The Weeknd’s ‘Dawn FM’ brilliantly imagines darkness after blinding lights

Photo of the Weeknd album cover
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Grade: 4.0/5.0

It does not take a Grammy nomination to prove that The Weeknd’s previous album, After Hours, is an undeniable disco masterpiece. On his album Dawn FM, released Jan. 7, The Weeknd extends the dance club euphoria of After Hours and explores even more complicated and conflicting emotions. Alternating between the exploration of feelings such as fantasy, heartbreak, disillusionment and oblivion, Dawn FM is his most coherent and complex work to date.

Dawn FM has two overarching metaphors. On the one hand, the album serves as a commercial radio channel that promises to deliver a perfect “After Life” if the listener calls “1-800-444-4444” and pays “$4.95.” On the other hand, it is a symbolic purgatorial experience that starts with the end of the hellishly ecstatic After Hours, as the bled-out artist admits that he is all alone after the blinding lights of the disco dance hall have vanished. Dawn FM comes to an abrupt halt when he eventually reaches heaven.

This album is particularly distinct for its astonishing consistency. Perhaps to imitate a radio channel, The Weeknd makes each track transition almost seamlessly into the next. “How Do I Make You Love Me?,” for example, features an approximately one-minute-long outro that works simultaneously as the intro for the next track, “Take My Breath.” Such brilliant coherency definitely rewards listeners who, instead of skipping tracks, patiently appreciate The Weeknd’s album in its entirety.

Dawn FM is perhaps The Weeknd’s most introspective album, as listeners often find him hesitant to express his feelings. While the 3 ½-minute single version of “Take My Breath” falls immediately into breathless dance hall passion, the extended 5 ½-minute version in the album allows substantial room for breathing and more vividly illustrates his battles against carnal temptations and indulgences.

“Sacrifice” also shows the artist constantly, yet fruitlessly trying to negotiate with his lover on making mutual sacrifices in their relationship. These brief moments of lucidness and reason are nevertheless the most relatable and heartbreaking ones for the listeners.

The most poignant moment on the album comes on “Out of Time,” when the artist vacillates between leaving and staying at the club before inevitably departing; “Say I love you girl, but I’m out of time.” The song is perhaps not merely about two lovers saying farewell to each other during their last dance. Instead, the track is a metaphor for all relationships that end tragically — the lovers have died, or fallen into eternal oblivion, running forever out of each other’s time.

Aside from heart-wrenching departures, The Weeknd also offers precious moments of sweet, nostalgic flashbacks. On “Starry Eyes,” he sings softly, “Let me be there for your heart.” Similarly on “Here We Go…Again,” he recounts detailed memories with his girl, who he loves like a “movie star.” However, these fleeting reminiscences are delusional and dangerous, as they distract the artist from his way into heaven. Although listeners may want to linger and replay the beautiful melodies and captivating disco instrumentals of these two tracks, the album indifferently progresses toward its eventual heaven.

The final track of this album is a monologue performed by Jim Carrey, titled “Phantom Regret by Jim,” where The Weeknd seems to have reached heaven. But, the message that this monologue delivers is somewhat troubling — one has to “let it go,” and embrace transcendental oblivion in order to reach heaven. When the monologue ends with the line, “You gotta be heaven, to see heaven,” leaving listeners to wonder if they could really abandon everything in life and become utterly apathetic.

But, what’s the point of doing so? “You’d rather love and lost with tears/ Than never love at all,” The Weeknd sings on “Here We Go…Again.” After all, people do “save their tears for another day.” Dawn FM leaves listeners unconvinced about their eventual ascension to heaven and, instead, allows substantial room for different interpretations. Given its unparalleled complexity and masterful production, Dawn FM has set a high standard for upcoming albums in 2022.

Contact William Xu at [email protected].