The Weeknd’s “Dawn FM” fuses 80s’ nostalgia with purgatory


Kimberly Cui

The “Dawn FM” album art portrays Tesfaye as an old man, symbolizing the overarching themes of mortality and death within the album

The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) served a platter of melancholy melodies, dark disco, and 80s’ synth-pop with his fifth studio album, “Dawn FM” in which he reflected upon life, death, and everything in between. Easily being his most gestated album, Tesfaye guides listeners through his contemplations with his concept radio station, Dawn FM, narrated by actor Jim Carrey.

The Weeknd is undoubtedly one of the most creative minds in the music industry, with his discography including “Beauty Behind the Madness”, “Kiss Land”, and “Trilogy”. His 2020 album “After Hours” truly brought him into the limelight, with singles such as “Blinding Lights” and “Heartless” taking top spots on the charts for months and featuring in his 2021 Super Bowl Halftime performance. “Dawn FM” further strays away from the dark R&B sound from earlier in his career, sounding more similar to his “After Hours” album. 

“Flashback FM”, similarly to “Dawn FM” is based on a concept radio station. “Flashback FM” is introduced with the sound of surfing through radio stations, finally landing on a voice singing “Flashback FM.” “Dawn FM” opens with the angelic vocals of the Weeknd, transitioning to Carrey reporting, “You are now listening to 103.5 Dawn FM // You’ve been in the dark for way too long // It’s time to walk into the light and accept your fate with open arms.” The album is meant to capture the feeling of sitting in a traffic tunnel with the light at the end of the tunnel being death. 

The album is meant to capture the feeling of sitting in a traffic tunnel with the light at the end of the tunnel being death. 

“Take My Breath”’s composition is comparable to Michael Jackson’s, with 80’s electric guitar, piano and Tesfaye’s impressively high vocal range. Initially released Aug. 6, 2021, the single took off because of its catchy rhythm. The instrumentals are backed by Tesfaye’s struggling breaths, a tribute to the name of the song.

“Is There Someone Else?” is a relatable retro R&B piece, featuring an electronic voice warbling the song name. This element has also been seen on singer ZAYN’s “Connexion” from 2020. Tesfaye questions the intentions of his lover, and yearns to understand what went wrong between them. 

In “How Do I Make You Love Me?” Tesfaye aches for his lover:All the things you tolerated, made you cold inside // But I can light you up again like embers of a fire.” He questions his lover and what is required for them to get back together. “How Do I Make You Love Me?” is a collaboration between producer Swedish House Mafia and The Weeknd, and features heavy uses of synth melodies. The song reminds listeners of their last collaboration, “Moth to a Flame” from 2021. 

“Every Angel Is Terrifying” is a “Stranger Things”-style interlude, portrayed as an advertisement for “After Life”. Carrey markets, “The exotic, bizarre and beautiful world of ‘After Life’ // And this is your invitation to enter // Critics say ‘After Life’ makes your current life look like a total comatose snooze fest.” Fans speculate that Tesfaye could be hinting at a future album named “After Life,” which would fit into a new “Trilogy” with “After Hours” and “Dawn FM.” This theory has been supported by a tweet in which he confirmed the new trilogy. 

Overall, “Dawn FM” is an exemplar of the creative genius of the Weeknd. While taking inspiration from other artists, Tesfaye spins the upbeat 80’s genre with his own cynical twist. However, he isn’t the only one with the creative panache to blend modern and retro elements together.The 80s’ synth pop style used in “Dawn FM” seems to be making a comeback. Recent albums such as “Flashback FM” by Møme and Ricky Ducati and “Alone at Prom” by Tory Lanez have taken a spin on classic 80s compositions.

Artist Tory Lanez recently released “Alone at Prom,” an eleven track album with minimal features. The album aspired to intertwine harmonious melodies, dreamy vocals, and a cohesive story to form an excellent ode to the sounds of the 80s’. The album follows the story of Lanez’s persona, “Ashton Rain,” throughout his journey of heartbreak. 

The tracklist starts off with the introduction of Ashton Rain with “Enchanted Waterfall,” a synth retelling of the hit song, “Careless Whisper,” by George Michael through the eyes of Ashton Rain. Lanez incorporates many of the same chords from the chorus of “Careless Whisper,” and smoothly transitions to the chorus of “Enchanted Waterfall,” perfectly setting the tone for the album. 

He continues with songs such as “The Color Violet,” an ode to heartbreak and his nature as a playboy. He demonstrates the full range and breadth of his vocals in this track, especially in the chorus. Following this, he sequenced the album to include the lead single of the album, “Lady of Namek.”