Re-Revisiting Kiss Land

A few weeks after The Weeknd's Kiss Land dropped in 2013, I gave it a mini-review on the site. Simply put, I liked it, but felt it was too much like his mixtapes while not being too much like his mixtapes. In other words, it was an okay album that had some misguided moments which kept it from being better than okay. But, since it was The Weeknd, it made up for, for instance, the sins that YEEZUS brought to our eardrums. However, even with that in mind, was I wr-wr-wrong in my initial reevaluation of The Weeknd's first official album (because Trilogy is still just a compilation)? Drizzle, don't be mad that I'm talking Weeknd without you. I'm doing this one solo because, well, I did the original one when Profound Assholes wasn't a thing and it seems only right to, ya know, not do a PA on it (even though, I'm pretty sure we did one or two, kind of, on Kiss Land somewhere along the way).

The album starts off with "Professional," a track detailing The Weeknd's relationship with a professional (be she a stripper or whatever, she's legit at whatever she's doing...even though she should probably quit the life). The intro, it's a chilling track that borders on rape culture-embracing with lines like "I decide when we're through." But then we get into the actual verses of the track, where we see he's just as fucked up by the relationship as the woman is. They're both pretty broken individuals who lie to themselves, in some ways, about the manner of their relationship--both with each other and with regards to how they carry themselves around others.

"The Town," a track about The Weeknd being away from Toronto (along with, in some interpretations, his desire to do drugs and fuck on someone he know he shouldn't, but he finds himself addicted to--a recurring theme in this album, to a degree), is up next.

There are a lot of darker elements in this project, to get right down to it. And "The Town" shows a good deal of them. The production is brooding as hell and is, quite frankly, pretty haunting. I get that The Weeknd, just like with some parts of BBTM, wanted to create a dark, scary-as-fuck atmosphere to his storyline world. I mean, he even co-produced most of this album. But, man! Listening back to this project, you really feel the damn-near lack of optimism in this album. The Weeknd's use of echoes (of non-silence) on this track really makes it stand out as a borderline classic track, in retrospect. It's a prototype of some of the BBTM tracks in its feelings, lyrics, and more while still serving as an homage to the Trilogy era of projects.

"Adaptation" continues this darkness. As "the madness is the only love [he] lets [himself] embrace," we see The Weeknd adapting to life without The Town the only way he knows how: fucking the shit out of randoms, doing drugs, and trying to keep from keeling over. He comes in contact with someone who was the yin to his yang, but he was so fucked up, he feels he ruined her. He wants to escape from being so well "adapted" to this life, but he can't. This is some pretty dark-ass, reflective shit. So, three songs in, I'm already ready to change my initial thoughts on this album. However, the darkness on the production does something not-so-great for the album thus far: it keeps things somewhat indistinguishable. Everything blends together into one dark-ass, "life sucks but I can't/don't wanna change" puddle of goo.

And then we get "Love In The Sky." Drug R&B, pure and uncut. While, sonically, it's similar to the last few tracks...conceptually, it's more dedicated to the drugs and how they help with the fucking/numbing process--and how, while The Weeknd is still a young man, he's seen and done shit that folks older than him haven't even begun to fathom. Again, this is a depressing-ass song when you get down to it. This is a guy who's in his early twenties, but is getting grown and getting old because he's out here doing shows all over the world and doing all sorts of drugs to try and balance out the lows and highs like a goddamned EQ.

After this, we go into the Portishead-sampling "Belong To The World." Let's check out the video version of the track, since it contains an intro unseen on the album version.

The spoken Japanese intro details how a woman, presumably a stripper or other "professional" woman, just has to be made into this object that The Weeknd--and those like him--will use forever. Even though they know this thought process may bring up some sinful, dire consequences, they still wish for it to occur. Plus, you know, typical Weeknd tropes of "it's morning now. My 'love' for you is fading." 

Again, the idea of rape culture creeps in a bit. This woman will "belong to the world," and no fucks are given about what happens to her because she just serves the purpose of being a sexualized "Muse." However, just as we get this, we also get The Weeknd being just as "lifeless" as the woman he's objectifying and/or fucking the shit out of, possibly because she's so lifeless and numb to the fucked-up shit of the world. It's a complicated dynamic. On one hand, you do get rape culture-like vibes. She's a "thing" that "belongs to the world," therefore whatever anyone does to her is "justified" within the world of the story. However, on the other, you get The Weeknd pretty much being just as much of a pawn to "the world" as she is, leading them both to continue this same, twisted song-and-dance with each other--even when it's obvious it's detrimental to all parties.

