Dawn FM’s Afterlife

Christian and New Age religious imagery inform the looming presence of the Great Hereafter in The Weeknd’s latest album

Dawn FM’s Afterlife

After the sensation of The Weeknd’s previous album After Hours — delightfully swirling with narcotic haze, self-destructive hedonist spiralling, and desperate, pandemic-sick nostalgia for a time that never was — I was not expecting Dawn FM. Dawn FM is a comparatively reflective album about regret and the struggle to find release from it. That is not to say that this is a sombre LP. This is still very definitely a The Weeknd album, and he has doubled down on the 80s synth-pop to create some irresistibly driving tracks. However, if After Hours showed a man completely and uncontrollably ruled by his id, Dawn FM shows one battling with his ego: struggling — and ultimately failing — to release himself from the pain and regrets borne from that life.

That overarching theme is supported by the ongoing conceit of the radio station, broadcasting “still more music to come before you're completely engulfed in the blissful embrace of that little light you see in the distance”. Combining the imagery of approaching the opening of a tunnel while listening to the radio in the car with the oft-cited experience of people who have had near-death experiences of seeing “a light” they can choose to move towards.

However, what struck me was the spoken word intermissions voiced by Jim Carrey. While, at first, it was really rather uncanny to hear the voice of an actor that most recently saw acclaim playing Dr Eggman in the live-action Sonic the Hedgehog movies now on an R&B/synth-pop album, it’s completely undeniable that he nails the role of the mysterious radio DJ. 

Perhaps that very meta surrealism even contributes to the slightly out-of-reality, out-of-body feeling that the spoken radio sections give off. At the very least, it’s a fun piece of trivia to discover that Carrey and The Weeknd are friends and neighbours IRL, a coincidence I’m sure played at least some role in the collaboration here. I’m seemingly not the only one to notice this either, as many have pointed to Carrey “stealing the show” in this album, an effect people ascribe to the quality of his spoken performances, described as soothing, nostalgic, and “like therapy”.

In this passage, Carrey gives an incredibly compelling delivery of the dreamy, hypnotic lines.

Soon you'll be healed, forgiven, and refreshed // Free from all trauma, pain, guilt, and shame // You may even forget your own name // But before you dwell in that house forever // Here's thirty minutes of easy listening to some slow tracks // On 103.5 Dawn FM

He delivers these lines with a blend of radio-host smooth-talk, new-age mysticism, and televangelist charisma. What’s more, the idea of “dwelling in that house forever” is not only a reference to an eternal rest waiting in heaven, it is a direct Biblical reference:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. — The Bible, English Standard Version

And that’s not the only place where direct Christian phraseology is used across Dawn FM’s spoken tracks. The final track — Phantom Regret by Jim — gives over the final item of this album to a spoken word poem spoken not by the principal artist of the album, but by Carrey (with The Weeknd providing backing vocals). It is in this track in particular that we see multiple references to God (with a capital “G”), Heaven, and ends with the line “May peace be with you”.

This is, amongst other places, a phrase used in the Anglican and Episcopal church traditions in a service during The Peace. Before communion, the phrase is used as a greeting as the congregation is invited to shake hands with their neighbours in a sign of peace and goodwill. This can also be found in Catholic traditions in the Latin Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum (“may the peace of the lord be always with you”).

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The Pax Domini in plainchant notation

In a strange way, Jim is — much like preachers of these faith traditions — sending forth his own congregation, the listeners of this album, in peace. To do what? Well, Carrey’s sermon is fairly explicit about that: “unwind your mind, train your soul to align”, “consider the flowers”, and “dance ’til you find that divine boogaloo”.

The ideas of finding spiritual healing are a common trend throughout the history of the New Age movement, as is the idea of looking ahead to a “light” ahead in a new world. It is parallel with the idea of being stuck in a tunnel looking ahead towards the light at the end. Specifically, particular branches of New Age movements (what Michael York refers to as the “spiritual camp”) are particularly interested in themes of death and rebirth.

This influence makes a great degree of sense for Jim Carrey to narrate, having turned from medication to New Age spiritualism to manage his depression. He has made little secret of this story, and it is clear that to Carrey, this type of New Age spiritualism has indeed helped him “self-improve”. Something he made clear by pointing to his lack of need for medication anymore, having spoken of his time on Prozac as a “low level of despair”.

Coming off of the back of After Hours and the strange, psychedelic loneliness of lockdown it was steeped in, Dawn FM feels like rehab. The Weeknd and Carrey bring to this album a sense of zealous, if not exactly pious, religious wonder to the music, supported by outstanding spoken performances by Jim of poetry bristling with spiritual philosophy and religious imagery.

Header Image Credit: "When Heaven Bends To Kiss.." by PRAVEEN VENUGOPAL is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/?ref=openverse.

Author

Christopher Hill

Christopher Hill Contributor

I am a musician, musicologist, and music journalist. I did my BA in music at the University of Oxford and am currently doing a PhD in music performance practice at the University of Birmingham.

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