On ‘Dawn FM,’ The Weeknd Learns That Even If There’s No Afterlife, He Must Face Tomorrow

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There’s simply creating music and then there’s creating your own world with it. The Weeknd excels at the former by doing the latter. This has been clear since the drug-driven, sex-steered, and lovelorn Trilogy that launched him into the spotlight, to the cinematic and emotional rollercoaster that is After Hours which further cemented his stardom. Dawn FM, his sixth full-length album, is another example of that. It bears a cover that flaunts the singer as a grey-haired old man who may finally be growing tired of the overzealous and carefree lifestyle that proved to be as much of a theme in his own life as it did in his music. If exhaustion hasn’t arrived for The Weeknd, consider the whitened beard as a sign of the wisdom he’s attained for those who operate like him.

Dawn FM is much more than the morning-after companion to After Hours, it’s a project that captures The Weeknd wrestling with his vices and how they affect him and those around him. Dare I say it, but as listeners, we watch the realities of life dawn on the singer and force him to accept what is real and not what he wants. The Weeknd wants to have his cake and eat it too, but unfortunately for his interests, that can’t be the case. The nighttime fun that’s filled with bright lights, drinking beyond reasonable measure, and a drug intake that toes the edge of a cliff, turns out to be a bit duller the following day as the sun and a hangover rise together.

On his sixth album, The Weeknd, more than ever before, sees that diving headfirst into life’s exhilarating thrills doesn’t always satisfy him in the end. The empty feeling he hopes to fill within remains incomplete because deep down, he knows these momentary highs won’t fill the void he wants them to. Nonetheless, he tries, but his attempts see him convincing others to compromise for his ways, rather than meeting them in the middle. On “How Do I Make You Love Me?” he pleads for a lover to enter his psychedelic world in order to understand him better and even gain something of their own for herself. Unfortunately, all that results in is her fascination for residing at the edge of life and death on “Take My Breath” and constantly seeking The Weeknd’s help in bringing her there.

Then comes the decision to keep his daytime love and his nighttime revel separate, as The Weeknd doubles down on his need to enjoy all the good and bad fruits of the world. “Every time you try to fix me,” he quips over funky house production on “Sacrifice,” “I know you’ll never find that missing piece.” The Weeknd’s self-improvements will always come from within as no outside force has enough power to alter his behavior. Take “Gasoline” for example. On this track, which is carried by dance-pop and EDM production, The Weeknd’s lover is presented as more of a bedside nurse than a romantic companion. They’re tasked with keeping him alive in order for him to repeatedly succumb to his vices. “You spin me ‘round so I can breathe,” he sings, later adding, “I know you won’t let me OD.” It’s also on this record that he admits to being a nihilist, which adequately explains his day-to-day approach. This nonchalance behind his decisions — which is motivated by his irreligious attitude towards the afterlife — doesn’t last forever. The Weeknd quickly learns that even if there’s no afterlife, he will always have to face tomorrow.

As expected, The Weeknd’s flawed lifestyle quickly catches up to him, leaving him to wonder if the chaos of it all is really worth it. The time that he has left to finally do right by his lover reaches zero on “Out Of Time,” leaving him empty-handed and with no one to call his own. Karma, a supreme being of its own, supplies The Weeknd with a taste of his own disloyal medicine on “Is There Someone Else?” and “I Heard You’re Married.” Even when he applies his grey-haired wisdom to his own life to learn from his mistakes, he ends up facing the same roadblocks that he did before. Calm and reminiscent production are at the helm on “Here We Go… Again” with Tyler The Creator as The Weeknd slips into love again. “Life’s a dream / ‘Cause it’s never what it seems,” he croons with a starlit spirit. “But you’d rather love and lost with tears / Then never love at it all.” Just a song later on “Best Friend,” this optimism comes crashing down when The Weeknd’s new love interest ruins their friends-with-benefits agreement by seeking more casual intimacy from the singer.

For a man who was quite against the idea of the afterlife at the beginning of Dawn FM, The Weeknd arrives at a new conclusion with help from Jim Carrey. On “Phantom Regret By Jim,” Carrey suggests that the idea of an afterlife and heaven are something that can be found internally, rather than it being a singular location somewhere in the clouds. “Heaven’s for those who let go of regret,” he says before adding, “You gotta be Heaven to see Heaven.” On Dawn FM, The Weeknd stands firm on his disbelief of the traditional afterlife, but he also loosens his grip on a life filled with revel. He realizes that even when there’s no fear towards what awaits him when he dies, the morning after, just like the afterlife, presents consequences he may not want to face.

Dawn FM is out now via Republic. Get it here.