The Weeknd Cements His Status as an All-Time Great on 'Dawn FM'

BY Wesley McLeanPublished Jan 10, 2022

It's rare to be able to acknowledge the presence of an all-time great while they're still in their prime, but when an artist has made it as apparent as the Weeknd has, it becomes impossible to ignore. Toronto-born Abel Tesfaye has undoubtedly become one of the biggest names in music today, essentially living at the top of the charts since 2014. Impressively, he has maintained that position without ever allowing the success of one record to dictate the sound of the next. Instead of chasing continued success through familiarity, he has continually experimented with his music and constantly re-invented and pushed the boundaries of his sound with every release, a trend that continues with his latest, Dawn FM.

This project is easily the most conceptually sound, concise and cohesive Weeknd project to date, but not at the expense of variety. Dawn FM is an extremely ambitious body of work, fusing elements from R&B, hip-hop, disco, new wave, electropop and synthpop to create a unique and ethereal soundscape that somehow manages to feel incredibly futuristic while being drenched in '80s nostalgia. The result is a musical backdrop that helps to score the album's complex narrative in an endearing and enchanting manner that perfectly fits its concept, helping to enhance it even further.

Dawn FM plays as a fictional radio show on a station of the same name, hosted by none other than Jim Carrey, who guides the listener through purgatory, aiding them as they patiently wait to make their transition and "step into the light." Carrey is perfect in this role, as his spoken-word interludes all exude a certain celestial quality that, in conjunction with the sublimely produced soundscape, evokes a truly transcendent feeling. It's an extremely well-executed and interesting concept, and it becomes even more so when one considers how this album, and its narrative, fit into the Weeknd's discography. 

There have been common threads throughout all of Tesfaye's projects as the Weeknd, regardless of how different they've been from one another. Since the mixtape days, Tesfaye's music has often been characterized as nihilistic, telling tales of himself in disrepair, and the escape that he sought through drugs, sex and excess, leaving behind a path of destruction. While there are remnants of those themes on this LP, it's nowhere near as present, and this project also happens to be his most upbeat by far. Dawn FM's concept may, on the surface, be about transitioning into the afterlife, but it also seemingly plays as an allegory for Tesfaye's cathartic escape from the personal purgatory that he's held himself in for so long.

In a catalogue that is filled with so many moments of self-destruction and sorrow, it's refreshing to hear a lighter and more upbeat approach to the music while Carrey delivers lines like "Soon you'll be healed, forgiven, and refreshed / Free from all trauma, pain, guilt, and shame." One can't help but see how the concept, while applicable to any listener, applies directly to Tesfaye. There's a feeling of clarity here that just wasn't present on past Weeknd projects, as if a fog has been lifted, revealing an artist who is not just at his very best but at a personal turning point as well.

Whereas much of his music up to this point has been rife with tales of debauchery and drug abuse, with Tesfaye displaying a nonchalant disregard for his own life and the damage left in his wake, he approaches Dawn FM with a more thoughtful, remorseful tone. He is no longer the drug-addled Casanova he once presented himself as, and he's no longer living a life with reckless abandon for his own wellbeing as well as the emotional wellbeing of any woman who crosses his path. This is a person learning from their past and wanting to be free of their guilt and shame, a person who is looking inward, recognizing their faults, and attempting to grow into someone better.

This feeling is communicated throughout most of the album, but it's at its most potent on its standout tracks. On "Out of Time," a sparkling, smooth '80s R&B-inspired track, sees Tesfaye acknowledging the error in his ways ("The last few months, I've been workin' on me, baby / There's so much trauma in my life / I've been so cold to the ones who loved me, baby / I look back now and I realize") and pining for another chance. Meanwhile, "Less Than Zero" is an admission of the immense guilt he feels for his actions in a past relationship, and the shame he feels knowing that his former partner now sees him as "less than zero." Moments like are a far cry from earlier hits like "Wicked Games" and "The Hills," which depicted the artist as a heartless sadist fixated on substance-fuelled flings free of commitment.

It's for these reasons that Dawn FM feels like a truly pivotal moment in the Weeknd's already illustrious career. It's a brilliant new benchmark in his already stellar discography, showcasing just how much of an artistic powerhouse he has become and a clear shift from the darkness that his music, even at its poppiest, once embodied. The growth Tesfaye has demonstrated not even two years after the excellence of After Hours leaves the realm of possibilities for his future release endless. With Dawn FM, Abel Tesfaye has truly cemented himself as one of the modern greats, and it's been a treat to be able to experience it in real-time.

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