Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’ is pop music escape

Picture this: it’s 9:30 p.m. on a Friday night. Normally, you’d be getting all dressed up in some thrifted clothes to go pregame with some friends — and maybe that cute boy you like — before you go to a basement party or a club. But thanks to recent events, you’re stuck in your childhood bedroom, already in your pajamas — the ones you’ve been wearing for the past three days — and looking through Netflix for a movie to watch. Everyone’s gone to bed and you’re thinking of breaking into the five-dollar wine.

It’s safe to say we’re living in unprecedented, terrifying times. We all have our various ways of coping, but thankfully, Dua Lipa’s provided a fool-proof way to ignore our current situations. After “Future Nostalgia” (2020) leaked this past week, Lipa released the album early, hoping the new music would bring some joy to listeners everywhere. The decision brought one of 2020’s best releases to the hands of fans who are surely going stir-crazy and climbing the walls. Especially in our current situations, “Future Nostalgia” is the sweetest of escapes.

The last times we heard from Lipa, she was collaborating with Calvin Harris on “One Kiss” (2017) and with Silk City on “Electricity” (2018). She’s become a household name with her self-entitled debut and the explosive song “New Rules” (2017). Thankfully, Lipa’s kept going with the good parts of her debut — danceable singles — and ignored the throwaway songs that made it feel clunky. With “Future Nostalgia,” it’s back-to-back hits (well, “Boys Will Be Boys” feels out-of-place, but we’ll discuss that later).

There’s some incredible energy on this album that’s reminiscent of previous pop queens (Kylie Minogue, Nelly Furtado, Madonna). And Lipa’s cluing us in on the album’s connection to the pop of the past — with the title “Future Nostalgia,” it’s impossible not to put Lipa in line with those larger-than-life stars. She’s put herself in that position. And it certainly pays off. “Future Nostalgia” is a seasoned pop sound not unlike the disco of Minogue and the sexy pop of Furtado and Madonna.

Lipa sounds more mature on “Levitating” and “Hallucinate” than some pop artists sound albums into their careers. It’s easy to point to these two tracks — they’re the album’s best — and they’re absolutely perfect. “Hallucinate” is especially delicious. It’s the song that you hear from the club bathroom and sprint to the dance floor for, not unlike Ariana Grande’s “Into You” (2015) and Rihanna and Calvin Harris’ “This Is What You Came For” (2016). Those songs were a fun rush; “Hallucinate” feels particularly euphoric.

But with only 11 tracks, “Future Nostalgia” doesn’t waste time just highlighting the two songs that are sure to be playing at Club Café once this pandemic passes. No, it’s chock-full of bangers ready for dancing. “Don’t Start Now,” the album’s lead single, is great. “Physical” is pure adrenaline. “Pretty Please” and “Break My Heart” are funky. It’s all quick — nearly every song is under four minutes — and wonderful. Everyone say, “thank you Miss Lipa!” She released the pop music you’ve all been screaming for.

And we should celebrate that! It’s great to listen to an album that’s obviously been carefully crafted. It’s Lipa’s show — there are no features — and that makes “Future Nostalgia” feel focused and smart. She has seamlessly woven together disco, dance-pop and 80s pop (especially on “Cool”) to create something familiar and fun. And while we certainly will enjoy listening to “Future Nostalgia,Lipa probably had more fun making it. Lipa’s plenty flirtatious and honest on most tracks, with lyrics about former lovers and new lovers and dancing with lovers. That sex drive peaks on “Good in Bed,” which features a line about “good pipe in the moonlight” that’s just too iconic to ignore.

But the album’s cohesiveness feels broken by its ending track, “Boys Will Be Boys.” It’s meant to be an empowering anthem fighting against sexism and sexual harassment. And while it might justify its existence on any other album, it sticks out like a sore thumb on “Future Nostalgia.” Why this song? And this isn’t to say that Lipa should just stick to making radio-friendly pop songs; questioning “Boys Will Be Boys” isn’t an attempt to corner Lipa into making one genre of music (although the song is also sonically not very good — it feels like it’s missing something, like it was hastily finished). Nor is it an aim to downplay the song’s message. But it is a venture to understand why “Future Nostalgia” ends on such an oddly placed note.

And with “Boys Will Be Boys,” there’s something left to be desired at the end of “Future Nostalgia.” It calls into question whether the song is out-of-place or just plain bad. Does “Future Nostalgia” really need “Boys Will Be Boys” to be good? The answer seems to be no; just because Lipa doesn’t sing soaring ballads about various issues doesn’t mean that “Future Nostalgia” isn’t exploring complex ideas and themes.

But thankfully, “Future Nostalgia” has too much going for it to be ruined by one confusing track. It’s pop that’s indebted to genres and styles before it, but still exists on its own terms. It’ll be a post-coronavirus party staple, so learn the lyrics now. But for now, it’s the fun dance escape we all need. It confirms Lipa’s ability to make more than just a handful of good singles; she’s a full-fledged pop star we should all be paying attention to.


Summary

With a great vibe and plenty of ready-to-go bangers, Dua Lipa makes an album that belongs in nightclubs and on party playlists.

4 stars
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