It’s been a few years since the Weeknd went all-in as a pop star. The Canadian crooner refused to reveal his identity early in his career and sang gloomy songs about sex, drugs, and yearning. His landmark 2011 mixtape House of Balloons was like a woozy soundtrack to an endless, libidinous loop of willful
It was almost as if he were steeling himself for a night of terrible mistakes that he would be making over and over again.
After his major-league level-up, the Weeknd, on the other hand, has struggled to keep some of that brooding realism. His notorious 2012 Trilogy collection pleased fans of his antihero, who sounded as if he had slept under the raunchiest bridge in some seedy city and sang about existential concerns like “Wait, where am
In contrast, Starboy, which came out in 2016, began to feel like one bloated, never-ending fashion week runway. Thankfully, on his fifth album, the Weeknd redirects those intergalactic aspirations to anoint us with the most beautiful music leading to purgatory’s Portal of Ease.
We adore our artists when they’re messed up, to be honest. Something about self-inflicted pain seems to bring out the best in them. But it’s all a game until he becomes a walking self-help aisle. The 16 tracks on Dawn FM don’t tackle addiction in the same way we’ve come to expect from him (no of
It’s refreshingly light and approachable — self-help for the selfie set — if there’s a self-help vibe here.
On “Gasoline,” the Toronto troubadour cries, “I know you won’t allow me to overdose,” in a tone that suggests he’s talking to a sage on a rural spiritual retreat. And on”Out of Time,” there’s a glimmer of comfort as he tells her, over sparkling, lush orchestration similar to Off the Wall
Quincy Jones’ spirit is all over this project. In a spoken-word interlude, Quincy Jones himself, in a voiceover, pensively reflects on the meaning of success and self-exposure (”Looking back is a pain, isn’t it?”).
Dawn FM is about limitless possibilities, as told by Jim Carrey, who plays a good-natured between-worlds radio host. On the Lil Wayne-assisted “I Heard You’re Married,” like some Casanova Kevin Finnerty, the Weeknd journeys through a surreal plane of existence before ending up with someone else’s wife.
“Every Angel Is Terrifying” is a Vanilla Sky-style monologue about the afterlife, whose utopian jargon (“You will enter a world beyond your imagination/A future out of control”) matches the album’s themes, even if it ultimately slows down the momentum. But the punchy “Less Than Zero,
“‘Cause I can’t shake this crawling in my bed/I try to conceal it, but you already know me/I fight it, but I’d rather be free.” The Weeknd has abandoned his old haunts and is more self-aware than ever before. That sense of clarity is particularly gratifying.