ARTIST OF THE MONTH: DUA LIPA
Dua Lipa released her sophomore album, "Future Nostalgia," released on March 27, 2020, which compiles of 11-tracks that have neither features nor filler and makes a loud case for Lipa as a pop visionary, not a vessel. Lipa's long-in-the-making debut's varying quality and the sound was a real-time document of how modern pop stars have to evolve in public. Presumably emboldened by her success, on "Future Nostalgia," Lipa sticks to the so-called theme. She anchors the songs on the album with snappy basslines, then makes them transcendent, fully conveying the transformative nature of the romance she’s singing about. On the new record, she gives us her 2020 vision through the lens of the music she grew up listening to. That includes the likes of Outkast, No Doubt, Prince, Blondie, Jamiroquai and Moloko, but the album’s predominant sound is disco. Lipa even hit the studio with legend Nile Rodgers and, although his contributions didn’t make the final cut, you can hear his influence throughout.
The lead single “Don’t Start Now” made it to No 1 on Top 40 radio and acted as a spoiler for the album’s organically bottom-end-heavy giddiness. “Don’t Start Now” may be remembered as the feel-good song that weirdly cushioned their transition into a feel-not-so-good era and, one hopes, back again soon. But, for those of us with longer musical and institutional memories, we may remember it as a tune that brought a certain kind of deep groove and attitudinal happiness back onto the radio at a time we needed it most. Then we have "Levitating" that struts on a rubbery bassline and syncopated handclaps, the 24-year-old pop star singing of a love “written in the stars.” Next, "Pretty Please" strips back the layers to focus on gently throbbing bass, synth flashes occasionally making their presence felt and updating things from ‘70s disco to late ‘90s/early ‘00s dance-pop. ‘Love Again’ follows suit, sampling ‘Your Woman’ by ‘90s alt. dance star White Town.
All the way through this album, the pop star is in the driving seat, both behind the scenes and in the situations, she describes in the lyrics. For example, on ‘Break My Heart’ – which she recently described on recent Instagram Live as “my forte, dance crying” – she questions whether a new love is going to leave her nursing a broken heart again. But she decides to open herself up to that possibility, making herself vulnerable but stronger for it. Then there’s last year’s stone-cold banger ‘Don’t Start Now, a kind of counterpart to ‘New Rules’ that finds her delivering instructions to an ex and its powerful pop perfection. Then we move on to "Good In Bed," where she crafts a summery, jaunty pop earworm on which she talks about getting “good pipe in the moonlight.” It might be a distinctly unsexy way of talking about getting laid, but that’s the point – this is the star continuing the work of her heroes and singing about her hook-ups. On the flipside of Lipa’s empowering stance is ‘Boys Will Be Boys, a string-laden slow cut that tackles sexual harassment. Again, this demonstrating some of the things women have to think about in their day-to-day lives. Her point is clear – girls have to grow up much faster than their male peers, who largely get to remain blissfully oblivious to the violence of the world until a later age.
"Future Nostalgia" consciously crafts a distinct sound for the singer. Lipa’s nods backwards do not simply replicate the past sounds but use and manipulate them to shape a record that sounds undeniably modern. The album twists ‘80s pop comparisons in a way that feels unique, personal and fresh, creating a project that evidences Lipa’s growth from rising radio favourite to Britain’s leading pop star. As promised by its title, "Future Nostalgia" takes the listener on a nostalgic ride to the future: whilst recalling the dance-pop of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the album cements Lipa’s place in the future of British pop. Dua Lipa succeeds in building on the successes of her chart-topping first album by layering her well-established vocals and commanding lyrics with new sounds in pursuit of a cohesive and innovative follow-up that certainly tops its predecessor.