It’s a hard time to make traditional pop music. With Roddy Rich’s “The Box” just finishing its streak at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it seems the reign of trap and melancholy will continue for a while yet. Challenging this is Dua Lipa, whose new album “Future Nostalgia” brings a very sharp and maximalist sound fitting the title well.
Since making waves in 2017 with surprise hit “New Rules,” Dua Lipa has been a name bubbling in the public consciousness. While she has had success since then, she hasn’t exactly been able to capture that lightning in a bottle since, due in part to her lack of personality and in part to her sound not matching the mainstream. With this being her first album since then, she may be coming in to new heights. Lead single “Don’t Start Now” has already charted higher than “New Rules,” and that will not be the only hit of the album.
Simply put, “Future Nostalgia” is excellent. It sounds great. Is there anything wholly original on this? Not really, but that’s to be expected. What this does bring is nonstop energy, from the grooving bass on the title track opener to the fluffy synths of “Levitating” to the glam of “Break My Heart.”
If you notice, I have not said much about Dua Lipa herself. Truth be told, she is the least important part of “Future Nostalgia.” Her voice is good, and the lyrics are cheeky, but she does not stand out. When she talks about being a female alpha and says she “can’t teach your man how to wear his pants,” I don’t really believe it. When she attempts to say something on the closer “Boys Will Be Boys,” it kind of lands on its face. I did laugh at the line “I dedicate this verse to that good pipe in the moonlight” on “Good in Bed”, though, so I’ll give her that one.
Instead, the production and marketing for the album elevate the experience to something really special.
The textures of the sound on every track are rich and deep. You can listen to this album all the way through five times and focus on different instruments, different melodies on each pass. The basslines are tasty, and the synths gleam. The use of voice as an instrument (with vocoders and other pitch adjustments) in particular is really cool, standing out on tracks like “Cool” and “Levitating.” One more gush: The mixing on this album is perfect, with different sounds getting their moment, none overpowering the others.
“Future Nostalgia” really belongs to the producers. The messaging with the production is very clear and true-to-form of the title: Each song remixes old sounds and breathes new life in them. “Cool” sounds like Carly Rae Jepsen trying to do a Michael Jackson impression. “Love Again” samples “Your Woman” by ‘90s band White Town — a weird but immediately noticeable choice. “Physical” is a call-back to one-hit wonder Olivia Newton-John, even!
To Dua Lipa’s credit, the effort put into this album’s rollout also deserves a shout-out. While the coronavirus pandemic has brought about a suspension of tours and happiness in general, Dua Lipa and her team made the best of it. Through the past few weeks of isolation, she has live-streamed for fans, really talking and being authentic with them. Oh, and she released the album a week earlier, reportedly to bring some good feelings to this terrible situation.
Even before the world went to Hell, Dua Lipa was making moves with this album. With marketing that included a work-out video, a Brockhampton remix and a viral TikTok dance, this album was and still is destined to be a hit. Even if you are not interested in Dua Lipa at all, you should watch the music video for “Break My Heart.” It’s very cool.
This is not going to be the best album of the year or anything, but it very well may end up being the most fun. The grooves and details here will keep these tracks in your head and on playlists for a long time. At its peaks, “Future Nostalgia” feels like an homage to great pop music perfect for the dance floor. At its worst, it may come off as a rip-off. Even then, though, you can still dance pretty well to a rip-off.
Album Highlights: “Levitating,” “Love Again,” “Good in Bed”
Thumbnail Image via @dualipa
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Peter Fenteany is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.