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The light at the end of the tunnel

A journey into The Weeknd's Dawn FM

Published: 14 Feb 2022
«You are listening to 103.5 Dawn FM: you've been in the dark for too long and it's time to walk in the light and embrace your destiny with open arms»: with these words, Jim Carrey, speaker on an imaginary radio, opens Dawn FM, The Weeknd's fifth album.

As described by the Canadian musician in an interview with Billboard, Dawn FM is a concept album: «it's as though the listeners were dead. They are lingering in this purgatory waiting to reach the light at the end of the tunnel - I have always imagined purgatory as being like stuck in traffic. And while they are stuck there, they listen to this radio, with a speaker who guides them towards the light and helps them with the transition to the other world. This means the album can take on joyful or dark tones, or any other undertone that the listener cares to perceive».

So, Dawn FM is an other-world journey towards the light, as stated in the first verses. We have been immersed in darkness for too long (a reference to these years of pandemic, but also to the personal story of The Weeknd), and the time has come to tune in to the frequency 103.5 and finally reach the other world. Choosing to talk about life's darks side is nothing new for Abel Tesfaye. But, if he talked about his self-destructive impulse in his previous albums, with Dawn FM he has shifted the attention on to a narration of pure annihilation: his poetry here rotates around death, an unusual topic in pop music. And it is a unique choice for an artist like The Weeknd, that is part of the pop Olympus, with billions of listeners on Spotify, colossal shows like the one for the SuperBowl 2021, and partnerships with the most important names in the music industry.

In the narrative world created by The Weeknd, the light is the final leg of the journey and is a kind of beacon that guides the first-person narrator and the listener. But it is also a key element running through the sixteen tracks in the album.

In Gasoline, we can perceive the cold light at five in the morning: the sun is not up yet, and night is gradually slipping away, while the first-person narrator is restless because of a tormented relationship (main focus of the album). This light is counterbalanced by fire that could bring peace to the lead player: his nihilism pushes him to seek death amidst the purifying flames that would cancel out any connection with his troubled past («And if I finally die in peace / Just wrap my body in these sheets / And pour out the gasolinе / It don't mean much to me»).
The fire light returns in How Do I Make You Love Me. In this track, the first-person narrator claims to be ready for anything to save the relationship with his loved one and rekindle the embers of the bond between them. Here, the fire is not a destructive force or bearer of death but an element capable of bringing back life.
With Take My Breath the story continues of a troubled relationship in which pain and pleasure are inextricably intertwined. Here, the fire is in the eyes of the loved one and is symbolic of such a burning passion that it can consume the two lovers and bring them to a cliff edge («You risk it all to feel alive, oh yeah / You're offering yourself to me like sacrifice / You said you do this all the time»). The only hope is to change direction, abandon old destructive habits and seek out a redeeming light («Tell me you love me if I bring you to the light»).
With Sacrifice, The Weekend transports the listener to the cold Toronto nights, the city in which he was born: they are dark nights that never seem to end, nights that do not bring peace to the narrator and compel him to look inside himself and analyse his behaviour in a relationship that, needless to say, is greatly troubled. In such a dark, freezing atmosphere, the first-person narrator opens up with a sincere confession: he lied to his loved one who had sworn eternal love to him, and he sacrificed love in exchange for nights in which to embrace his more hedonist, narcissistic side.
Dawn FM does not just contain songs: in A Tale by Quincy, the musician Quincy Jones looks at his past and describes a childhood trauma that may have influenced his way of relating to the women he has loved and his children. Near the end, Jones rebukes the listener and protagonist of the album: «Looking back is a bitch, isn't it?», hinting at the fact that it is important to question one's past, but it is equally important to let it go in order to embrace that «little light» that Jim Carrey refers to in the next track (Out Of Time) and, this way, overcome this intermediate stage in which the soul has not yet managed to free itself from the body and earthly torments.

Redeemer, destroyer, symbol of an other-world dimension and therefore bearer of peace, the light in Dawn FM can also be a frightening, inhuman light, like that of angelical creatures, far from the reassuring iconographic pop we are used to, in Every Angel Is Terrifying, where the first few verses of the Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke are recited: the beauty, in its purest form, is so intense that it transforms into blinding horror. It is interesting how, after such an overpowering, annihilating feeling, Dawn FM criticizes ironically and with hyperbole, an advert without a continuity solution (this too fictional): it is the one for After Life, ethereal science fiction film, «intense, brutal, sexy, euphoric, provocative, and harsh, that makes us think, and magnificent from a technical, visual point of view ».
The journey towards the light at the end of the tunnel is coming to an end, but first we meet the «purple lights» of Don’t Break My Heart, fourth-last track on the album. These are neither threatening nor redeeming lights: the purple lights are those in which the leading female figure in the track is immersed. They are seductive and charming, generate amazement in the eyes of the first-person narrator, who feels hypnotised and paralysed.
The farewell from the «best radio for freeing your spirits» comes with Phantom Regret by Jim, a truly poem work recited by Jim Carrey. After reflecting on the past, it is time to abandon the ghost of regret («Heaven's for those who let go of regret»), embrace the light and let yourself be enveloped by its grace.