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Dua Lipa, Future Nostalgia, review: smashing dancefloor bangers from Britain's brightest pop star

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Dua Lipa, on the album cover of Future Nostalgia
Dua Lipa, on the album cover of Future Nostalgia Credit: Warner Records/AP

In the middle of a lockdown, with nightclubs closed, tours cancelled, venues shuttered, gyms barred and even Zumba classes in your local church hall suspended for public safety reasons, Britain’s brightest pop star has rush-released a set of super-sleek, ultra-shiny, streamlined dancefloor bangers.

It might be an act of genius. It is not hard to imagine the nation’s young music lovers social distancing together, doing home workouts via video conferencing, belting out the “Baby, keep on dancing like you ain’t got no choice” hook from Dua Lipa’s storming single Physical. Many major artists are postponing releases until they can promote them properly, including Lady Gaga and Haim. In a teary Instagram Live video post this week, Lipa admitted she “wasn’t sure if she was doing the right thing” by putting out her upbeat second album in the middle of a pandemic but decided to bring it forward because “the thing we need the most at the moment is joy.” So could Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia be the soundtrack to the shutdown? Or will we all be staring pensively out of our windows, listening to birdsong?

A lot is riding on Lipa’s success. As we saw at the Brit Awards just last month, British music is really suffering from a dearth of commercial female talent. Lipa is a 24-year-old Londoner, her name reflecting her Kosovan-Albanian heritage. Dua means “love” in Albanian and it is a proper pop star moniker, although growing up she has admitted “all I wanted was to be called Hannah, Sarah, Ella … anything normal.” She was fast-tracked for stardom and it is easy to understand why: she is gorgeous, smart, with a husky mid-range voice and a nice line in sloganeering lyrics. She has been managed by the team behind Lana Del Rey and Ellie Goulding since 2013 when she was just 17, and it is rumoured throughout the music business that millions were spent by Warner Music UK creating her self-titled 2017 debut album, and that she was considered “too big to fail.”

It paid off when her break-up dance anthem New Rules became a global hit, but the album itself was a bit of a hot mess in search of an identity, with Lipa trying on a host of different styles, from brazen Gaga EDM to jazzy Amy Winehouse acoustic confessionals and Adele style power ballads. There was even a whimsical piano duet with Coldplay’s Chris Martin. Following more big hit singles with dance producers Calvin Klein and Martin Garrix that helped make Lipa the best-selling British female artist of 2018 (and one of only two British females in last year’s top 20 albums), Lipa and her team of co-writers and producers have created a much more focused follow up. Future Nostalgia really only has one thing on its mind. “My love is like a rocket, watch it blast off,” Lipa declares on the glitterball funk of Levitating. “I’m feeling so electric, dance my arse off.” It’s a very transatlantic-friendly sound, but it is heartening to hear Lipa assert her Britishness by refusing to adopt the standard American pop pronunciation of “ass”.

The nostalgia of the title refers to the album’s unabashed roots in funk and disco. Actually, I suspect Lipa’s nostalgia is rather more freshly minted than it might seem. She has spoken about her debt to Eighties and Nineties stars Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Moloko, Outkast and Blondie, whilst sampling INXS on her track Break My Heart and 1997 one-hit wonder White Town on Love Again, all artists who themselves drew on the Seventies disco grooves of Chic, Bee Gees, Giorgio Moroder and Kool & The Gang. So its really a kind of nostalgia for nostalgia. The Future side of the equation is more of an attitude thing, with Lipa asserting her status on the title track as a “female Alpha.”

In the modern song machine mode, there are over 40 writers and producers credited on this album, although Lipa’s central presence is nonetheless strong. She has already shown herself to be a sharp pop phrasemaker with an assertive character, and where songs on her debut revolved around recovering from a breakup, here she has bounced back and taken control. Don’t Start Now is a fantastic put-down of a needy ex, Good In Bed a saucy celebration of a love-hate affair. The album only deviates from the dancefloor on the final track, a genuinely uplifting modern feminist singalong anthem, Boys Will Be Boys, that pulls no punches: “It’s second nature to walk home before the sun goes down/ And put your keys between your knuckles when there’s boys around.” Strings and choirs surge as she defiantly sings, “If you’re offended by this song/ You’re clearly doing something wrong.”

Not every track is a solid smash of that wit, brio and sheer quality, but even minor tracks such as Cool and Hallucinate keep up the melody and movement with a spirit of sensual fun that would make Kylie Minogue weak with envy, whilst monsters such as Physical and the slinky Pretty Please are going to have Gaga pulling her pop socks up. It is hard to tell what is going to happen to music in this suspended moment in time, but if you want to sing and dance your troubles away, Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia might just be the record the world needs right now.

Future Nostalgia is released by Warner Records on March 27