By Vanessa Carter, January 20 2022—
Following the extensive commercial triumph of After Hours, Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, didn’t hold back when it came to dropping hints about his upcoming album. Over the past year, he has tweeted various lyrics, images and snippets leading up to the album’s release, for eagle-eyed fans like me to decipher. In that sense, I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t one of the few things holding me together this past year.
When the lead single, “Take my Breath,” was released, I noticed that it continued with the sound and feel of After Hours. Even Moth to a Flame — which I was very disappointed not to see on this new album — carried that same dance-til-you-die energy which gained Tesfaye his latest success.
Prior to its release day, I knew that the theme of Dawn FM would be a radio station taking the listener from a journey through the dark into the light. The first review I saw described the album as “packed with party records.” It was at this point I realized this ‘80s-pop version of The Weeknd is here to stay and gone are the days of the dark R&B sounds of Trilogy that most XO fans still crave to hear.
The title track, “Dawn FM,” is a suspenseful melody that takes the listener into the dark world of this project. It’s an awakening, featuring Jim Carrey’s narration, inviting us to “walk into the light and accept [our] fate with open arms,” making the audience let go of everything else in the moment and escape.
The following track, “Gasoline” features Tesfaye’s vocals in a lower-than-usual tone, beginning the journey. With the opening lyrics being, “It’s 5 AM my time again / I’m soakin’ up the moon, can’t sleep,” this sets the mood of an adventure just before the sun rises. The following track, “How Do I Make You Love Me?” has a similar tune that has the listener thinking about a love they can’t have while they’re lost in a crowd.
At this point I wanted to give the album a near perfect rating, because Tesfaye prompts us to hold on to our emotions, even if we’re lost in madness.
The transition into “Take My Breath” was nothing short of exquisite. I liked the fact that it was the extended version of this song that made it into the album rather than the standard cut, released in August 2021.
Now that I’ve seen how it fits into the album, it was the perfect choice for a lead single. Although it doesn’t exactly scream radio station epiphany, the next track “Sacrifice” makes up for it with a catchy tune, similar to that of a Michael Jackson song, making it an appropriate second single off this album.
The interlude, “A Tale by Quincy” does a nice job setting the mood for the new character Tesfaye is building. On the cover art, album trailers and the listening party livestream,Tesfaye adorned prosthetics that made him appear as an old man.
Though my head is still spinning with theories as to what this could mean, the next song “Out of Time” was by far the track that stood out to me the most during my first listen. This song is slow and beautifully puts together the emotions that come with a lost love and wanting nothing more than a second chance.
I liked that it wasn’t too sad to listen to, because when we hear Jim Carrey’s voice at the end telling us not to “touch that dial,” we’re reminded of the journey we’re on, into the light and a new life.
The next featured guest on this album is Tyler, the Creator. This has been a long-awaited collaboration for many XO fans and finally hearing it on “Here We Go…Again,” it did not disappoint.
While there is much speculation as to which fling of Tesfaye’s this could be about, “Best Friends” is a catchy tune that is a fun, light-hearted take on the classic dilemma of whether to ruin your friendship with someone by continuing to see them in a way that risks it all.
I really enjoyed the last half of this album. “Is There Someone Else?” turned out to be the song in the background of the album trailer that caught the attention of many fans. This is probably the song that has the closest sound to Trilogy, because its topic is of Tesfaye’s partner being the one keeping secrets rather than him — when he’s used to being the one doing so.
This was a common theme in Trilogy, as we saw the story of Tesfaye’s interactions with his “Thursday girl” and how his lifestyle backfired on that relationship, leaving him as hurt as she was in the end. Following this, “Starry Eyes” was also another track heavily featured in the album trailers and to me, it had some of the most beautiful lyrics in the whole album. With phrases such as “I only met you in my dreams before / When I was young and alone in the world,” how could anyone not relate to this song?
The next interlude-ish, “Every Angel is Terrifying,” is the track that has sparked the most theories on Twitter. The whole song is a commercial to what Tesfaye calls “After Life.” With all the speculation amongst fans about what this is, it seems only fitting that we have commercial breaks when we listen to the radio.
Recent tweets from Tesfaye reveal that we’re “experiencing a new trilogy,” so perhaps “After Life” could be the next project as we have seen his character go through mortal tribulations in After Hours, the in-between world of Dawn FM, but we’re missing the real conclusion of his character’s fate.
“Don’t Break My Heart” is a dark, edgy tune that outlines the classic situation of courting a new person of interest and not wanting them to hurt you. I thought this was a nice addition to the album, since we can all relate to this situation, but the next song “I Heard You’re Married” is what really takes this a step further.
This title was surprising to many, but it’s easily the most catchy song off the album. It’s light-hearted, fun and with featured guest Lil Wayne, it is definitely in my top three songs off the album. “Less Than Zero” is another fan-favourite and hearing it for the first time had me dancing along to it.
It feels like a celebration of everything Tesfaye’s music is and I can easily see that song being the one everyone on tour will laugh, cry and jump to the most.
The outro, “Phantom Regret by Jim” is the conclusion to this album that makes the listener ponder everything they know. With questions like “When you weren’t liked or followed, how did you behave?” and “Were you ever in-tune with the song life was humming?” it really prompts us to think about what we’re doing in life and our existence.
This haunting featurette was a fitting ending to my time listening to this radio station — not to mention it’s going to be the source of my instagram captions for the next couple months. I know one of the final lines is, “You gotta be Heaven to see Heaven,” but I’m pretty sure this album is what heaven sounds like.