The Weeknd (yes autocorrect it is really spelled like that. Stop interrupting my flow) is a great artist. He is one of the few who seem to know how to use the “Sad Boy” rap beats in any meaningful way. He had a giant mainstream debut a couple years back and then just vanished, potentially only become a guest artist at best (Was Starboy really 2016!?). That seemed to be a premature thought. He’s come back swinging recently with two new songs, “Blinding Lights” and today’s song “Heartless.”
“Heartless,” to give the game away early, is real good, but takes a couple listens to really sink in.
It has this great beat and vibe to match with the theme of being, what it wants you to think is heartless. What should be a high tempo beat is washed out, steady, and droning. It makes the ideas of all the women, partying, drugs, and stardom you could want feel like a total waste and not what the narrator really wants.
The verses and chorus support this through and through. They are all ploying acts to try and convince himself that he enjoys his life of partying (and etc.) because he is indeed a heartless, bad person. He believes this is just who he is, can’t change, and won’t change. He is so adamant about it he says he’s a “low life for life” (cause he’s heartless). He even pretends to care so little that he feels entitled to being what every girl needs (just ignore the fact he’s trying to find a girl to fix him and therefore actually is the one in need in that scenario).
This facade the song puts up is interesting at first, and only gets better with a great payoff when the bridge hits near the end of the song. It cuts that droning beat and fills it with a steady hum. It is used as a moment of clarity when he (the narrator) is forced to realize the truth about who he is. His special person (significant other of some kind) returns to talk sense into him. It just breaks him because they won’t let him be that broken “heartless” person anymore. It’s openly questioned why they won’t let him be that way in the backing track. Only the stubbornness of the narrator comes in and says he’ll prove it with a “clear tone.” This coincides with the previously removed drone returning to act as proof. It then repeats the chorus to try to solidify his heartlessness in the end.
The video features The Weeknd and his friend (is that Young Metro Boom, the songs producer?) stumbling their way through Las Vegas trying being ballers. Instead they look completely wasted. They’re stumbling and can hardly stand.
It’s all visually stunning. Las Vegas is a great location to set this video and deal with the songs theme as it cuts between the dazzling exteriors and empty interior shots. It’s all pretty strong until he licks a frog (yeah I didn’t see it going there either). The frog licking makes him sober up (more by realizing he’s completely wasted over literally sobering him. That isn’t a bad idea to keep with the theme of the song. It just disrupts the beat, messes with the production, and makes it the least optimal way to enjoy the song in the end.
Overall the song is good stuff. It’s too bad “Blinding Lights” makes those ideas more prevalent, and has a great 80s synth-wave beat with more energy, and no mumble mouth. Yeah this song has a real mumble problem that made me turn to reading the lyrics while the song played to really get what it was saying.
That’s not to say this song is not good, but in comparing the two this one is weaker, and would most obviously be popular. It’s got that sad boy, drowned out beats that are just energetic enough to make it into a solid club jam. On the surface it’s all about having girls, taking drugs (what’s a Tesla Pill? Elon Musk, what are you doing now???), partying, being a star, and doing it all cause you don’t care. That’s where the zeitgeist is at right now, and this is one of the best versions of those types of songs. It’s also just good that our Starboy can earn it again (ohh I’m so clever. Too bad Earned it is probably his weakest song).