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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

“Dawn FM” is The Weeknd at his grooviest

The Weeknd’s foray into the glitz and glam of the 80s is an experience worth tuning into.
Matilda Finn
The album cover for “Dawn FM,” photographed by Matilda Finn.

Alter-egos have long captured the imagination and intrigue of the pop culture consciousness, with tales of seemingly ordinary men and women donning colorful alternate personas permeating every layer of the entertainment sphere. Within the realm of music, Abel Tesfaye has forged a thriving career from a larger-than-life persona of his own. But instead of soaring over skyscrapers with superhuman abilities, he croons about the excesses of fame and fortune with a superhumanly silky and sultry falsetto as The Weeknd.

Despite the rather macabre core theme of his latest project, “Dawn FM,” Abel (by which his fans commonly refer to him) is able to inject plenty of life and vigor into his conceptualization of a radio station for the transition into the afterlife. He exchanges his trademark grimy and melancholic vibes in favor of a more vibrant sound soaked with synthesizers and heavily inspired by the sights and sounds of the dancefloors and clubs of the 80s.

A prominent instance of Abel’s retro-inspired aesthetic is “Out of Time,” a silky smooth cut with an infectious hook and shimmering synths that evokes the saturated neon sheen of a metropolitan skyline. The track cleverly pays homage to a bygone era by sampling a citypop classic

While exploring what he refers to as “a new sonic universe,” Abel makes it clear that he is not afraid of experimenting with unique and odd auditory textures. In “Gasoline,” he surprises listeners by singing in a Bowie-esque lower register, before eventually switching back into his trademark falsetto for the remainder of the song. Abel’s conflicting voices complement each other quite nicely, even while sounding a bit off-putting and awkward during the first couple of listens.

Abel has assembled an eclectic cast of characters to assist him on his new album. Tyler, the Creator, who is no stranger to heartbreak and colorful personas himself, drops a verse in the track “Here We Go… Again,” which sees Abel contemplating over conflicted feelings about a relationship doomed to fail. Abel also enlists the lyrical talents of industry veteran Lil Wayne when expressing his disdain over extracurricular relationships with married women in the aptly titled “I Heard You’re Married.”

On the production end, Abel has employed a host of talented artists, including EDM superstars Swedish House Mafia and Calvin Harris, as well as the legendary “Thriller” producer Quincy Jones. 

Guiding listeners to the afterlife that awaits at the end of the album’s runtime as the DJ to the album’s broadcast is a fellow Canadian who shares Abel’s taste for theatrics and telescopes—Jim Carrey. Carrey instructs listeners to “unwind your mind, train your soul to align and dance till you find that divine boogaloo.”

One of the most intriguing aspects of Abel’s latest work is how it continues to develop his Weeknd persona. The cover of “Dawn FM,” depicts its latest iteration, exchanging the signature bandages and blood-red tuxedos of his “After Hours” era for a more weathered look. The greyed-out hair and wrinkles covering his face appear to be alluding to a newfound sense of maturity and self-awareness. 

Even though there are still instances where Abel wallows in his hedonistic exploits, whether it be multiple mentionings of his inclinations toward erotic asphyxiation (“Take my breath away/And make it last forever, babe” and “I wrap my hands around your neck/You love it when I always squeeze”) or not-so-subtle hints at a hookup with a Hollywood A-lister (“My new girl, she a movie star/I loved her right, make her scream like Neve Campbell”), Abel also takes some time to reflect on the consequences of his reckless lifestyle. 

In “Less than Zero,” for example, he laments over a failed relationship while being backed by an arpeggiated series of synths and a pulsating drum beat which both harken back to his 2019 hit “Blinding Lights,” albeit with an added guitar riff and a far more mellow and introspective tone. With such a deliberate choice of instrumentation, it seems as if Abel is condemning his past self for being blinded by the lights of indulgence.

“Cause you were just like me before,” he sings in the second verse. “Now you’d rather leave me than to watch me die in your arms.”

While his days as an enigmatic curator of gloomy soundtracks to hazy drug-fueled Friday nights are long gone, the latest installment of the Weeknd mythos proves that Abel is able to reach the light at the end of his tunnel, crafting infectious melodies and embracing a glossier soundscape that uncovers and illuminates new layers of his Weeknd persona.

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About the Contributor
William Yuk, Staff Writer
William Yuk ('25) is from Long Island, New York, and plans on majoring in Human and Organizational Development and English in Peabody College. When he's not churning out music content, you can catch him dozing off on the couches of the EBI Great Room, reminiscing about his mom's pork and chive dumplings or moshing to Lo-fi hip hop beats. He can be reached at [email protected].
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