When Dua Lipa released “Don’t Start Now,” it was a bold reintroduction for the rising pop star, and it came at a crucial moment. The pressure on an artist with a successful start to deliver a strong second album is immense. Avoiding what is often deemed the “sophomore slump” can be crippling. To add even more pressure to her situation, this was Lipa’s first release since winning the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.
Lipa admitted she felt that pressure. She was scared to get stuck making the same song, not being able to advance at all as an artist. So instead of playing it safe, she aimed for something completely different.
“Don’t Start Now” was another infectious breakup anthem, even more empowered than her breakout hits “New Rules” and “IDGAF.” But sonically, it was out of left field for the traditionally Spotify-core, EDM lite artist. It had a heavy disco influence. It was nowhere near the pop trap that mainstream radio had on heavy rotation.
The track managed to evoke images of disco balls and roller skates, but felt unique instead of a retread of yesteryear’s pop. From its release, it began slowly climbing the charts. The song has now reached the top of Billboard’s Dance Club songs charts and spent weeks atop the Mainstream Top 40 chart as well.
The disco influence of “Don’t Start Now” could have been an aberration. The Brit pop star’s debut album danced all over the board, pulling influences from various areas. It was exploratory and incohesive. But with her sophomore album, Lipa aimed to make a more connected body of work — something that built its own universe. In fact, the album’s name, “Future Nostalgia,” came before any of the tracks.
“Future Nostalgia” was promoted with a tightly executed schedule of releases and content. After “Don’t Start Now” came award show performances, a teaser track, a tour announcement and another promo single with multiple creative visuals. The engine of a major label pop release was running smoothly.
Then, COVID took over. The music industry began screeching to a halt. Releases from big artists were delayed across the board. Was it still the time to release an upbeat dance album in the middle of a worldwide crisis?
Then, the album leaked. How do you delay an album the world has already heard? All promotion plans had already been torn up, so Lipa chose to throw them out the window and instead move the album’s release up.
“Future Nostalgia,” released March 27, is a high-energy album with movement pulsing through its veins. It is a full on dance album, no ballads welcomed or necessary. The album’s 11 tracks explore different elements of disco and funk music with a modern punch. Every track is a stunner, and together they form a defining body of work.
It is an album laced with escapism, a hallmark of the disco genre. It is an album that can, for 38 minutes, take you out of quarantine and transport you. “Physical” is a full body jazzercise class. “Levitating” is a riotous summer block party. “Hallucinate” is a sweaty festival rave. “Love Again” is a late night drive to a moonlit tryst.
“Future Nostalgia” is an album that eases isolation, but also makes you crave the moment when we can all get together and experience music again. These songs will for sure have an extended life once we going out and dancing is an option.
Throughout the album, Lipa — who is a credited writer on every track — showcases her ability to push pop music forward and her instinct for what lies at the heart of the universal genre: an undeniable hook. Sometimes, it’s the melody (the verses of “Boys Will Be Boys”). Sometimes, it’s more rhythmic (the post chorus of “Cool”). And sometimes, it’s repurposing something we’ve heard before (the genius sampling of the INXS hit “Need You Tonight” in current single“Break My Heart”).
This skill is matched with equally masterful production. These immaculate tracks come from the likes of Ian Kirkpatrick (“New Rules,” “Bad Liar”), KOZ (“IDGAF,” “The Blacker the Berry”) and Stuart Price (“Human,” “Hung Up”). These talented producers help Lipa borrow from the past and energize the future. Each track has little flairs and details that reveal themselves on repeat listens and add depth to the song.
One such track is the aching midtempo track, “Pretty Please.” The song is built around a delicious bass line and 2/4 beat. What makes the track really shine are the layers of little production details — the quick series of cowbell hits, random cheers and the little ritardando before the chorus. They take what could be a simple pop track and elevate it to pop greatness.
“Future Nostalgia” is a career-solidifying album. It puts Lipa at the center of pop music and will likely influence the direction the genre moves as much as “New Rules” did.