The Weeknd Transports Listeners from Night to Day on ‘Dawn FM’

One week ago, the world was introduced to a unique kind of radio station that outlined the artistic aspects of living, dying, and the visceral experiences had in between. We’re tuned into it. You should be, too. Let us tell you why…

In 2020, the Weeknd (aka Abel Tesafaye) had the most streamed song with “Blinding Lights” off of his fourth studio album, After Hours. This song took over radio stations, streaming platforms, and was even the subject of an extremely popular TikTok dance trend. Following in the footsteps of his idol, Prince, the Canadian native has themed Dawn FM as the sequel to After Hours, taking listeners from the darkness of the night to the light of the day.

Prince frequently used this phrase, “May you live to see the dawn,” in his artistic projects during the eighties, even having a cancelled album that began with the words, “Hello. Welcome to the dawn.” It’s no secret that Prince was an inspiration to this album, between knowing that the Weeknd is a fan and noticing an interlude lyric on this new record that reads, “when the purple rain falls, we’re bathed in its grace.” The singer-songwriter goes on to allude to Prince’s work several more times throughout Dawn FM, including a breath beat in “How Do I Make You Love Me?” that was made famous in “Let’s Go Crazy” on Purple Rain

The success of the aforementioned “Blinding Lights” came from the blending of refreshing, modern lyrics with the synthwave style of music that was popular in the mid-eighties. Abel Tesafaye has continued to use this sound to create an air of nostalgia in his production, but is still heard as entirely new music – especially on Dawn FM. Even though the album is mainly composed with these retro elements, listeners remain tuned in to modern music with the Weekend as he collaborates with Tyler, the Creator and Lil Wayne for features on “Here We Go…Again” and “I Heard You’re Married,” respectively.

The 16 tracks on this album do not disappoint, with the lead single “Take My Breath” being altered to make it an even more fun and upbeat disco-esque track. This is done by adding more time to the beginning of the song and slowly building up the tempo as it goes on. Tesafaye continues to flawlessly combine his original take on the R&B genre with these old-school synthpop and new wave elements to make brand new songs that feels out of the ordinary in 2022. The Weeknd keeps standing out that way.

The musician’s creativity does not end with the nostalgic style of his latest music. Tesafaye has designed this album as if it is being listened to on an imaginary radio station, which he has named “103.5 Dawn FM.” The Weeknd has maintained a reputation as one who expresses darkness through art and rarely creates music with an innocent theme, despite having hit songs with light dance melodies. Dawn FM is no typical radio station, either, but instead a passage between life and death. This symbolism from night to dawn is what makes this album, as a whole, a conceptual piece of audio artwork.

What makes this complete are the preludes and interludes from a radio DJ, voiced by one of Tesafaye’s favorite actors, Jim Carrey. Carrey periodically interrupts the endings of several songs to tell listeners what is coming next – just as a real DJ would do. The beloved actor’s voice remains smooth and upbeat, even while making constant reference to clichés about death, such as “seeing the light” and “going painlessly.” In a recent interview, the Weeknd remarked that he has a goal of becoming a filmmaker and storyteller, and Dawn FM is representative of this project for it was designed to provide us with both a life and death experience. 

An additional interlude, appropriately titled “A Tale by Quincy,” is narrated by Quincy Jones, the record producer who worked with the late Micheal Jackson. This track starts out sounding like a classic slow jam, but is then followed by Jones talking about some of the hardships in life and the relationships that play into that. The song that follows it, “Out of Time,” has a similar theme that leads us further into the darker death motif of the album. Here, if you pay close attention, is yet another Prince reference. The chorus of “1999” ends with “say two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time.” Working with Quincy Jones was another way for the Weeknd to continue subtly honoring his muses throughout his work. 

The album ends with a lyrical poem from Jim Carrey, with melancholy instrumentals and his voice remaining monotone. This track style sounded similar to those of The Doors, where tracks like “Ghost Song” feature this display of lyrics without being a complete song on the album. As Dawn FM is intended to be the radio station one hears on the journey from life to death, it’s no coincidence that it reminds us of “Ghost Song” and Vincent Price’s speech from Micheal Jackson’s “Thriller.” The ending of this album stays true to the darkness that Abel Tesafaye effortlessly displays in all of his work. Despite being famously snubbed by the Recording Academy for “Blinding Lights,” the Weeknd has continued to stay true to his vision and amaze fans with an album that sounds and feels like a feature film.