Dua Lipa’s self-titled 2017 debut album presented us with a thoroughly modern pop star. She built gigantic choruses off of online acronyms (‘IDGAF’) and rewrote the rulebook for getting over your shitty ex in the digital age (‘New Rules’). As if to reinforce that, the latter has recently seen a resurgence on the bite-sized video app TikTok.
And now? “You want what now looks like / Let me give you a taste,” she purrs on the title track from her second album. Things aren’t quite as straightforward as that this time around though – 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.
‘Levitating’ struts on a rubbery bassline and syncopated handclaps, the 24-year-old pop star singing of a love “written in the stars”. ‘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, while ‘Break My Heart’ interpolates INXS’ hit ‘Need You Tonight’.
Lipa has long been known as an outspoken artist, standing up for what she believes IN including women’s rights. The female experience is one colours ‘Future Nostalgia’ from start to finish, be that through a sense of empowerment or observations on the inequality women face. “No matter what you do, I’m gonna get it without ya / I know you ain’t used to a female alpha,” she asserts on the title track. The confidence in her voice gives you no reason to doubt her.
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. 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 it’s her decision 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: “Don’t show up/Don’t come out/Don’t start caring about me now.” It’s powerful pop perfection.
Later, on ‘Good In Bed’, Lipa 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 kind of the point – this is the star continuing the work of her heroes and singing about her hook-ups in the same frank terms as men without being labelled in derogatory terms. Let’s get it, Dua!
On the flipside of Lipa’s empowering stance is ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, a string-laden slow cut that tackles sexual harassment. “It’s second nature to walk home before the sun goes down / And put your keys between your knuckles when there’s boys around,” Lipa sings, demonstrating some of the things women have to think about in their day-to-day lives. “Boys will be boys/The girls will be women,” she adds later. 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. Meanwhile their female friends have their childhood bubbles burst by self-defence tips.
It’s the most pointedly socio-political song on ‘Future Nostalgia’, an album that is intended to offer escapism from life’s more serious side. “I wanted to make music that takes your mind away from that,” Lipa told Vogue Australia recently. “I wanted to just make it a bit easier for me to get out of bed and not think about the negative things that are going on in the world all the time.”
When she made this album, the musician couldn’t know just how awful a state the world would be upon it’s released. But that just makes her achieving her mission all the more important. ‘Future Nostalgia’ is a bright, bold collection of pop majesty to dance away your anxieties to… if only for a little while.
Release date: March 27
Record label: Warner