An orange sunrise looming over a never ending traffic jam and the synth-pop radio that makes the journey less painful. The Weeknd takes us on a ride down the highway to hell with Dawn FM introducing listeners to a his most lyrically self-aware album yet.
Birthed from the idea of a radio station in purgatory, Dawn FM is a concept album that remains true to The Weeknd’s usual narrative. For a decade the artist has been captivating fans and casual pop radio listeners with tales of cocaine and pussy hidden underneath enticing enough beats and metaphors that even the most conservative of listeners forgot to complain. This album is the first time The Weeknd acknowledges the come down from the high however.
The title track may introduce the album, but Gasoline sets the scene with lyrics like “It’s 5 AM, I’m nihilist/I know there’s nothing after this/Obsessing over aftermaths/Apocalypse and hopelessness“. In a move similar to the synth pop melody and heart broken lyrics of his 2020 feature on Calvin Harris’ “Over Now”, The Weeknd disguises genuine terror and anxiety underneath upbeat 80’s melodies.
It’s been done before, but The Weeknd succeeds in spades in the concept and earns his title in the 10 Highly Anticipated Albums to Get Excited About in 2022. Upon first listen, it’s easy to dance along and forget time within the space he’s created for us. And perhaps similar to his own journey to fearing the other side when the glitz and glam of a high’s worn off, with each listen the audience picks up a new heart racing horror within the lyrics and are forced to confront our own mortality.
Yet he hints at this playful cynicism right off the bat. The cover art is The Weeknd’s usual album headshot, but made up as an elderly man. The face we’ve come to know and love, departs from 2020’s After Hours‘ bruised and broken look into a perhaps more telling aging. Tired eyes paired with wrinkles and gray hair. It’s worn out rather than caved in. A similar burn-out to what we all must be feeling two years into a global, inescapable pandemic, written in his face.
A departure from his usual repertoire that is often stacked with bedroom R&B slow jams worthy of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, Dawn FM brings the radio station of yesteryear to life. With every song off the album reaching Starboy single worthy status, the music is catchy, albeit slightly repetitive if you’re giving the album a straight listen through.
The sparse interjections of narration, voiced by Jim Carrey, carrying us through the purgatory radio concept counteracts the occasional redundant beat, however. It grounds the listener and pulls us back to the overall archetype of The Weeknd’s body of work.
The layers to Dawn FM strip the artist down to Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, The Weeknd’s given name, and what he fears. Both the layers to the album and the man mingle until he ultimately finds himself asking the question, “Will I get into heaven after this?”