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Review: The Weeknd, 'Dawn FM'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, we couldn't end the weekend without talking about The Weeknd. We're talking about the R&B superstar, of course. His latest project, "Dawn FM," came out Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DAWN FM")

JIM CARREY: You are now listening to 103.5 Dawn FM. You've been in the dark...

MARTIN: The much-anticipated album is his first since 2020, and it is already generating a lot of attention and acclaim. So we called music journalist Kiana Fitzgerald to talk us through a few standout tracks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE WE GO...AGAIN ")

THE WEEKND: (Singing) Strike a pose with my kinfolk. Front page of the billboards. Suit and tie and cigar smokes.

KIANA FITZGERALD: So "Here We Go...Again" - at the top of this song, it sounds very much - to me, anyway - as someone who's been listening to him since the very beginning, "House Of Balloons," 2011, I can hear immediately that he is singing in this almost sing-rap style, like a very cascading flow. And it's very similar to what he did in his early days.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE WE GO...AGAIN ")

THE WEEKND: (Singing) Catalog looking legendary. Ring froze like it's February. XO, that's a mercenary.

FITZGERALD: And then towards the end of the song, he kind of folds in these other styles. Like, there's a Stevie Wonder moment after Tyler, the Creator's verse, and it's very exciting because it's like The Weeknd isn't afraid to go these distances and to experiment with different sounds, even within the same song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE WE GO...AGAIN")

TYLER, THE CREATOR: (Rapping) You going to sign this prenup. You going to sign this prenup. You going to sign this prenup. You going to sign this prenup.

THE WEEKND: (Singing) Ooh, here we go again. Life's a dream 'cause it's never what it seems.

FITZGERALD: I feel like The Weeknd is still very much in touch with his initial roots, which are very hip-hop, R&B-centered. So the features that we have here are Tyler, the Creator and Lil Wayne, who are both hip-hop artists. And I feel like they bring something to this album that kind of invites people who are initial listeners of his to kind of revisit and be like, OK, you know, here's a feature that I'm aware of. The sound may not be the same, but it's still in this universe that I became aware of The Weeknd in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW DO I MAKE YOU LOVE ME?")

THE WEEKND: (Singing) How do I make you love me? How do I make you fall for me?

FITZGERALD: "How Do I Make You Love Me?" immediately reminded me of the "Can't Feel My Face" song from "Beauty Behind The Madness" in 2015. And "Can't Feel My Face," I feel, was, like, his first real attempt at this, like, eerie pop style that kind of harkened back to the '80s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW DO I MAKE YOU LOVE ME?")

THE WEEKND: (Singing) And all the things you tolerated made you cold inside. But I can light you up again like embers of a fire. It doesn't faze you. I need a breakthrough. I only want what's right in front of me.

FITZGERALD: I feel like she's kind of extending himself into this universe where he's seen success, but he's also seeing some challenges for himself because he is not necessarily relying on the lo-fi R&B that kind of, you know, brought him to the public attention. He's also like, you know, here's this new style that I've experimented with. And it's fun, and it's exciting, and it makes people want to dance. And it's bringing some levity to people's lives at this moment. So I feel like "How Do I Make You Love Me?" is very on par with the direction that he's been going in.

So "I Heard You're Married," to me, speaks to The Weeknd's willingness and his dedication, I would say, to extending an arm to people who are both contemporarily very, very popular and people who are cemented in, you know, the kind of universe of music when it comes to, like, a Lil Wayne, who's featured on this song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I HEARD YOU'RE MARRIED")

LIL WAYNE: (Rapping) That's a long kiss goodbye. I got to tongue kiss you. And when doves cry, we ain't got enough tissue. I'm still in love with you. Where the love at? You walk down the aisle. I can make you run back, like f*** that. Where the love at? And tell hubby I'll kill him, no hub cap.

FITZGERALD: He's someone that is very respected in the hip-hop community, but not all of The Weeknd's fans know who Lil Wayne is. So I feel like The Weeknd, in some respects, is, like I said, extending an arm out to these artists to help them get exposure but also to say, you know what? I respect these artists as well, and they are people who inspire me. They are people who have given me a hand when I was, you know, coming up myself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I HEARD YOU'RE MARRIED")

THE WEEKND: (Singing) I can't be with you. No, I can't be with you. You're too deceiving girl. Talk to me, oh. I can't be with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WEEKND SONG, "SACRIFICE")

FITZGERALD: The standout track for me is "Sacrifice," which samples I "Want To Thank You" by Alicia Myers. And it's mixed in with this very pensive electric guitar melody during the verses. And as soon as I heard it, I was like, this feels like Michael Jackson.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SACRIFICE")

THE WEEKND: (Singing) But I sacrificed your love for more of the night. I tried to put up a fight.

FITZGERALD: Everything about it feels so Michael. And The Weeknd has definitely been compared to Michael Jackson for many years at this point, so it just - it was refreshing to hear because most people who get compared to other artists try to run away from it. And he really just walked right up to the comparison and said, this is exactly who I am. This is who I'm influenced by, and I'm not afraid to say it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SACRIFICE ")

THE WEEKND: (Singing) I hold you through the toughest parts, when you feel like it's the end 'cause life is still worth living. Yeah, this life is still worth living.

FITZGERALD: He's working in a way that's transcending anything that he's done before. He's not afraid. He is more bold and more confident than he's ever been. And he's allowed to evolve. You know, a lot of people feel like, oh, you know, I miss the old Weeknd and, you know, I miss the moody R&B. But, you know, he's ascended. He's become this whole new persona, this whole new person, this whole new artist. And I feel like he's allowed to do that.

MARTIN: That is music journalist Kiana Fitzgerald talking about The Weeknd's new album "Dawn FM." If you want more, check out NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast tomorrow. They're going to do a deep dive on The Weeknd's album. You can find that wherever you get your podcasts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SACRIFICE")

THE WEEKND: (Singing) I don't want to sacrifice. For your love, I try. I don't want to sacrifice, but I love my time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.