Dua Lipa reinvents the past on 'Future Nostalgia'

Wednesday, April 1, 2020 - 1:57pm

NOSELL

Warner

Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia was actually supposed to come out this week, with an original release date of April 3rd. But in late March, a full leak of the album hit the internet. This placed Lipa in a complicated position: postponing her album release would be a seemingly pointless pursuit. She addressed the situation in an emotionally packed Instagram Live stream that ranged in topics, spanning from the future of her album to the UK’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. “In these kind of situations we all need to actively work together to make a change,” Lipa said. “What I’m gonna do is, instead of my album coming out April 3rd, my album is actually gonna come out this Friday.” In light of the pandemic, many artists actually did the exact opposite, delaying their album releases.

Despite the negative background surrounding its release, Future Nostalgia is a peppy, fun step forward in Lipa’s career. Lipa’s 2017 self-titled debut cemented her as a successful, stable pop force. Radio mammoth “New Rules” dominated charts worldwide and the debut garnered Lipa her status as 2017’s most streamed female artist. She played this route to pop stardom safely, though; her 17-track debut contained a lot of EDM filler, tactful collabs and on-trend Ed Sheeran lyrics about anxiety and party-skipping. Her appeal felt formulaic, almost indecipherable in a music sphere with receding pop dominance. There wasn’t a distinct personality to Lipa’s celebrity, her then lacking stage presence picking up slack in meme potential. Her leathery, molasses-thick register was her saving grace, polished like a relic from pop music’s past. 

For this reason, Future Nostalgia is a testament to Lipa’s evolution and greater control of her career. The new era is as distinct a shift for Lipa’s image as her two-toned bob. Shortly following her breakup with longtime boyfriend Isaac Carew, Lipa had a relationship with Anwar Hadid and a leading single that blithely addresses her ex. “Did the heartbreak change me? Maybe,” she croons in “Don’t Start Now.” “But look at where I ended up / I’m all good all ready / so moved on it’s scary.” Her voice is strong, almost melismatic, but it glides effortlessly off the thumping percussion and pulsing synths. An electric violin in the bridge elevates this already buoyant boogie track with a groovy disco flare. Follow-up single “Physical” has the same vintage bubble wrap, but with an anthemic intensity. Lipa chants “Let’s get physical” over a neon, almost jazzercise-type melody. While very imitative, its chugging synthline and synth flares don’t come off as dated. 

Lipa both literally and figuratively breathes “Future Nostalgia” into the initial title track. A robotic voice harkens back to Prince’s “1999” while also whispering “future” throughout the song's intro. From there hovers a comfortably cheesy keyboard melody and flaring synths. Lipa wears the unabashedly chunky bassline like a chain as she proclaims, “You want a timeless song / I want to change the game,” as if to state her album’s mission. The song carries the same stratosphere of the ’80s, but her attitude anchors it to the future with contemporary commentary and references to futurist artist John Lautner.  

While never as kitsch as the intro track, a similarly contagious ’80s pop ether coats every moment on Future Nostalgia. Some songs contemplate the transcendent, altering nature of love and romance. “Levitating” is galactic and starry eyed with wobbly, rhythmic synths and spacey imagery that call a “sugar boo” to dance in the moonlight and “fly away.” Similarly, hazy “Hallucinate” pulses with laser beam flares and promises to “love you like a fool.” Other songs wrestle with the tension of recent heartbreak and newfound love. Most notable is her recent single “Break My Heart” that considers the anxiety and potential doom of a newfound love. Hypnotic and dreamy standout track “Love Again” visits similar territory with a simple violin melody that flourishes under the vision of developing trust in a new romance. 

Future Nostalgia operates under a vision that is equal parts visceral and nostalgic. With the ambition to reinvent herself, Dua Lipa modernizes an iconic pop sound. This goes down to the very fabric of the album, thumb-tacking legendary sounds and moments in ’80s music with a contemporary bend. By collaborating with disco legend Niles Rodgers on the album and tracking back to the near forgotten pop trend of the 2000s, Lipa honors the past as she breathes life into the EDM pop scene that kick-started her artistry. Beyond the ’80s synth-packing Lipa, Future Nostalgia is a balanced blend of raw vulnerability and empowerment as Lipa navigates love, self assurance and heartbreak. Despite its newness and early appearance in her career, Lipa’s Future Nostalgia is a timeless pop masterpiece.