Production-wise, it's one of the strongest tracks on the album. The Portishead sample lends well to the rapid-fire imagery in the lyrics. Additionally, it's pounding and unrelenting, just like "The World" is to both "The Muse" and The Weeknd himself.

"Live For" is up next. OVOXO is always a good thing. For instance, when Drake dropped his remix of "Tell Your Friends," "Evolve." I would've loved to hear that as an official remix, since it's one of the few "Tell Your Friends" remixes that kind of still captured the essence of the original track (kind of). Or when, you know, Drake and The Weeknd linked up for those tracks off Take Care. Yeah...OVOXO is always a good thing. Hopefully, we'll get some more collaborations between the two at some point. But, let's get back to "Live For." It breaks up the "darkness" of the album, in some ways. Sure, we're still dealing with The Weeknd embracing his vices. But, it's done in a way that isn't as gloom-and-doom. Then, Drake's verse just adds to the more twisted celebratory theme of the track. 

From here, we get a very MJ-like track in "Wanderlust." The track itself, for me, deals with how, since we have/see a lot of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, we need more. We have to have more than just these things. There's got to be a higher high than drugs, a harder fuck than just fucking, there's a stronger love than "love." It's kind of about seeking out the "truth" about love, sex, and the like. I mean, just look at the cover art for the track. It's a grainy screencap of two women fucking, keeping up with the imagery for the other Kiss Land singles. 

But, it's so matter of fact about the sex that we're kind of forced to say "ok, sex is sex. What else is there?" And from "Wanderlust," we go into the title track. "Kiss Land" sounds like a demented carnival ride dedicated to the groupies The Weeknd encounters...and their "beautiful" dark twisted fantasies, addled by lean and other drugs.

"Kiss Land" isn't a place you should want to visit. But, for The Weeknd and his lady "friends," it's a place they almost always end up in. This is stressed by the second half of the song, specifically the outro of the song where The Weeknd emphasizes that "this ain't nothing to relate to." He's on a whole 'nother level of fucked up, that only he can truly understand. Anyone who tries to get on his level, they're bound to completely fuck themselves over trying to keep up. He's pleading, in some ways, for salvation. But, he knows that he may be too far gone. 

This is another standout track on the album. It's, in some ways, his "In Bloom." He's warning that people out there who're saying "oh yeah XOXOXO" without really getting it all, they aren't really cut out to be doing all that shit. Why? Well, like Nirvana said, these folks don't understand it like they think they do. Some of these folks are pretty much the guy who "don't know what it means when I say 'yeah.'" It's a cautionary tale that's advising people to not be The Weeknd...even if they fucking love his music.

"Pretty" continues down this path of "you really don't want to be in my shoes." 

The song deals with a potentially cheating girlfriend in a borderline controlling relationship with The Weeknd. The guy's fucking livid that his girl's been out and fucking on someone else. And he knows that, even though that's the case, he'll forgive her...if she turns out a bit "ugly" after they reconnect (be that through physical violence, getting her drugged out and fucking the shit out of her before he leaves, or just using her for "what she's good for"). 

It's, like the rest of the album, a twisted exploration into love, lust, and other "drugs." "Pretty" is a crazy track that is, in no way, a "love" song (don't let the lyrics fool you). It's like "Earned It" if it was sung, without any irony, right after Christian Grey whipped the fuck out of Anastasia at the end of Fifty Shades of Grey (yes, I saw the movie; hated the fuck out of it on about twenty different levels).

However, the track can also be seen to be about The Weeknd's relationship with fame and how it's fucked up his romantic and personal lives. This interpretation lends itself well to "Tears In The Rain." The Weeknd is presented as fragile, in need of love...but knows he can't experience it like others may because of the jaded perception folks have of him since he's getting famous and popular. And the women he ends up with, they become just as jaded, fragile, and lost as he is.

This album, in short, is a pretty deep case study on who The Weeknd was at this point in his life. He was a guy in his early twenties who sang, did drugs, and fucked because those are ways he could cope with the craziness his life'd given him. The idea of Kiss Land is pretty representative of The Weeknd's outlook on fame, his growing success, and other facets of his life that rapidly changed once he started gaining traction. And while it's not as refined as Beauty Behind The Madness, there's definitely beauty behind this madness as well. 

Overall, the project does falter because of its similarities, production-wise. However, it's definitely worth checking out if you need that bridge between Trilogy and BBTM. Would I rank it over BBTM? Hell, no. BBTM is a masterpiece and a classic album. But, Kiss Land is a lot better in hindsight than I gave it credit for when it first dropped back in 2013. So, if you're in need of some Weeknd and you haven't given this one a spin in a while (or you skipped it because it reminded you too much of his mixtapes at the time), check it out.

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