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Radio Resurrection: A Review of The Weeknd’s “Dawn FM”

On Jan. 7, 2022, The Weeknd (born Abel Tesfaye) released his eighth studio album entitled “Dawn FM.” This release marks the first major studio album of 2022.

The Weeknd’s previous studio album, “After Hours,” was one of the biggest albums of 2020, selling over two million copies. In 2021, The Weeknd performed at the Super Bowl LV halftime show and also released a compilation album entitled “The Highlights.”

Entering 2022, music listeners have received a new Weeknd project, in the form of the 16-song album “Dawn FM.

Many artists form their songs around a certain story or theme when releasing a concept album. While “Dawn FM” does, The Weeknd also gives listeners an entire experience by making the album his own fictional radio station, 103.5 Dawn FM.

In a 2021 interview with Billboard, The Weeknd said the album centered around concepts of death and the afterlife. 

“Picture the album being like the listener is dead,” The Weeknd said. “They’re stuck in this purgatory state, which I always imagined would be like being stuck in traffic waiting to reach the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Weeknd said Dawn FM was the radio station that guides the listener into the afterlife.

Of the album’s 16 tracks, 13 are songs with a melody and instrumentation. The remaining three, while consisting of instrumentation, serve as spoken word “segues,” which guide the listener through the experience. These tracks are the title track, which opens the album, and “Phantom Regret by Jim,” which closes the record (both featuring Jim Carrey). We also hear “A Tale by Quincy” (featuring Quincy Jones) about halfway through the record.

Musically, “Dawn FM” feels like a continuation of “After Hours. The record is reminiscent of the ‘80s, with synthesizers overpowering the remaining 13 tracks. This musical decision was intentional, as The Weeknd took to Twitter on Jan. 10, confirming both records were the first two installments in an album trilogy. A third album has yet to be announced formally. 

“Dawn FM’s” third track, “How Do I Make You Love Me?” exemplifies this ’80s musical influence. The song consists of a shuffled percussion dominated by snares and shakers as well as an atmospheric keyboard chord progression.

The third song ends with a delayed keyboard part, transitioning immediately into “Take My Breath.” This fourth song is arguably the most popular song off the album as it was released as the album’s first single in Aug. 2021. The song keeps the ‘80s sound but also adds an element of EDM. This mix shows The Weeknd’s ability to cross genres while also staying loyal to his iconic sound.

Another song showcasing this genre crossing is “Sacrifice,” the fifth track. This song crosses between EDM and funk, and it consists of a thumping percussion and a funky bassline, performed on a synthesizer.

As we approach the album’s halfway point, we hear songs like “Out of Time,” featuring heavy R&B influence along with ‘80s elements. “Out of Time” consists of fingerpicked guitar work, as well as some of those atmospheric keyboard progressions. This ‘80s sound is also heard in latter songs such as “Here We Go…Again” (which features Tyler, the Creator), “Starry Eyes,” and “I Heard You’re Married” (a collaboration with Lil Wayne).

Although “Dawn FM” is a valiant effort, it does not outdo “After Hours,” which is arguably The Weeknd’s magnum opus. While “Dawn FM” consists of some great songs, it seems to lack the all-star track list which featured songs like “In Your Eyes,” “Save Your Tears” and “Blinding Lights,” the latter being one of the most popular songs of 2020.

While “Dawn FM” does not quite measure up to its predecessor, it serves as a worthy follow-up. I am a huge fan of the concept, especially as it is more prevalent and tells a more developed story than “After Hours” does. “Dawn FM” is also a consistent album, both musically and tonically. Because of these elements, I believe a 6 out of 10 star ranking is warranted.

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