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  • Writer's pictureWill Weise

Album Review: Dawn FM- The Weeknd

It goes without saying that The Weeknd has had one hell of a career. From his underground beginnings, pioneering nihilistic R&B in his Trilogy era to becoming a pop cross over, then becoming one of the most critically and commercially lauded artists of modern music, The Weeknd has frequently changed up his sound over the past decade. One thing stays the same though: he's endlessly cool.

Part of The Weeknd's appeal is beyond his music, but in the mystery of who he is as a person. As someone who rarely grants interviews, we don't have much of a conjecture of who Abel Tesfaye is beyond who he portrays himself to be in his music: caught up in a perpetual haze of sex and drugs; a man who can't shake his feelings of existential doom that cause him to be emotionally closed off.

The past two years of his career have been pivotal and perhaps the most head-turning. Sure, he established himself a household name in 2015 with his second major label album, Beauty Behind the Madness, which spun the hits "Can't Feel My Face" and "The Hills." But we saw a return to form with 2020's "After Hours" which was a call back to his Trilogy era for his mainstream audience. It was a huge moment in pop music because he managed to seamlessly combine his sad-boy aesthetic with his Michael Jackson inspired, pop-star-to-be-reckoned with persona, something he fell short of doing on his 2016 album, Starboy. It was a huge hit with critics and "Blinding Lights" is literally the most successful single of all time. Ever. It didn't just stop here though. He managed to hold that attention with his feud with The Grammy's after he was completely snubbed of any nominations for the 2021 ceremony and even went on to do the Super Bowl Halftime show last year. His new album, Dawn FM, is a continuation of this massively successful era. It's familiar territory: the melancholy, provocative lyrics set to new wave production, but it feels with some of his lyrics that he may have done some healing this time around, but still has miles to go.

Dawn FM takes After Hours a step further, though. Abel's vocals have never sounded better and the production and features this time around take him to new sonic heights. In the midst of Swedish House Mafia's comeback, the track "How Do I Make You Love Me" is a standout and provides one of the best transitions ever, floating over to lead single, "Take My Breath" so smoothly without loosing the bouncy, house feel. Calvin Harris also brings a welcome production credit with "I Heard You Were Married" that features Lil Wayne in a verse that belongs perfectly. Look, we all know that Lil Wayne is past his prime, but his features are still heat and this is no exception. Tyler, the Creator also features on the track "Here We Go...Again" which feels very much like The Weeknd we all knew and loved a decade ago, talking about taking pictures to make his girls' boyfriend jealous, thinking there could be sex without love, etc. Tyler fans will be happy with the verse too as his sentiment "We don't need the government involved because we like to touch/We don't need no damn religion telling us that we in love" feels right in line with his against-the-grain energy. Also have I mentioned the album is narrated by none other than Jim Fucking Carrey?

Another thing that makes Dawn FM stand out is the fact that it's a concept album that deals with themes of the afterlife and purgatory, but tackles these heavy subjects in an approachable, sometimes hilarious, sometimes really existential way. Dawn FM is the radio station that is played for you when you arrive into purgatory. As Jim Carrey says on the opening, title track, "It's time to walk into the light/And accept your fate with open arms/Scared? Don't worry/We'll be there to hold your hand and guide you through this painless transition."

Despite these themes, the album does feel a little bit more on the optimistic side compared to The Weeknd's other work. The Weeknd is no stranger to making dance floor bangers. I will die on the hill that lead single, "Take My Breath" continues to not get enough love. Yes, the reviews are good. Yes, it peaked in the top 10 on the Hot 100, but that should have been added to his catalogue of number 1 songs. I love it when The Weeknd does disco and infuses 80's synth-pop. There's a reason that formula keeps working for him.

I feel like Dawn FM is Abel's character growing to becoming someone who has made peace with the man he used to be and the man that he is becoming. The overarching themes of feeling empty are definitely still there, but there's a confidence in this record that is building even further upon After Hours. I was initially worried that he may have peaked stylistically with After Hours, but Dawn FM proves that it was just the beginning.


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