The Weeknd should be a household name at this point. After headlining the Super Bowl and releasing two of the top 15 most streamed albums on Spotify, he has carved out a name for himself as one of the most prominent pop R&B artists of the past decade. After getting his start with gritty and moody songs on Trilogy, he has made a shift in recent years to more commercially viable albums like Starboy and his 2020 hit album, After Hours. Entering the pandemic, the Weeknd was riding high. And with his latest release, Dawn FM, the Weeknd seems to have kept riding the wave and completed his evolution into a pop megastar.
Dawn FM introduced listeners to a new sound for the Weeknd that can be really refreshing. While it can come across as lacking diversity, I think the smooth transitions and overarching story across the album give it a unique sound that is great for relistening. Jim Carrey’s inclusion as the tour guide DJ is really fun, fits the sound perfectly, and delivers some great moments. While it isn’t a front-to-back listen, it has the quality of the hit album we’ve come to expect from the Weeknd.
While I struggled to find any consistent track runs on this album, there are some really great moments sprinkled throughout. Right off the bat, the Flock of Seagulls-esque deepness of the Weeknd’s voice on “Gasoline” immediately draws the listener in. Pair that with the quick transition to his normal pitch and it makes a great first real track. He hits a slump though as he follows it with “How Do I Make You Love Me?” and “Sacrifice” which both fell flat for me. While it was nice to hear a different version of “Take My Breath Away” with an extended intro, it was hard to care about a track we’ve heard for the past five months.
Following the quick narrative interlude track “A Tale By Quincy”, the Weeknd enters a hit and miss run. “Here We Go…Again” features an interesting Tyler, the Creator verse that brings an interesting sound into the mix. “Is There Somebody Else?”, which was featured in his marketing run before the release has an attention-grabbing instrumental that hooked me from the start. And, while I enjoyed the vaporware sound on “Out of Time” and the Truman Show sounding narration by Jim Carrey at the end, the song just felt stale after multiple listen-throughs. The same can be said about “Best Friend” which just became boring after hearing it multiple times.
The album really didn’t shine again for me until “Don’t Break My Heart”. The catchy hook and Soft Cell-inspired verses in between really tied it all together. By far one of my favorite moments came in the penultimate track “Less Than Zero”. It has all the makings of a platinum-caliber radio hit. It has an upbeat pace and earwormish lyrics that are perfect for singing along in the shower.
Overall, I really love the new sound The Weeknd took on for this album. While I realize some older fans who’ve been around since the Kissland days may be disappointed by the lack of bitingly toxic and pessimistic lyrics, I think this new sound is a great evolution for him. Granted, I am a fan of the New Wave, synth-filled sound even outside of this project, but he utilized the sound perfectly and the story of the radio station all throughout really tied the new aesthetic together for me.
It is a bit bloated, which is an issue not exclusive to this album, particularly the 18 track long Starboy, and I think there were a handful of tracks that could’ve been cut. I was excited to hear him try out the new sound (even if it was clear this was his first time using it), and I am excited to see where he goes from here.