5 Takeaways From the Weeknd’s New Album Dawn FM

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The pop superstar guides us through a funky kind of purgatory on his latest twisted exercise in escape.

The Weeknd
Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

At last spring’s Billboard Music Awards, the Weeknd celebrated the end of an era. “I’d like to thank God I don’t have to wear that red suit anymore,” he quipped, in reference to the bloody and bandaged persona he had embodied since late 2019. “The After Hours is done and the dawn is coming.” Now, the dawn has arrived.

The Weeknd’s latest record, Dawn FM, was announced just a few days ago, its sudden release made all the more confounding by cover art showing the singer in old-man makeup worthy of an Eddie Murphy movie. Luckily, Dawn FM does not sound weathered. Across 16 tracks, the Weeknd dishes out disco and new wave-inspired tracks primed for dancefloors (and many more TikTok challenges). He also reunites odd-couple After Hours collaborators Max Martin and Oneohtrix Point Never, who act as executive producers alongside the Weeknd himself.

As the Weeknd has evolved from a mysterious R&B mixtape ghost to a Super Bowl headliner over the last 12 years, he has increasingly used theatricality to create a distinction between his public and private selves—between his outlandish Weeknd character and Abel Tesfaye the man. But as Dawn FM suggests, both personas are always down to have a bit of fun, even when playing dead…

You’re listening to 103.5 Dawn FM

In a virtual listening session with press earlier this week, an endearingly Zoom-inept Tesfaye explained that his initial attempts at writing a follow-up to After Hours were troubled by depression, which spilled over into the music. “It was too dark and sad, it wasn’t cathartic at all,” he explained. “So I put that album down and created something more fantasy, more of an escape.”

Dawn FM is built around the concept of a purgatory in the form of gridlock traffic, perhaps inspired by L.A.’s infamous bumper-to-bumper malaise. (He recently bought a $70 million mansion in Bel-Air.) Stuck in a tunnel, the listener’s only companion is the imaginary radio station 103.5 Dawn FM. “You’ve been in the dark for way too long/It’s time to walk into the light,” croons the DJ in the album’s eponymous opener. “…We’ll be there to hold your hand and guide you through this painless transition.”

Ssssssmokin’!

Before getting into anything else, we must discuss this omnipresent radio DJ, who is voiced by none other than… Tesfaye’s fellow Ontario native Jim Carrey. In a 2020 interview with Variety, Tesfaye revealed that he and Carrey were neighbors and used telescopes to wave at each other from their respective L.A. homes. Tesfaye also said the first movie he ever saw in theaters was The Mask, the insane 1994 comedy in which Carrey plays a put-upon dork with a cartoonish lothario alter ego—this explains a lot.

As the voice of Dawn FM, Carrey holds the listener’s hand as the Weeknd exorcises his demons. The actor’s chipper little jingles periodically emerge to offer assurance that there’s only a few songs left “before you’re completely engulfed in the blissful embrace of that little light you see in the distance.” The album concludes with a track entitled “Phantom Regret by Jim,” a Seussian soliloquy that touches on materialism, forgiveness, and faith. “You gotta unwind your mind/Train your soul to align,” advises Carrey, a proponent of Transcendental Meditation. “And dance till you find that divine boogaloo.”

A star-studded afterlife

Beyond Martin and Oneohtrix, Dawn FM also features production from hitmakers Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia, and Oscar Holter. And unlike the featureless After Hours, the world of Dawn FM is filled with familiar voices. Tyler, the Creator espouses the benefits of a prenuptial agreement on “Here We Go… Again,” which also includes background vocals from Beach Boy Bruce Johnston and Mike Love’s son Christian. Lil Wayne contributes a verse that nods to Prince, the Virgin Mary, and Dirty Harry on the delightfully titled “I Heard You’re Married.” Tesfaye’s Uncut Gems director Josh Safdie makes a cameo as someone named Arthur Fleminger on the bonkers New Age infomercial “Every Angel Is Terrifying.” On the spoken-word slow jam “A Tale by Quincy,” the legendary Quincy Jones reflects on the effects a traumatic childhood had on future relationships. In other words, on a Giorgio Moroder-influenced album, Tesfaye got Jones to do his own “Giorgio by Moroder.”

Toxic heartache is canon

Romantic dysfunction is the Weeknd’s bread and butter—according to his music, his rare brushes with love and joy have only come by way of copious drug use. Dawn FM is no different as Tesfaye continues to lament and embrace his own brokenness. A few of Dawn FM’s best Weekndisms:

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