Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review: Dua Lipa | Dua Lipa

The first chapter of Dua Lipa's career has been stretched thin. Fanned across a period of almost two years, it has been comprised of rapid-fire single releases, small headlining tours, and album delays. Through it all, the world remained perched for the grand debut of Dua Lipa, a eponymous debut album that she now refers to as #DL1. But in that time, it seems that Lipa has become a different form of pop artist than she set her sights on a few years ago – one who prefers to be a Jill of all genres rather than a master of one. And despite the biweekly meltdowns among her fans that say otherwise, it turns out that her evolution is far from disappointing.

Admittedly, Lipa's image has skittered from what once was. Her earliest pieces paint her as the next face of "dark pop," an obscure classification of alternative pop reserved for female vocalists who are even slightly difficult for music journalists to classify, but newer singles like "Hotter Than Hell" – the tropical house banger to end all tropical house bangers, mind you – and "Lost in Your Light" push her into the throne as the queen of the club, complete with a Sean Paul collaboration up her sleeve. Bridging the gap is, of course, underground single turned overnight success "Be The One," the song that seemed to spark Lipa's desire to capitalize on her potential to the extent that she has. But now, all of these sides to Dua Lipa – and quite a few more – are presented in a kaleidoscopic fashion, swirled in the focus of what is to be a singular body of work.

Now in our hands, Lipa's album wears her coat of many colors. As it runs its course, it feels a bit like a comprehensive scrapbook, pasted together with love and care to immortalize the past two years of her growth and musical experimentation. It follows every shade of Dua Lipa that we've already heard, from the moodiness of the acoustic-based "Thinkin' Bout You" to her "Blow Your Mind" confidence, but with a handful of new tracks and bangers aplenty, it manages to land just shy of feeling redundant or tiresome – even as an album that touts two tracks with narrow lyrical roots in the Book of Genesis. (And actually, those two tracks complement each other nicely. The album's opening track, "Genesis," bounces with the giddiness of complete happiness at the conception of a relationship, while "Garden" realizes the irreconcilable trouble that lurks below the guise of paradise.)

Although they are of a far different period in Lipa's short musical lifespan, her earliest tracks radiate a certain glow, having yet to go stale. Her new tracks, then, complete the rainbow of variety in her repertoire and bring fresh energy to what would otherwise feel like a greatest hits compilation. She's red hot on "New Rules," bouncing her voice in the rhythm of a hyper house beat as she warns herself to avoid past mistakes with a manipulative man, and on "Begging," bleeding her jubilation associated with a new love over a chorus that is too good not to break down in a drum-and-vocal-only bridge. (Spoiler alert: That breakdown happens. And it's great.) And by the end of the album, in a moment when she's pensive and blue, she delivers the piano ballad that every mainstream-aiming pop album is obligated to house – and it's doozy, featuring songwriting and unaccredited vocals from the increasingly less elusive Chris Martin.

If nothing else, the album reveals that Dua Lipa is a self-aware artist – a pop artist. In turn, as a pop artist, she delivered a standard pop album in many aspects, ignoring the pressures of cohesiveness and album-wide storytelling. And spare perhaps a faulty moment of judgement during which she thought it was a good idea to give a song the trendy acronym title "IDGAF," her unrestrained creativity doesn't lead her down any disastrous avenues. But more importantly, she's also a very human artist, with an alluring debut album that mirrors not only her musical interests that encompass every star and moon of the pop music universe, but also her exploration as to her place within that universe. She may not have found the answer to the latter just yet, but at least now, she knows that there are good chances that she could stick the landing no matter which way she jumps.

Dua Lipa is available now under Warner Bros. Records.

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