The Weeknd 
Dawn FM

XO / Republic Records • 2022

Could Dawn FM finally be the full-on definitive album statement the Weeknd has been chasing his whole career?

You’ve got to hand it to the Weeknd: at least he tries. While some of his contemporaries continue to phone it in with massive data dumps marketed as albums, Abel Tesfaye has gone out of his way to make Albums. As far as I am concerned, up until this point, including the After Hours era, the Weeknd is a greatest hits artist a la Queen, Abba, Shania Twain, Journey, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Steve Miller Band etc. His 2027 Las Vegas residency will be spectacular, I’m sure. But like the aforementioned artists, it is unlikely you’ll see a Weeknd album too high up on a greatest-albums-of-all-time list. People felt strongly about After Hours, but the singles, of which there were many, were head-and-shoulders better than the rest of the album.

Could Dawn FM finally change that? As far as full-length album statements go, it is the Weeknd’s best by far. It is relatively lean, lightly conceptual (I believe the concept is basically “listening to the radio in purgatory”), highly stylized and expensive-sounding. The songs are catchy and pretty consistent the whole of the way through. It has already elicited “AOTY contender” talk, not even two months into 2022. I wouldn’t go that far, but I think there is a lot to like here. “Gasoline” is a smash, British accent and all. The opening quarter of the album is genuinely thrilling 80’s porn, with enough Daft Punk-y umph to make it sound modern. The album drags a bit in the middle in part due to the phoned-in Tyler, The Creator verse and the song about the Weeknd being sad that someone he is having sex with wants to be more than friends (The horror!  But isn’t that what every Weeknd song is about?). Still, Dawn FM emerges from the samey doldrums into a satisfying final stretch. “Less Than Zero” has been wholeheartedly embraced by indie guys because it kinda sounds like The War On Drugs. 

Dawn FM is like drugs (I think). You will always be chasing that initial high of your first listen. At the outset, it is impossible not to be blinded by the lights, the synths, Jim Carrey and memories of Michael Jackson. But the more I listen, the emptier it all feels and the less sure I feel there is anything of substance there. I want a big-time, critically-acclaimed pop album to feel like the future, but this feels like it’s the end of the line. It’s as if all the new ideas have been spent. Like, yes, purgatory. Maybe the Weeknd is in on the joke. People’s interest in music — even pop music — is waning. It’s an accessory. It’s a niche. The Weeknd is truly the perfect pop star for this era because pop music as it has been traditionally understood is over, and he has no idea how to push it forward, and he is fine with that. What is pop and what is popular has been fragmented by streaming numbers, culture war shit, Tik Tok, COVID and probably other factors that simply matter more to people than music.  Based on the fanfare and the unbelievable success of “Blinding Lights,” the Weeknd may be the last universal pop star. Or at least, the last pop star who wants to be one. And because of that, he is perfect for the job. So yes, with Dawn FM, the Weeknd finally made a Great Album, but I can’t help feeling like maybe, he just made a pretty good playlist to throw on while riding your Peloton.

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