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The Weeknd, "Starboy," and the road to another pop blockbuster

Ralph Bristout

 // Aug 31, 2016

Adrien Vargas // REVOLT

Labor Day is around the corner, which brings to mind a couple things. For one, Made In America will close out summer festival season. Secondly, Kanye may have failed on a certain promise made back in February (Hint: Turbo Grafx 16). Thirdly, aside from approaching cooler temps and TV series premieres, the summer makes way for fall — a season that any team XO fanatic will know is the signature season for one particular artist: The Weeknd.

As the self-proclaimed "King of the Fall" (his last three albums released in, or near, the third season of the year), Weeknd has something up his sleeves for the follow-up to last year's pop monster, Beauty Behind the Madness. Debuting at No. 1 in more than 70 countries, scoring a couple Grammy Award wins (Best Urban Contemporary Album, Best R&B Performance), in addition to an RIAA certified triple-platinum plaque and a raft of multi-platinum singles (every single from the LP has been certified platinum), Beauty Behind the Madness positioned Weeknd as a pacesetting heir to the pop throne.

Plus, as if that wasn't enough, this week it was revealed that the acclaimed release allowed the singer to set not one, but two Guinness World Records for having the most streamed album on Spotify in one year and having the most consecutive weeks in the Top 10 of Billboard's Hot 100 by a solo male artist. Where he takes it from that point is anyone's guess, but one thing for certain is the fact that it'll involve him setting a new bar.

It was in March when he officially teased the follow-up, taking to Twitter to reveal the latest "chapter" was almost ready. In that same month, he bowed out of Rihanna's international Anti tour to reportedly finish up the project. A source told Billboard, "[Abel] has hit a stride on his new album and decided not to interrupt the process." Producer Benny Blanco later posted a photo of the singer in the studio on his Snapchat, further substantiating the evidence that a new album is underway.

From there, silence would shroud the mysterious release — that is until Weeknd himself gave a slight bit of information to Vogue about its direction. According to the writer of the story, "Weeknd purists will be pleased to hear that he's in the studio with the House of Balloons team again." The singer also assured that despite reuniting with the old gang (llangelo, Jeremy Rose, and Doc McKinney), who are responsible for crafting the inimitable sound that reshaped R&B, sonically the project would be "a new thing." While the announcement drew excitement from fans awaiting that dark, gloomy House of Balloons-y sound, Illangelo hopped on Twitter earlier this month to break hearts the news that he would not be involved.

Illangelo may not be involved, but Doc McKinney certainly is. After putting his signature touch on the lauded works of _House of Balloons and Thursday, McKinney is expected to return in some capacity on the new project. The pair have been spotted in the studio on several occasions.

In May, Justin Timberlake confirmed that he and Abel were in talks of working together. "Abel and I have been talking about doing a collab soon," said Timberlake, before hinting that the track could "maybe" end up on Weeknd's LP. "He's working on an album right now," he added. "I don't know if I'm supposed to say that, did I just mess up something? He's always in the studio anyway."

Cashmere Cat grabs The Weeknd and Francis and the Lights for "Wild Love"

Other names attached to the project include Daft Punk, who reportedly shared studio time with the singer recently for a mysterious collaboration. Hinting at the possibility, Weeknd issued the following post on Facebook:

🤖🤖

Posted by The Weeknd on Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Besides the robots, the old gang and Mr. "Can't Stop the Feeling" JT, Cashmere Cat has also locked in studio time with the "Often" singer. Just last week they released their collab "Wild Love," a chilly record that also features Francis and the Lights. Although the record is set to appear on the Norwegian singer's upcoming album Wild Love, the single is just one of many collaborations between the two stars.

With all the names involved, Weeknd appears to be building a much more polished, dark twisted fantasy on the new album. It was fitting that he rediscovered his signature dark euphoria on Beauty, mixing his narcotized, black-light-ready lullabies ("The Hills," "Earned It") with flashes of glossy, bluesy, pop appeal ("Angel," "In The Night"). But where 2015 felt like he was warming up, since he figured out a way to bring his dark and sticky sound to the mainstream under a glossy package, the follow-up may just see the Weeknd successfully merge the two worlds and soar to rarified heights.

xo

A photo posted by magnus august (@cashmerecat) on

All of these signs have culminated into the mysterious post Weeknd released last week on Instagram, featuring a pillow labeled "Starboy." The vague title has since become his bio on Instagram, and its corresponding emojis (⚡️✝⚡️) have already replaced his bio on Twitter. Last year, the singer pulled off a similar tactic for the Beauty Behind the Madness rollout.

Is Starboy the latest chapter in Abel's mood music series? With fall around the corner, it's a safe bet that the XO family has a few things up their sleeves. We got a taste on the "Rambo" remix earlier this year, and now with "Wild Love" once again starting up the engine, an update is sure to arrive soon.

Soon come.

UPDATE: As of September 21, The Weeknd officially kicks off King of the Fall season by formally announcing STARBOY as his third studio album.

NEW ALBUM COVER / TITLE shot by @nabildo #STARBOY

A photo posted by ⚡️✝⚡️ STARBOY ⚡️✝⚡️ (@abelxo) on

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