Uncovering all the clues that tie The Weeknd's 'Starboy' videos together
Digging deep into the recurring narrative behind Weeknd’s string of visuals.
What does the cross represent? How does the panther fit into all of this? What’s Daft Punk doing?
Since February 24, 2011, the month and date he uploaded “What You Need” on YouTube under the username “xoxxxoooxo,” Abel Tesfaye, otherwise known to millions as The Weeknd, has captivated audiences with not just his satin-smooth vocals, but also the air of mystery behind his dark, compelling music videos. No one is making music videos like the alt-R&B-turned-pop star.
In 2015, we saw him narrate his growth from dark prince of R&B to pop virtuoso in front of our eyes, via the storytelling told in the visuals for “The Hills,” “I Can’t Feel My Face,” “Tell Your Friends,” and “In the Night.”
Beneath the blood, the arson, shootouts and the murders, the Grant Singer-directed videos provided an element of symbolism to Weeknd bidding adieu to his past glories. This narrative could be interpreted as the singer selling his soul to the devil, which was represented through the use of the Lynchian tableau — the elderly fella perched on a chair — haunting every video, as well as the multiple obstacles the singer came faced with (car wreck, shootouts, flames), only to later reclaim his freedom. Or so we thought. In “I Can’t Feel My Face” he is dancing for the devil, playing to his tune and “Tell Your Friends,” he puts a bullet in him, only to find him in “The Hills.” The story is all over the place, considering the separate release of each videos, but the theme is there.
Fast forward to Starboy, the latest chapter in his dark, twisted fantasy, and Weeknd’s visual storyboard once again unravels before our eyes.
This week, the singer unveiled an intergalactic scene for the visual to “I Feel It Coming,” the hit album’s Daft Punk-assisted closer. Directed by Warren Fu, we find our musical hero once again ducking and dodging a brush with death as told through his signature extraordinary fantasy. Playing a literal Starboy, Weeknd dances around a Mars-like planet, waiting for his Stargirl to morph into human form. However, following an eclipse, the woman gets turned into stone and later crumbles into rubble after a heavy wind knocks her over. Emerging from this rubble is a black snake, which the Weeknd reaches over for and he too transforms into into stone à la Han Solo’s hibernated fate in “Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back.” In the end, he gets snowed over and Daft Punk emerges out of nowhere to recover what appears to be a neon leftover of Weeknd’s existence.
In the end, we get left with many questions. What’s the neon residue represent? Why did The Weeknd turn into stone, and how the hell did he end up there in the first place? In an attempt to uncover the meaning behind the five Starboy videos (sans “Reminder”), including the “M A N I A” short, and pick apart the continuity between visuals and themes, we watched “Starboy,” “M A N I A,” “False Alarm,” “Party Monster,” and “I Feel It Coming” and came to the conclusion that Weeknd could be experiencing an out of body experience throughout all these vids. But don’t run with our guesstimation without checking out the reasons below.
“Starboy” into “M A N I A”
Out with the old, in with the new. Just like he does his Instagram timeline when getting ready to announce a new “chapter,” and in the videos for the Beauty-era, Weeknd destroys his past to introduce us to the new. In this case, the “new” is the Starboy-era version of himself and through the direction of Grant Singer, we see him sporting an iced out Crucifix as breaks into a version of his Beauty Behind the Madness alter-ego’s residence and ransacks the place before stealing a pinkly-lit, illuminated cross. Much can be said for this cross and what it symbolizes. In the end, he destroys all evidence and history of his past and drives off with a black panther.
Carrying on the narrative, the 12-minute short “M A N I A” finds the singer carrying on from where he left off in “Starboy.” It begins with him zipping through the twisties of Mulholland Drive in a red McLaren P1 with the panther riding shotgun and later closes with the mentioned panther morphing into a love interest. It seems, based off this video, that whoever earns Weeknd’s interest, eventually finds themselves in life or death situations. In this case, the panther, which transforms into love interest, saves his life following an attempted murder. From there, they dance the night away and let the angelic sounds of “I Feel It Coming” shower the scene.
“False Alarm” into “Party Monster”
Jumping from murderer and home raider, Weeknd gets involved in a bank robbery turned high-speed chase all told through a first-person viewpoint. The bloody, explosive, action-packed visual, carries on the narrative in that once again we find our subject falling for someone. After failing to toss a bag of money from one van to another in order to save one girl he and his crew handcuffed and placed in their van, an attempt on the singer’s life once again occurs until the girl saves him. Soon after the van crashes, leaving him in a bloody mess. After he insists that this girl runs to safety with a bag full of money, the singer, who is left with a glass shard in his stomach, shoots himself as the cops draw near. This leads to “Party Monster,” a visual that can best be described as a trippy haze that symbolizes Weeknd floating around an out-of-body limbo.
Paranoid, as he sings on the single, we find the singer in such a crazed state, which could be due to the events of “False Alarm,” that it drives him off a cliff. Within this dreamlike state following his death in “Alarm,” we find Starboy traveling through a tripped out alternate universe that features the cross as a prominent fixture. Our theory is that the cross represents a double-edged sword that comes with the good and bad. “Starboy” saw him capture the tool, only to later have it return as a constant reminder during his “Party Monster” limbo and this is following the attempt on his life in “M A N I A,” which culminates in him actually taking his own life in “False Alarm.” Basically, the illuminated symbol represents a gift and curse for Weeknd, which could be love since, as proven by the events in these visuals, every time he falls for someone,his is faced with a life or death scenario.
The panther, the hostage, and the Stargirl…
After driving off the cliff, our theory is that this state of limbo continues for Weeknd. As he continues to travel through this spiritual journey in “I Feel It Coming,” he meets his “Stargirl,” once again falling in love. Yes, as we’ve learned, with love comes a threat. After an eclipse takes place, the woman gets turned into stone and later crumbles. At this point, and as we’ve followed throughout this Starboy series, it’s no coincidence. As if these videos were created in an attempt to emphasize one of his lines from the album (“I know there’s been stigma around me / I know you heard things about me” on “All I Know”), the singer can’t seem to win when it comes to love. In this case, not only does he eventually lose the girl, he too turns into stone and gets covered by erosion. By the end, Daft Punk steps up out of nowhere to recover the body of the singer and discover the illuminated pink cross, which could very well be the Starboy himself.
So what does this all mean? Like David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust alter-ego, Weekend’s Starboy persona is something sent by a higher being. In Ziggy’s case, it was the fact that he was sent by the “Infinites” to announce the coming of a Starman. For Weeknd, we conclude that his initiation with the devilish figure from the BBTM era, which took place in “I Can’t Feel My Face,” has since evolved and turned him into the chosen one like Ziggy, fulfilling the duties put in front of him, which fittingly began with “Starboy.”
Overall, beyond the hidden meanings and assumptions, within this latest batch of visuals by The Weeknd, we see a man once again turning over a new leaf and proving once again, no one is doing music videos like he does.