I first heard The Weeknd about five years ago now—back when we all assumed The Weeknd was a group—and became instantly enamored by this gauzy new brand of narco-R&B. I assumed that I would quickly get tired of his relentless tales of overdosing with Bulgarian supermodels in hotel showers, but to my surprise, I've consistently remained engaged with his music over the years; partly because he's continued to evolve, and partly because I've discovered new ways to dig into the music.
Case in point, a little game I've developed called "Find the Lowkey Terrible Weeknd Lyric."
When a rapper writes something particularly groan-inducing, it's (usually) instantly obvious, but because The Weeknd delivers his terrible lines in the same droning, hypnotic voice as his catchy hooks, it often takes multiple listens before you realize that he's been gently crooning about a girl who has to pee so bad she's going to need bladder surgery or making an extremely confusing reverse-racism-jewelry reference.
And so when Starboy hit my headphones, I had dual impulses. First, to simply listen to the music. And two, since I'm an insane person, to Where's Waldo-style track down a terrible line I knew must be lurking somewhere in the album like a home invader. I know it's there, we just have to find it.
Let's go looking...
"Let a nigga brag Pitt / Legend of the fall took the year like a bandit" — "Starboy"
Get it? It's a Brad Pitt reference, but because he's bragging, he called him Brag Pitt. I suppose it could have been worse, the guy could have been balling like Shawn Bragley.
That's the kind of terrible pun even Lil Wayne would be embarrassed to make. No, I take that back, Lil Wayne's not embarrassed about anything. Okay then, that's the kind of terrible pun even J. Cole would have to resist. No, I take that back too. You get what I'm trying to say, though, that's a terrible pun.
The only thing that's saving this from worst status is the Legend of the Fall reference right after it. I have to admit, considering it's both a BRAD Pitt movie title and a nickname The Weeknd's given himself, I can appreciate that there are levels to this shit. It's in the running, but I suspect we can find worse.
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"David Carradine, I'ma die when I cum" — "Ordinary Life"
Sweet baby Jesus, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. Was that really necessary, Abel?
Just in case you don't get the reference, David Carradine was an actor best known for starring in the hit '70s show Kung Fu and, to younger audiences, for his work in the Kill Bill franchise. He's also, also best known for accidentally committing suicide by choking himself with a belt while masturbating.
There's no way around it, that line's imagery is pretty gross...but in the context of the song, I can also admit there's a certain amount of intelligence to it. The Weeknd's driving recklessly while enjoying oral ministrations and so is, like Mr. Carradine, likely to end his life on a high (low?) note. It's bad, a potential song-ruiner if you think about it for more than ten seconds, but I just can't shake the feeling that we can find even worse...
"Got a sweet Asian chick she go low mane [mein]" — "Reminder"
And...we found it!
It's a terrible pun, it's racist, and he repeats it just to drive home the terrible point. That's the trifecta right there.
Perhaps what bothers me most about this line is that it's just another iteration of the "I'm so high that my eyes are low like an Asian," which precisely 4,478 rappers have used and, somehow, all thought they were particularly clever for coming up with it.
There might be no clearer proof of The Weeknd's power than the fact that he could include this line and no one—not the producer, not a manager, not someone at the label—was apparently unwilling or unable to convince him that he could do a lot better on the biggest R&B album of the year.
Fittingly, though, as he points out on "Reminder," no matter how strange his lyrics are, no matter how many times he writes songs about doing enough cocaine to kill a baby elephant, teenage girls are going to sing along to each and every word regardless, so why bother to change?
At this point it feels like he's playing the same game, trying to see just how far he can take it, just how he can have millions of people happily eating up a David Carradine reference because he wrapped it in enough sonic excellence to make it go down smooth. And so I say to you, Abel, that as long as you're down to play "Find the Lowkey Terrible Weeknd Lyric," I am too.
Let the games never cease...