Dua Lipa Future Nostalgia Warner Records
In 2013, Dua Lipa appeared in an ITV advert for the new series of The X Factor. Crooning her way through Sister Sledge’s Lost in Music while hanging out the washing, the then 17-year-old would go on to become exactly the kind of artist the wounded cultural behemoth had stopped making years before.
But Lipa’s metamorphosis turned out to be, to coin a very TV talent show phrase, quite a journey. Things looked rocky for a while, with her 2017 self-titled debut eventually released off the back of a number 86 smash, the Miguel-assisted Lost In Your Light. In an effort to position her as ‘more’ than just a pop artist, undeniable songs were thrown out with all that ‘authentic’ singer-songwriter bath water. In the end it would take seventh single New Rules to fully catapult Lipa from B-list newcomer to globally-recognised pop star. The foundation-reinforcing One Kiss with Calvin Harris, and the Mark Ronson/Diplo collaboration Electricity, soon followed, while Lipa herself stepped out from behind the immaculate imagery to voice her opinions on everything from misogyny in the music industry to her love of the UK Labour Party.
Looking back, it was Electricity that seemed to unlock something in Dua Lipa, the artist. In the video she careens around a loft apartment, finally free of the rigid physicality that seemed to hamper her early performances (yes, there were cruel memes on Twitter), while – significantly – the track’s sound palette, a glorious melange of retro dance music including featherlight disco strings and unabashed emotion, has gone on to form the backbone of second album Future Nostalgia. You’ll know the singles by now: the gold-plated, nu-disco kiss-off of Don’t Start Now; the sweatband-sporting Physical, which takes the dichotomy of the album’s title and jogs it around a nightclub in full Lycra. Still, for the majority of the album, and despite the involvement of a plethora of different producers and songwriters (Tove Lo, Stuart Price, Julia Michaels), a tight grip is kept on the album’s overall sound. The excellent Levitating dips further into the French bloghouse hallmarks explored on Don’t Start Now, while the equally incredible, Price-produced Hallucinate – surely a future single – sounds like a Daft Punk remix of a Confessions on a Dance Floor-era Madonna single. Is there higher praise than that?
It’s certainly the ‘nostalgia’ part of the album’s title that’s stressed by two choice samples, both of which embellish their new surroundings rather than dominate. Opening with syrupy strings that suggest a sky-scraping ballad (spoiler: the BPM rarely drops across the album’s svelte 11 tracks), Love Again suddenly morphs into a sophisticated, dancefloor-ready bop, those gloopy violins sashaying into a sample from White Town’s 1997 hit, Your Woman. The chorus of Break My Heart, meanwhile, is built on INXS’ Need You Tonight, with Lipa’s swollen vocals stuttering around a lithe, techno-adjacent bassline.
Lyrically, Future Nostalgia represents a clear split between relationships that are best forgotten and that terrifying no-man’s land of fresh obsession. Break My Heart, Cool and Love Again (“I used to spend so many nights alone/ I never knew I had it in me to dance again“) explore the latter, while Don’t Start Now cleverly re-works I Will Survive to knock some no-mark ex flat on their backside. Throughout it all, Lipa’s versatile and distinctive voice is pushed front and centre.
The sound, concept and overall feel of emotional release is so neatly packaged across the first nine tracks that it makes the final two even more of a disappointment. The woeful Good in Bed attempts to modernise Alright, Still-era Lily Allen but ends up all dressed up in its Air Max trainers and prom dress with nowhere to go. Orchestral closer Boys Will Be Boys has its heart in the right place, detailing the lengths women are forced to go to minimise themselves in a male-dominated world, but sounds cloyingly twee, even before the arrival of a kids choir.
Thankfully the album is more than strong enough to survive its flawed closing run. In fact, given the state the world is in – panicked, locked in, and, if we have that luxury, bored – Future Nostalgia might just represent the perfect escape we all need right now (at the very least it’s a great soundtrack to any Joe Wicks workout). Packed with full-throttle choruses, supple melodies and lashings of attitude, Future Nostalgia is a neon-hued sound of one of the world’s biggest pop stars smashing it out of the park.