Stream it or skip it?

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Housed in the Prime Video Top 10 since its release this weekend, The Weeknd x The Dawn FM Experience is a curated live performance of Abel Tesfaye’s latest album, which debuted at number two on the Billboard charts. From a piece aesthetically to the cerebral and fatalistic themes of Dawn FM, Experience finds the Canadian singer surrounded by a crowd of dancers and supported by his regular collaborator, Daniel Lopatin, alias Oneohtrix Point Never.

The essential: The Dawn FM Experience features The Weeknd performing a suite of songs from his new album. Dressed in black and transformed into the older, bearded, grey, wrinkled version of himself that appears in the Dawn FM album cover, Abel Tesfaye finds himself in a shaded industrial space lit by electric blue strobes and neon lights. A crowd of writhing bodies surround it – you catch a face or two in the dark, a swatch of strands of hair or leather straps on a torso, but the dancers remain largely featureless throughout Experience. (Are they merely projections of The Weeknd’s brainspace?) Tesfaye is joined here by Daniel Lopatin, the experimental musician and producer who served as his musical director for this Super Bowl halftime performance mirroring and generating memes in 2021. OPN stands at a bank of Moogs and other synthesizers while The Weeknd sings from a hexagonal attitude box perched in the center of the dancers. And with the addition of backlit industrial fans and a wall-mounted control panel filled with flickering solid-state bulbs, the physical aesthetic of Experience feels like a rave bursting inside Cloud City’s carbonite chamber from The Empire Strikes Back.

Experience follows chronologically with Dawn FMcreating steam from the title track opener drifting through the sex, drugs and fatalism of “Gasoline”, the obsessive pleading of “How Do I Make You Love Me?”, and the grooves Michael Jackson’s electro on the hit single “Take My Breath.” Experience then deviates a little from Dawn. Notably, it removes guest fire trails. Tyler the Creator doesn’t suddenly appear in the smoke, and Lil Wayne doesn’t rise from the ground for a version of “I Heard You’re Married.” Instead, The Weeknd reverses his hex platform, traveling through an underground gallery of mirrors for the introspective, urban pop-inspired “Out of Time.” The dancers disappear entirely for “Is There Someone Else?”, where The Weeknd is joined by a muse obscured in wispy red. But they surface in druidic capes for “Sacrifice” and “Starry Eyes.”

The Dawn FM Experience ends with a voice appearance by the album’s notable narrator, fellow Canadian Jim Carrey de Tesfaye. “Jim’s Phantom Regret” plays in its entirety – “Was it often a dissonant chord you were strumming?” – and shadows gradually fill the room until The Weeknd is left to his brooding contemplation.

The Weeknd The Dawn FM Experience Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Prime Video

What movies will this remind you of? Like the mind of Michael Jackson On the wall and Polar albums drift through The Weeknd’s music like a specter, it’s worth revisiting Spike Lee’s 2016 documentary, Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall.

Performance to watch: Credit The Weeknd for sticking with it a bit. His Experience performance features the same frost gray hair and age-altered appearance used on the Dawn FM scrapbook art. (Even his hands are wrinkled.) This is not the first time that Abel Tesfaye has played with his own image. Remember when he showed up at the American Music Awards looking like a walking injured man? He also wore numerous facial prostheses while rolling out his 2020 album. after hours.

Memorable dialogue: “You’re listening to Dawn FM, in the middle of nowhere on your dial. So sit down and unpack. You might be here a while…” Jim Carrey’s ‘Phantom Regret’ on Dawn FM is also an effective coda for Experience, with its riffs on the paradise location and the dance as the key to enlightenment. “Dance until you find this divine boogaloo…”

Sex and skin: Nothing beyond the themes of risky sex and fetishism in The Weeknd’s lyrics. “I wrap my hands around your neck; you like it when I always squeeze…”

Our opinion : There is a club with an atmosphere at the end of the world for The Dawn FM Experience. The last survivors of a nation under a groove working on their dystopian angst as the keyboards surge and the falsetto voices of The Weeknd. In other words, there is a sense of sadness in this party, and the back and forth in Abel Tesfaye’s lyrics, alternating between morose existentialism and elated sexual liberation, only shifts the mood further in the dark. But you have to imagine any club at the end of the world, and Experience feels very well transmitted into our reality directly from the headspace of its creator. You can see it as the realization of where Tesfaye is coming from in his songs, with their intoxicating meditations on sexual desperation, sacrificial acts and half-formed dreams surrounded by smoke and reflected off a coke mirror.

Yes Dawn FM Experience is fashioned from The Weeknd’s own thoughts, so it’s probably wise to omit guest appearances. Obviously having Waye or Tyler come through would be cool, but it would also bring the aesthetic back to the conventional reality of the gig. It would distort this little world that Experience has created, where The Weeknd seems totally apart from the crowd around him even as he sings his songs for them. It’s Tesfaye’s show, from start to finish. Islander? Yes. Selfish, even? Probably. But The Weeknd’s version of pop has always been notable for seeming to be for him and no one else, whether as therapy or as a personal party.

Our call: SPREAD IT. Part promotional item and part pop singer’s brain pathology, The Weeknd x The Dawn FM Experience gives strong visuals to Dawn FM’s notes of sex, death and introspection.

Johnny Loftus is a freelance writer and editor living in Chicagoland. Her work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glenganges

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