Last year, two mixtapes dropped that shifted R&B on its axis: Frank Ocean's Nostalgia, Ultra and The Weeknd's House of Balloons. Both took the standard propulsive club groove and softened it with production nuance, the lyrics conceding to self-doubt and disappointment. Soul jams were supposed to be the providence of sexual dominance and drama: R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet is the result of this logic taken to absurd levels, but that's because no one does it better, or bigger, than Robert. Some blithely chalked up the difference to hipster context: Ocean is on the Odd Future roster, The Weeknd samples Beach House and Siouxsie and the Banshees. But for The Weeknd in particular, the difference is not only the hypnotic production but the poignant expansion on the standard R&B lyrical narrative of clubs, drugs, and ambiguous women. The Weeknd combines rap swagger, psych spectacle, and emo introspection in a way universal to those erotically seasoned or romantically meek. If my bespectacled ass is rolling on the freeway — en route toward or on the way back from the kind of shimmering Friday night that every young person envisions — I want The Weeknd at head-nod volume while a still-amped dance partner releases Parliament Light exhaust toward the ether.
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