After Hours itself was a great album and became the soundtrack to those early Covid-19 months of 2020. It only seems like yesterday, but ‘Blinding Lights’ is two years old now and Dawn FM just dropped last week without too much fanfare or hype.
A Super Bowl performance followed After Hours this time last year, shining more light on one of modern music’s best catalogues, and now he brings another album that is sure to keep up the momentum of a fantastic career. It’s another assured effort, full of tracks that will dominate pop culture all through 2022 and beyond.
The Weeknd has often worn his influences on his sleeve. His early mixtapes used samples from many UK new wave acts, such as Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Cocteau Twins, and he was also clearly influenced by elements of indie, electronica, and dream pop. As he progressed into stadium superstar, he continued to channel 1980s pop sensibilities, and elements of A-ha and Tears for Fears can be found alongside the obvious big shadows of Michael Jackson and Prince. These two greats continue to loom large over his work, as do the darker, more alternative sides of R&B and soul. His rise from mixtape indie darling to fully fledged pop icon almost seemed effortless in retrospect.
He got Daft Punk involved in his Starboy project and the French duo continue to influence him, with many of the tracks on Dawn FM recalling the house grooves of eras when disco ruled the clubs, the original late 1970s explosion and the mid-1990s revival.
This album was executively produced with Max Martin and OPN, and the European influence continues with contributions from Swedish House Mafia, Calvin Harris, and Oscar Holter. The Weeknd isn’t ashamed of comparisons with Michael Jackson, and the Jim Carrey interludes recall Vincent Price and ‘Thriller’.
The interludes add to the album concept of an FM radio station that is playing as you drive on a highway, with lushly produced radio jingles and Carrey guiding the way. His segments are excellent and they certainly enhance the project.
Musically, uptempo retro-styled party jams with familiar samples (Alicia Meyers on ‘How Do I Make You Love Me’) later seque into more thoughtful, blissed-out slow jams, before the album again picks up the pace. It’s wonderfully sequenced and the whole concept adds to a feeling that the Weeknd has created a project that is much more than a few big tracks thrown together.
We are lucky to live at a time in music where many of the best artists value the album as a valuable platform. Kanye, Kendrick, Frank Ocean, Beyonce, Sza, Tyler the Creator, and the Weeknd are just some of those who take a classic approach to compiling their music.
There will be numerous hit singles from this Dawn FM, which will be everywhere in the coming months.
Thematically, he seems to poke fun at himself quite a lot here too, and despite pouring his heart out, there is a feeling that many of the lyrics are tongue-in-cheek. He’s certainly a lot more likeable than his fellow Canadian R&B superstar Drake, who charters similar territory lyrically, but who tends to irritate much more.
While both of these artists make hits for fun, there’s only one whose albums stand up consistently as whole artistic statements that outlast current trends.
The Weeknd doesn’t really do anything amazingly new on Dawn FM, but he has created a sound that remains 2020, even though it’s dipped in retro bliss. It’s his sound and it’s his time, and as an artist who only turns 32 next month, it’s been an impressive rise to the top of the pop world. Dawn FM is another excellent chapter on a journey that doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon.