Saturday, March 28, 2020

Review: Future Nostalgia • Dua Lipa

Born in 1995, Dua Lipa is a generation removed from the initial disco boom. By the time she was old enough to appreciate music, the Scandinavians had hijacked the genre and bastardized it into bouncy Europop, emotionally castrated and infused with incessant perkiness. Nevertheless, whether revolutionary or reactionary, pop music is never meaningless. Music is a bookmark in pop culture, if not society at large, and truly great music has a way of sticking around. Residual nostalgia, blockbuster revivals, or most often, echoes of its influence in contemporary art remind us to spin a Chic record or dust off the obligatory copy of ABBA’s greatest hits. 

Into this conversation, enter Dua Lipa. In 2017, she released a debut record that – though a fantastic set of pop songs – was an unfocused product of its time rather than the trendsetter. In 2020, however, she’s in the driver’s seat: "You want what now looks like? Like me give you a taste," she declares on the opening title track of her sophomore record, Future Nostalgia. Carrying an intriguing concept with a high potential to backfire, the album time-shifts between the past, present, and future to predestine her legacy while paying homage to the late 20th century’s most prominent innovators in pop music. It is a bold thought to declare a record to be the definitive cultural timestamp at its conception. Only a damn fine record should be worthy of the confidence – so it’s quite fortunate that Future Nostalgia is, in fact, just that.

With Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa claims rights to nu-disco, a territory that dance deities Madonna, Cher, and Kylie Minogue have all mined for resources and vacated. She floods the record with both the thumps of a broken heart and the throbbing desire for a new lover. As she taps straight into the dance jugular and tells her former flame to stay away from their favorite late-night hang-outs, she all but bodyslams her ex against a sweaty groove on "Don’t Start Now," an instant smash. On "Break My Heart," she herself detests the club – "I should've stayed at home, 'cause now there ain't no letting you go. Am I falling in love with the one that could break my heart?" – despite the song’s club signatures, like its funky bass backbone and glitzy excesses.

Supercharged and relentless, the album is a musical defibrillator; any idle moments lead to another high-voltage electrocution.  When new love enters the picture, the passion is funneled into volcanic speaker-blowers. Neon synthesizers and urgent bass light up "Physical," an espresso shot to the libido: "C’mon, let’s get physical!" she roars with such command that Olivia Newton-John barely whimpered the phrase in comparison. Hellbent to maintain the breakneck pace, she propels herself across "Hallucinate," sprawling out her lovesick hypnosis across synth waves: "I hallucinate when you call my name. Got stars in my eyes, and they don't fade when you come my way." And with the same gusto, she springboards from the spacey starbursts on "Levitating" and punches her melody into the sharp bass licks of "Cool."

The mood turns more sensual than ecstatic when Lipa leans into "Pretty Please" or "Love Again," but it isn’t until the album nears its finale that she considers slowing down. In fact, the closing two numbers are nearly extraneous post-scripts to the preceding nine. "Good in Bed" encroaches on Amy Winehouse and early Lily Allen, and closing number "Boys Will Be Boys" is a strangely collected ending to a record that spent most of its duration in a frenzy. Strings are put to more traditional tasks beneath the feminist power ballad: "They do what they see, 'cause it's all on TV. The kids ain’t alright," she sings, a children’s choir chanting beside her. But perhaps it’s appropriate for the song to close a record that, to some prudes, will be construed as too forward for a young woman. 

Future Nostalgia charges at a full sprint from the starting gun: The title track alone spits confidence unimaginable from a woman who was just coming to terms with her place in the industry a few years prior. However, she understandably broke down that wall earlier this week: "I don’t want to do this," she said between tears on Instagram Live, just before she announced the album‘s promotion would continue through the largest global health crisis in decades. The decision surely wasn’t an easy one, but it seems the best results came from it. Decades from now, we’ll never forget the artist whose absolutely electric pop songs gave us permission to dance through the worst – and without a doubt, those songs will live on to accompany some of our brightest moments, too. 

Future Nostalgia is available now under Warner Records.

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