Old is new with The Weeknd’s Dawn FM
By Spencer Yu, Photo Editor
Dawn FM serves as a follow-up to The Weeknd’s (Abel Makkonen Tesfaye) critically acclaimed 2020 release, After Hours. With many of the themes carried over from his previous album, Dawn FM serves as a more focused and refined listening experience that expertly continues the stories introduced in After Hours while remaining more faithful to his retro sound.
To fully understand Dawn FM we first need to look at After Hours. It marked the Weeknd’s introduction to the retro style of music. It was incredibly well received and spawned many big hits like “Blinding Lights” and “Save Your Tears.” In my opinion, while that was a good album I felt that the tone was not entirely consistent. The flips back and forth between the retro and contemporary styles were a little jarring. However, it proved to listeners that The Weeknd was more than capable of executing a retro sound in an awe-inspiring manner and left me wanting an entire album in which he fully committed to that style. Dawn FM delivered that to me and then some.
Right from the introduction, The Weeknd makes it abundantly clear that he doesn’t just want to make some retro-inspired music; he wants to build a world surrounding the music. From a listener’s perspective, it’s a fictional radio station called Dawn FM hosted by Jim Carrey playing tunes by The Weeknd. These elements create a sense of immersion that we haven’t seen from The Weeknd before. Combined with the seamless transitions between tracks, this feels like a real radio station plucked straight out of the 80’s. Other elements throughout the album further add to the retro feel such as the use of the synthesizer and the sound of the drums. On the track “Gasoline” we also hear The Weeknd sing in an entirely new lower octave that we have not heard from him before. Though it only happens on that one track I feel that it’s new elements like this that show The Weeknd is truly committed to a nostalgic sound and not just using it as a gimmick.
The story is worth noting as well. In After Hours, we got a glimpse of The Weeknd’s mind as he was experiencing the aftermath of a failed relationship and the path to self-destruction he went on as a result. In Dawn FM, we see that he’s still dealing with that heartbreak but has matured a little bit and is beginning to move past it.
Romantic cynicism is nothing new to The Weeknd as it has become a regular topic in his songs, but it’s refreshing to hear how he deals with relationships in the long run rather than just the immediate effect. In the music video for “Gasoline” we see a much older The Weekend or Tesfaye wandering through what appears to be purgatory for him. He expresses how he wants to distance himself from the lifestyle of excess that he once took part in and how that lifestyle only leads to him damaging his soul. Later on in the album we hear Tesfaye dealing with the regrets of his past on the track “Out Of Time.” We then hear him attempt to start a new relationship on tracks like “Don’t Break My Heart” and him coming to terms with his previous relationship with the track “Less Than Zero” ultimately freeing himself from his past. It’s a very well-crafted story that concludes the tale of heartbreak we were presented with in After Hours.
The album has a number of features, including appearances from Tyler, the Creator and Lil Wayne alongside Carrey, whose performance as the host I really enjoyed. Instead of portraying the typical overenthusiastic radio host, he plays a more relaxed, almost ghostly figure. Producer Quincy Jones also makes an appearance on the album as himself on the track “A Tale By Quincy,” in which he explains not only the problems that he has had with women in the past but also the root causes of his problems.
Tyler, the Creator, appears on the track “Here We Go Again,” and while not his best work, he does a decent enough job rapping on a type of song that you typically don’t see a rapper on. Lil Wayne’s feature sounded more dynamic than Tyler’s feature but lyrically fell short in my opinion. While the song features on the album certainly weren’t bad, I personally felt that they didn’t really enhance the listening experience overall.
Dawn FM is The Weeknd’s most complete and consistent listening experience yet. It shows his dedication to creating not just music but an entire experience surrounding it. It’s a fully realized, airtight album I want to listen to over and over again.