On The Weeknd’s fifth studio album, Dawn FM, the mysterious R&B crooner turned pop sensation takes listeners on a journey via an “hour of commercial free yourself music on 103.5 Dawn FM.” Surging with 80s-inspired synths and drum kicks and fueled by lyrics of sex, drugs, and longing for emotional connection, The Weeknd, born Abel Tesfaye, solidifies his artistry more than ever before, transcending time and space with an auditorial art piece.
While Dawn FM is entirely inspired by the 1980s sound, this isn’t Tesfaye’s first rodeo with such influences. On his previous album, After Hours, “Blinding Lights” took the world by storm as a track reminiscent of 80s exercise tape jams, as well as “Save Your Tears,” bridging the gap between uplifting pop ballad and a shoo-in for the theme for an 80s rom-com. Now, Tesfaye ups the ante with straightforward homage to 80s greats, even sampling Alicia Myers’ “I Want to Thank You” on “Sacrifice.” He also uses the voice of the iconic composer and producer Quincy Jones as Jones tells a tale of his personal life, serving as an interlude for the following track (which is a personal favorite,) “Out of Time.”
In addition to respecting music of the past, he includes help from the here and now with verses from rappers Tyler, the Creator and Lil Wayne on “Here We Go… Again” and “I Heard You’re Married,” respectively. Tyler raps over a ballad in C# Major to his lover, fully aware that what they have won’t last. Alternatively, Lil Wayne rides on an upbeat pop rhythm urging to be the only one in his love interest’s life.
Throughout the album, actor and comedy icon Jim Carrey serves as narrator (or, in the album’s case, radio DJ,) for 103.5 FM, the fiction radio station in which the music of Dawn FM takes place. He serves as a soothing voice that almost breaks listeners from a purgatoric trance, as almost all of the songs on Dawn FM fade into one another, making the music feel never-ending.
As an artist who has often been compared to Michael Jackson in terms of vocals and theatrics, Tesfaye leans completely into his superstar role. With a career that has become larger-than-life since his days of Tumblr fame, Tesfaye has never shied away from sticking to a theme and riding out to the end. From his House of Balloons series to his mixtape, Trilogy, Tesfaye is a true storyteller with his artistry as The Weeknd. He even nodded to a future follow-up to this album when tweeting this on January 10th:
Whatever is next for the Ethiopian-Canadian musician is sure to take fans even deeper into this new world he’s built, tinged with futurism, escapism, and an out-of-body experience.