The Albanian-Brit pop star rises to the top of the pop echelon with her star-making second album, a striking collection of sophisticated, hard-bodied pop-funk disco that offers up high-octane pop bliss.
I discovered Dua Lipa when I heard her second-ever released track “Be the One” playing in a Duty Free Shop at Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol when I confused her voice with that to Rihanna. When I made the remark of “is this Rihanna’s new single” to my best friend traveling with me, she laughed at me and said, no, but it does sound like her. Who would have known that four years later, one of pop mainstream’s emerging stars would finally shoot herself all the way up the ladder of pop stardom. With her 2017 self-titled debut album, she broke through several charts all around the world and she continued that momentum with several breakout track features – Calvin Harris’s global hit “One Kiss” and the throwback house vibes of Diplo and Mark Ronson’s “Electricity.” Fast forward three years later, to the early debut of her second studio album Future Nostalgia, released a week before its original release date, ostensibly because of the coronavirus pandemic, though probably because fans had already leaked it.
Future Nostalgia is a collection of sophisticated and hard-bodied pop-funk disco tracks that continuously offers up high-octane pop bliss. Anchored by lead single “Don’t Start Now,” an instant staple of pop DJs and barre classes, it lays the foundation of what was to come. Lipa capitalizes on her love of ’80s pop and ’90s club culture. She reteams with a team of career producers (Stuart Price and Jeff Bhasker) to dive deep into retro-pop revival, a flashy dancefloor timewarp aimed at the type of pop of music that Giorgio Moroder and other ’80s house artists created. Like all classic dance music, it is more concerned with the thrill of new passion than with what happens after the sun rises. What makes her music stand out compared to the likes of pop divas like Rihanna, Lady Gaga or Madonna is that Lipa radiates a sense of blithe coolness. Her brand is style, competence, and taste.
The album is nonstop, no ballads in sight. Out of the 11 tracks, the closest the album comes to a revealing emotional song is “Pretty Please” in which Lipa pleas for stress-relief sex with an ultra-thick and slick baseline. “Hallucinate” is a gorgeous, house-inflected euphoria; “Physical” serves, high-octane, Olivia Newton-John- ’80s, synth-noir work out track; on “Break My Heart” she samples INXS’s “Need You Tonight” to a very bewitching effect. The Tove Lo-written track “Cool,” she asserts herself as a dominant threat in the ever going male-pop landscape. But the latter track is a moment where I think the album falters slightly in trying to sound too tied to the pop trends of 2020. “Cool” and “Boys Will Be Boys” lack the same warmth and pizzazz as the rest of the album but they are still beautifully-written and excellent pop tracks.
Some tracks on the album also serve as social commentary by Lipa on such topics as sexuality, female empowerment and equality. The track “Boys Will Be Boys” is a slow-cut string laden track that tackles sexual harassment. Her point is clear in the lyrics “it’s second nature to walk home before the sun goes down / And put your keys between your knuckles when there’s boys around” followed by “boys will be boys / the girls will be women” – girls have to grow up much faster than their male peers and while the males get to remain blissfully oblivious to the violence of the world until a later age, their female counterpart have their childhood bubbles early on. In contrast on the track “Good in Bed”, Lipa crafts a summery, jaunty pop ear-worm on which she talks about getting “good pipe in the moonlight” – one my new favorite lyrics and euphemisms, right next to Shakira’s “I’m starting to feel just a little abused like a coffee machine in an office” – but her point clear about owning your body and sexuality and being unabashedly proud.
Lipa’s strongest stance: all-in on self-determination. The thrill of the album – as the title itself claims to maintain modern classic status – is in hearing the perfect mix and blend of retro-funk form to suit her commanding style and attitude. Her layered choral arragnements soften the ultra-literal writing, but as a closer, it brings the party to a halt with a serious tone that feels at odds with everything that precedes it. The album itself is an entire statement of proud and flawless bravado. At the end of the listen, Future Nostalgia serves its purpose as a bold collection of pop majesty to dance away your anxieties to, especially in such a tense and scary time… if only for a little while.
Essential Track(s): “Don’t Start Now”, “Physical”, “Break My Heart”, “Boys Will Be Boys”
Released: March 27, 2020.
Genre(s): Disco-pop, electropop, dance-pop.
Featured Artist(s): N/A.
Tour: "Future Nostalgia Tour"  (as of publishing)
Vinyl Edition: Yes - through various outlets (as of publishing).