The Weeknd: Dawn FM (XO/Republic) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The Weeknd

Dawn FM


Jan 10, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

On the cover of Dawn FM, the fifth studio album by The Weeknd (born Abel Tesfaye), we see the 31-year-old pop star depicted as a cryptically aged relic complete with silver strands, wrinkles, liver spots, and a bewildered look of despair. The world is in its third year of a debilitating pandemic with no perceived end in sight. Tesfaye’s latest transformation is symbolic of this; coronavirus in all of its variations has made the passing of time obsolete. The singer is not alone in feeling like he has aged a century since COVID’s inception.

His last project, 2020’s After Hours, captured a darkness that he was eager to immerse himself in. That infamous red-jacketed character—whose face was often covered in blood and bandages—not only starred in the videos for the album’s singles (“Heartless,” “Blinding Lights,” “Save Your Tears”) but it cemented Tesfaye’s infatuation with his own morbid creation. He even felt confident enough to unleash this alter-ego at last year’s Emmy-nominated Super Bowl LV Halftime Show.

A career that started out a decade ago consisting of drug-ridden, sex-obsessed, slow-burning R&B joints has transformed into a groundbreaking discography; one saturated with anthems as ambitious and imaginative as the artist behind them. Perhaps that’s why problematic institutions—take the Grammys for example—have notoriously shunned The Weeknd’s work in the past: they simply didn’t have the stamina to keep up. Dawn FM is an outlier to his catalogue yet the next logical step following the After Hours era.

Sonically, it’s not an entire deviation from his most recent hits. There’s still a lot of synths, slivers of disco, and vocals so sweet they’re basically confectionary at this point. But this time, Jim Carrey chronicles this journey and makes the end of the world sound utterly enticing. The actor is known for his outlandish comedic prowess and ability to morph into any caricature, regardless of how ridiculous they may be. Here, Carrey tackles the role of smooth radio host whose sole purpose is to ease listeners into the uncertainty of the afterlife.

On the title track, he informs us that “it’s time to walk into the light” and that he’ll be “there to guide us through this painless transition.” Yes, it sounds peculiar and ominous but only someone like Tesfaye—who possesses an unwavering resolve—could make it work. Whether it’s trying on Depeche Mode machinations on the mechanical “Gasoline” or devouring dance floors with the infectiously flashy “Take My Breath,” his approach to music-making remains his most enduring quality.

The conversation has evolved past centering The Weeknd’s earnest and morose beginnings in order to understand his latest offerings. Years of startling vulnerability has been replaced by conviction, making moments like “A Tale by Quincy” (told by Quincy Jones himself) that much more satisfying. Tesfaye has been compared to the late Michael Jackson since the start of his career. Having a track on Dawn FM featuring Jones, a man who has famously shaped notable portions of Jackson’s career and legacy, slyly pays homage to this parallelism. The esteemed producer discusses how his childhood trauma—and seeing his mother committed to a mental institution right before his very eyes—paved the way for unhealthy relationships with women. This tragic sentiment pours directly into “Out of Time,” in which Tesfaye turns a classic, Motown-tinged R&B ballad into a plea of inefficacious longing.

There are a few tracks on the record that don’t feel as urgent as the aforementioned ones. The chorus of “Don’t Break My Heart” is redundant; casual sex between acquaintances on “Best Friends” is a tired trope better left to mediocre actors on the silver screen who insist on bringing that concept to life. But “Here We Go…Again”—like “Snowchild” on After Hours—reminds us of how engaging and enjoyable Tesfaye can be when he laces his lyricism with a ruminative take on reality.

“Here We Go…Again” has just enough tidbits from actual moments to know it’s autobiographical (last year’s celebratory XO Billboard magazine cover, his cinematic Super Bowl Halftime Show debut). However, he still makes it a point to kiss and not tell when it comes to revealing the identities of his love interests. That allusion to his newest girl being “a movie star” led gossip blogs to run wild with speculation. Tyler, the Creator graces the song and masterfully keeps up with the aesthetic, cadence, and themes of the track.

An appearance from Lil’ Wayne on “I Heard You’re Married” is also a bracing moment on Dawn FM, reinvigorating those underestimated the potential of a fun collaboration. “Phantom Regret by Jim,” which closes out the record, lulls listeners into a somnolent state as he discusses penance and the ghosts of contrition. In the end, we are left to decipher what this all means, the information The Weeknd is trying to convey and how his fascination with loss and death will impact his next move. Dawn FM is no Thriller by any means (sorry Timbaland) but it’s a solid chapter in the story of an artist who continues to unabashedly defy expectations. And ultimately, we’re lucky to be along for the ride. (

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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