Words: Johnny Fry
Onstage at the American Music Awards in November 2015, Prince awarded The Weeknd the trophy for Best Soul/R&B album, for the Canadian artist-producer’s second album ‘Beauty Behind The Madness’. An experience most popstars could only dream of. An experience that would obviously leave a lasting effect on an artist and influence them for decades to come – “He’s the reason I get to constantly challenge the genre of R&B,” The Weeknd stated at last year’s ceremony as he picked up the award for Best Male R&B Artist.
This is why it comes as no surprise that The Weeknd’s ‘Dawn FM’ has delicately drawn on tropes and successfully amalgamated styles from the pop royalty of yesteryear: near on copying The Purple One’s falsetto and high-pitched vocals, emulating Michael Jackson’s sleazy charisma in anachronistic post-disco numbers, and the Guru in hip-hop-influenced tracks. This is all niftily tied together with a concept that this writer absolutely loves and hasn’t seen fail before – the use of seedy radio presentation to introduce some of the tracks with classic, over-the-top, captivating praise and abstract monologues to engage the listener – think Snoop Dogg’s ‘Doggystyle’ or Radio Los Santos from Grand Theft Auto. On the second half of the album, the radio concept is ingeniously applied in ‘Every Angel Is Terrifying’ when an echoed radio presenter calls out the phone number to order the ‘after life’ for a humble $4.99, all recited over Drexciyan retro-futuristic electro blips, a pastiche that some listeners will hold fondly, remembering chucklesome local radio advertisements – a practice that has surely died a slow death for a good reason, no longer being a banal cliché of music broadcasting.
This punditry is certainly not the only allusion to death on the album: on the second track, titled ‘Gasoline’, The Weeknd implies that he has set himself alight to escape the voices that are haunting him; and on ‘Take My Breath’ he sonically captivates a longing for death with ‘Final Countdown’-thumping chords of anticipation. This deep and doomy progression dives into a house beat that leaves you feeling like you’re cruising down an LA boulevard with a Z-list celebrity and a subtle eagerness to dispose of your existence around a lamppost. Imagine Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ video but slightly cooler and maybe a bit more depressed.
Is this the end of The Weeknd? This isn’t some kind of subtle musical suicide note, is it…? Whether it is or not, ‘Dawn FM’ has displayed characteristics of a well thought-out, self-aware, and properly realised pop album. His finest work yet. Let’s hope he can push this direction further and hope it’s not posthumously.
Watch ‘Gasoline’ here:
Listen to ‘Dawn FM’ here: