interesting is this commitment to this disaffected persona that Abel Tesfaye puts forth in his albums. I know nothing about what Tesfaye is like in real life, but as The Weeknd, he's forever aloof, staring into the middle distance as a wild party rages around him, doing drugs as a muscle memory, half-heartedly eating pussy. It was thrilling, in a way, to see something so bleak in R&B, a genre that had long been known for sexy slow jams to fuck to, but that thrill was far from sustainable. Nihilism rarely is.
And now The Weeknd is back with more dead-eyed hedonism in Beauty Behind the Madness, but something is different this time around. This album, while certainly much more pop-ready and radio-friendly, has an insidious quality that lurks beneath its sexual party beats and catchy hooks. Perhaps the bleakness that pervaded The Weeknd's earlier albums and EPs came from the fact that he knew that what he was doing – the partying, the drugs, the meaningless sex – was going nowhere, that maybe he knew he deserved better, that you definitely deserved more from him. In Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd has given up, resigning himself to this life of empty decadence and deciding that this is simply who he is now – unapologetic, inconsiderate, openly disdainful. The Weeknd of Beauty Behind the Madness does not eat pussy.
The strength of Beauty Behind the Madness comes from this heel turn from a known heel. Nihilism may not have a lot of mileage, but it's to Tesfaye's credit that he put together a fresh new step in his persona's downward spiral. Beauty Behind the Madness presents The Weeknd as someone who's tired of feeling bad for himself, tired of apologizing. This is The Weeknd as someone whose self-actualization has revealed that underneath all that pained introspection is just a bad person.
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz
Listen here: mileycyrus.com/andherdeadpetz
There's this tension between Miley's performative stoner/party girl persona and the sad introspection that makes up the best parts of her albums. She's got those country music sadness ballads running deep in her musical DNA that, much like her Disney past, she won't ever really be able to distance herself from, no matter how hard she parties or how many drugs she takes and I think that's what appeals to me about her, that her partying and psychedelic aesthetic is such a transparent attempt to cover up an inner sadness.
Bangerz was a great breakup album because it took place in such a specific point of a breakup, that time when you're covering up your pain by announcing how fun you are, how ready you are to get back out there, how you're done feeling bad and you're ready to move on (but not really) by getting reckless. Its strongest moments were the saddest ones, the ones away from the party where Miley gets a chance to take down her Mike Will Made It walls.
Similarly Dead Petz takes place in another very specific post breakup moment, the one where you've achieved an epiphany/clarity (perhaps partly premature because of drugs). Dead Petz is about accepting loss, being lonely, and more importantly, being ready to move on. The drugs and the psychedelia in Dead Petz, like the Mike Will Made It club beats in Bangerz, are both set dressing and coping mechanism, working to take her mind off her inner turmoil. Her coping mechanisms and the causes she chooses to champion from her position of privilege are invariably the least interesting things about Miley on Dead Petz, but the difference here is in the after effect. In the bleakness of Bangerz, the party ends and nothing's changed, but in the more hopeful Dead Petz, when she comes down from the high there's still that loneliness, but there's also awareness and self-examination. It's a small victory, but after any heartbreak you take those when you can get them.