Hey, The Kids Like It

The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face": Why This Song Sucks

Let’s recap the things in the world that — at present time and space — suck, OK?

A few weeks ago, I walked through the depths of curiosity about Jidenna’s “Classic Man." I called it something along the lines of pandering and said that its creator, although ripe with decent intentions, had created something like a pop music Trojan Horse. When he and Janelle Monáe appeared on New York’s Hot 97 to address Iggy Azalea's claim that they sampled her song, not only did they use the "Marvin Gaye rule" in their defense, they bluntly said, “she steals from us, we steal right back.”

Still, that didn’t stop people from thinking I was attacking Jidenna personally. I had hoped that The Eephus EP released on Monáe’s Wondaland imprint, would have at least told me Jidenna is capable of far greater things than “Classic Man." Sadly, it did not. In fact, it just included “Classic Man” and the Kendrick Lamar-featured remix. My hopes for Jidenna being better than "Classic Man" will have to wait another day.

Then, Salon and God knows whatever middle-class band of ironists decided to go full dissertation on the meaning of “fuckboy” without once consulting someone who knew the actual meaning of the word. Sorry, millennial dating culture, “fuckboy” does not and will never mean “a guy who likes sleeping around." A “fuckboy” will forever be associated with someone who does trifling, vile, unnecessary shit. But that was Jidenna, and there’s far more music out there that your ears need saving from.

But nobody has been saved from The Weekend in 2015. Not even me.

The Weeknd is arguably the hottest male R&B singer of 2015. He’s commanded the Billboard Hot 100 like no other solo artist save maybe Fetty Wap, and has changed out singles at the top like new clothes. Of his three major singles this year, “The Hills” peaked at No. 5; “Earned It” peaked at No. 3; and “Can’t Feel My Face,” the mock Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson record Chris Brown wishes he could have made, is currently king of the land. That’s right, a far too easy to point out nod to one of the greatest entertainers ever – is the hottest song in the country.

Friends and other music heads attempted to tell me that The Weeknd vs. Frank Ocean was a thing. Then Frank Ocean decided he didn’t want to come outside anymore, or release music and we were stuck with The Weeknd. We were stuck with a drug-obsessed version of Future, if only Future truly cared about nothing but voyeuristic sex and the occasional Daria marathon. I mean, he kind of does but he doesn’t look like the type to stare into nothing while sex is happening. The Weeknd is your worst pop music nightmare and his attempts at being millennial weird Michael Jackson is even worse. And “Can’t Feel My Face,” a song people have declared to be the song of the summer, is his biggest crime.

Let’s admit something to ourselves. The Weeknd has one, and I mean one, great album: 2011’s House of Balloons. I would rather hang with Ronda Rousey for 30 seconds inside an Octagon then time-warp to meet ‘80s Mike Tyson for a fight than try to sit through Kiss Land. I fear that after reading his glowing New York Times profile that his new album, Beauty Behind the Madness, will make me fall into a vat of Max Martin pop songs co-opted by Taylor Swift. That druggy kid from Toronto became accessible to everybody the moment he made “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey),” and it hasn’t stopped since. We only like “Can’t Feel My Face” because The Weeknd is doing his best to bring out a druggy, zombified Michael Jackson back to life.

Just from vocal inflection alone, “Can’t Feel My Face” is a send-up of Jackson. The rushing “whoop” is Jackson up and down and the glitz of it is so ‘80s pop that you realize that you’re falling right into The Weeknd’s trap. There’s never been any sense of happiness in his music, not in any space of those dreads he has billowing from his head like a tower.

Know how much of a crazy spell The Weeknd has on America? Wrap your head around these three factoids:
  • Quincy Jones, the guy who made real songs with MJ, not no made-up shits, told The Weeknd about “Can’t Feel My Face," “I used to make songs like that. Sounds good.”
  • Taylor Swift, co-opter of things that never belonged to her (see "squad") and arguably a pop-music Sentinel straight from an X-Men comic, pulled The Weeknd up at MetLife Stadium in July to duet “Can’t Feel My Face."
  • My mother, a woman who constantly asks me questions about pop music as If I’m tuned in to everything, enjoys “Can’t Feel My Face." I really don’t want to break her heart by playing “The Hills” for her.
“Can’t Feel My Face” sucks because it’s a strong, strong facsimile of a time far gone. It's not even really a Weeknd song; it's more like if somebody punched in generic Michael Jackson noises and said, "Perfect!" If the theory of bringing R&B back to the forefront of popular music is to do "Michael Jackson or Prince-like things," then let's just go ahead and use the government technology we're already using to remind you that Donald Trump can and maybe will become the Republican nominee for President and brainwash everyone. There’s some immediacy to it, thanks to the deranged mind of pop music’s current Quincy Jones — Max Martin — but good grief if it isn’t cheesy and off-putting.

The sad part about it, you ask? We’re going to hear “Can’t Feel My Face” and a lot of other things from The Weeknd for the rest of the year. Now, pray for me while this song is stuck in my head and I cannot do anything but attempt to figure out who’s going to torture me with the album when it arrives next week.
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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell