The Weeknd’s new album Dawn FM came precisely when he said it would on Friday, after his massive album launch for After Hours and months of frequently indicating that “the dawn is coming” (Jan. 7).
A big source of entertainment worldwide is Music. In his November 2021 cover story, the pop genius revealed the album’s running narrative: individuals trapped in purgatory, “which I always thought would be like being stopped in traffic,” with a radio station playing in the vehicle guiding them to the pearly gates. The Weeknd launches his own radio station, 103.5 Dawn FM, with 16 songs that faithfully brings his fans to the light at the end of the tunnel and causes rearview mirror reflections.
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Meanwhile, he reflects on the internal conflict he’s faced, including whether he’s grown into a better man or reverted to his hedonistic ways, and if he feels life is worth living or whether he’s ready for his to end. Dawn FM offers The Weeknd an ultra-polished, sultry dancefloor escape from his prior sorrow — particularly that caused by confinement — while also enabling him to forgive himself for a history he can’t undo.
The Weeknd sets his sights higher, and moves toward something brighter in the horizon, despite his record-breaking Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 “Blinding Lights” becoming the largest hit in the chart’s history last autumn. From the dark depths of his underground R&B with the Trilogy mixtapes a decade ago, to the pop-leaning sensibilities of 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness, to the epic ’80s synth-mania of After Hours in 2020, it’s a path his fans can follow from the beginning of his musical journey.
The Weeknd’s return to the post-disco era of dance-pop and boogie music continues with the introduction of Dawn FM. He’s brought in co-executive producers Max Martin and Oneohtrix Point Never, interpolated corny radio-DJ welcomes from host Jim Carrey, and paid tribute to music legends like Prince and Michael Jackson. Dawn FM is The Weeknd’s ideal sonic realm, where time is slipping away yet a ’90s infant can’t stop the floodgates of ’80s music from opening. The Billboard ranking of all 16 Dawn FM tracks can be seen here.
The Weeknd’s usual crooning about using his lover to save him from his drug problems swoops in, an attempt to ride its glitching synth groove that sounds out of this world, but the new wave-inspired song on Dawn FM feels discordant, with The Weeknd growling in his lower register before his usual crooning about using his lover to save him from his drug problems swoops in, an attempt to ride its glitching synth groove that sounds out of this world. Some admirers say he sounds out of place since his vocal range is mixed with wacky ’80s sing-along chants like “I’m trying not to lose my faith!” (a reference to After Hours’ “Faith”).
15. “Dawn FM”
With his silver-tongued opening in a manner similar of Vince Staples’ radio station takeover (hosted by L.A. radio personality Big Boy) on his 2018 album FM!, The Weeknd invites actor-turned-friend Carrey to oversee 103.5 Dawn FM and urge listeners to sit back, relax, and accept their destiny. With Garden of Eden-esque euphonic synthesizers that fade out into a cheesy radio station outro, the title track sets the tone for the rest of the album, but it’s not a music you’ll want to listen to again and over again. Given the history he created on terrestrial radio with “Blinding Lights,” it’s only fair that The Weeknd styles his new effort as such; it’s a medium he naturally controls in the real world and in his own.
14. “Don’t Break My Heart”
With its heart-thumping bassline and bright excitement, “Don’t Break My Heart” might easily fit inside a discotheque, similar to the one where The Weeknd claimed he nearly died on this tune. However, the song’s atmospheric composition overpowers its message since it contains too many cliché words, such as “I don’t know if I can take it longer.”
13. “Every Angel is Terrifying”
The ghostly moans and laser-beam synth chords trick listeners into believing he’s talking about angels’ deception until “Every Angel is Terrifying” suddenly turns into an extremely ludicrous ’80s movie advertisement about the “After Life.” The Weeknd told reporters earlier this week that recording lyrics like “Critics claim After Existence makes your present life appear like a complete lethargic snooze fest” without exploding in laughter was “almost impossible”… Likewise, his supporters who are listening to the recording.
12. “Is There Someone Else”
The helium-pitched ad-libs and peppy synth rhythms combine to create an unconvincing battle for someone’s undivided attention. On songs like “I Heard You’re Married” and “Less Than Zero,” The Weeknd already makes his case that he’s the one, despite his shady history, thus “Is There Someone Else” might have been deleted.
11. “Starry Eyes”
The Weeknd embodies the lady of his dreams on this charming song, promising to do all it takes to keep her near and adored the way she deserves to be, even if his background doesn’t support it. The pensive synth cadences, which come to a razor-sharp finale but still leave listeners wondering whether the singer means to honor his word, signal the vocalist’s shift from optimism to skepticism.
10. “A Tale by Quincy” (by Quincy Jones)
This speech, set to an old-school R&B acoustic rhythm, gives the great producer a rare opportunity to view The Weeknd for his humanity (apart from his humanitarianism) and connect to his own love issues with women, which come from his own mother. It’s a stark reminder that even the greats make mistakes, yet “A Tale by Quincy” closes on an unsettled note with no hint of regret. And maybe that’s the point: Dawn FM serves as a guide to what happens beyond this life, and no one can turn back time, no matter how much they wish they could.
9. “How Do I Make You Love Me?”
The Weeknd consistently nails the period-appropriate instrumentation, but it doesn’t show out on this track as it does on others. The opening lyrics “We’re going back in time” could very well act as the entire musical thesis of Dawn FM, with The Weeknd consistently nailing the period-appropriate instrumentation. The frenzied drum machine beat of “How Do I Make You Affection Me?” is reminiscent of the late King of Pop’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” and the chugging synthesizers kick off the song’s chorus, where he pleads for a woman’s love in an undeniably out-of-character fashion. The most prominent element of “Take My Breath” is the bass-thumping panting that flows flawlessly into it.
8. “Take My Breath”
The main tune has stunning Giorgio Moroder-esque synth chords flowing through a sweat-drenched ballroom, where the vocalist is rendered speechless by someone so thrilling. The song’s commercial effect was less dazzling, as “Take My Breath” peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100 in August and quickly dropped out of the top 10, where his previous After Hours songs had ruled for weeks on end. Regardless, the track’s hypnotic synth rhythms generate enough energy to get listeners up and moving every time it plays.
7. “Best Friends”
The Weeknd, OPN, and DaHeala’s sinister, bass-booming music adds to the allure of the traditional tragic friends-with-benefits story. While the heartbroken villain spends most of Dawn FM regretting his missed chances at love, in the album’s least guilty tune, he blames the lady for catching emotions rather than mourning his lost chances at love.
6. “Phantom Regret” (with Jim Carrey)
In the closing track, Carrey encourages, “And dance until you reach that glorious googaloo.” He leads listeners lost in the dark on a trip to the bright light at the end of the tunnel with Dr. Seuss-style rhymes, an awesome radio host presence, and a salute to Prince. It’s brilliant, and oddly comforting, for someone many of us grew up watching in light-hearted comedy flicks to provide an ending that blends innocent imagery (“Consider the flowers, they don’t try to look right.”) with eerie imagery (“Consider the flowers, they don’t attempt to look right. Before sending us off to the great beyond, they just open their petals and turn to the light.”) with hard-learned life lessons.
5. “I Heard You’re Married” (feat. Lil Wayne)
The Weeknd gets fooled by a lady who is already married and refuses to play second fiddle to her spouse in the slinky, lovelorn arworm co-produced by Calvin Harris. “Can’t be your side bi—,” Lil Wayne raps in support of him. With its irresistibly catchy post-disco groove and funky bass line, “I Heard You’re Married” sounds like a cross between Beauty Behind the Madness’ “Can’t Feel My Face” and Starboy’s “A Lonely Night,” and with the former being his first Hot 100 chart-topping song, it’s a formula in The Weeknd’s music that has proven to be successful time and time again.
“Sacrifice” resurrects the period-appropriate disco-funk off an electric guitar loop co-producers Swedish House Mafia showed The Weeknd in a Zoom press call this week, in what sounds like the closest thing to a Michael Jackson album in the twenty-first century. The Scarborough, Canada native blames his coldness on his city and revels in his selfish wants, placing himself ahead of a lady he loves and pushing himself beyond his peers to become one of his generation’s top pop singers.
3. “Here We Go… Again” (feat. Tyler, the Creator)
Last year’s victory lap included celebrations for his previous Billboard covers and Super Bowl Halftime Show appearance, but on “Here We Go… Again,” The Weeknd is halted in his tracks once again by the trappings of fame and sex. Tyler warns that outside forces can’t halt love, but raps “you gon’ sign this prenup” to preserve what belongs to him, with The Beach Boys’ Bruce Johnston and Christian Love’s background “Oohs” and glittering organ-like notes conveying that warm sensation. Both celebrities’ decision to submit to the power of love and ride the emotional roller coaster once again epitomizes the ’80s love songs’ kitschiness.
2. “Out of Time”
The super-slick, Off-The-Wall-esque boogie ballad is the ideal follow-up to “A Tale by Quincy,” in which The Weeknd reflects on how his personal trauma influenced his love relationships and how it’s too late to heal them. The shimmering production and whirling flute make him feel like he’s in a fantasy where he can turn back time with the snap of his fingers, but Carrey’s fuzzy, austere announcer voice brings him back to reality and promises, “Soon you’ll be cured, forgiven, and renewed” on the other side.
1. “Less Than Zero”
“Less Than Zero,” Dawn FM’s last single, has delightfully sun-soaked, gut-wrenching heartache songs and a synth ladder to paradise. In his history (and on this album), The Weeknd has sung about the relationships he’s wrecked as a result of his nihilistic tendencies many times, yet lines like “Now you’d rather leave me than watch me die in your arms” tug at your emotions enough to feel pity for him. And, for an album billed as a radio station, “Less Than Zero” seems to have the same chance of reaching the top 40 as its After Hours predecessors.