Dua Lipa’s sophomore album Future Nostalgia is pop escapism at its best, just when we need it most. The singer belts her way through break-ups, new love and female empowerment, all whilst remaining upbeat, optimistic and, ultimately, fun. At a time when we are all seeking escape from the confines of our newly-restricted lives, Lipa proves the value of pop beats and dreamy lyrics for lifting our spirits.
From start to end, Future Nostalgia is a cohesive and perfectly planned concept album. The immersive, funky title track introduces the record’s flashy retro vibe whilst framing it at the innovative cusp of modern pop: “You want what now looks like, let me give you a taste”. ‘Cool’ is a light and summery take on new love, built on by the romantic lyrics and cheerful synth beats of ‘Levitating’, a highlight of the album. ‘Pretty Please’ continues Lipa’s romantic storytelling, with a pounding bassline and experimental instrumentals.
Future Nostalgia shows no sign of slowing down as it hits its stride with ‘Hallucinate’, ‘Love Again’ and ‘Break My Heart’, laden with striking vocals and deep, dance-heavy beats. The eleven-track record – relatively short in comparison to the longer albums many artists are currently producing – leaves no time for unnecessary filler tracks, never pausing in its relentlessly upbeat appeal. The concluding track, ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, drags the listener from Lipa’s glitzy ‘80s vision of love back into our reality. The string-heavy finale is the album’s most overtly political, tracking the accelerated pace at which girls are forced to grow up in today’s society.
The album is spearheaded by powerhouse lead singles ‘Don’t Start Now’ and ‘Physical’. The former feels almost like a second act to Lipa’s wildly successful 2017 single ‘New Rules’, offering closure to both the listener and the singer, who has gone from repeating her own mantra to herself (“One: don’t pick up the phone / Two: don’t let him in / Three: don’t be his friend”) to boldly warning her ex to keep his distance (“Don’t show up, don’t come out / Don’t start caring about me now”). The latter, ‘Physical’, is a stand-out track that best exemplifies the singer’s commitment to bringing the sounds of the ‘80s back to the top of the charts. A fast-paced synth beat lies beneath its powerful vocals, its lyrics making direct reference to the 1981 Olivia Newton-John classic. Lipa’s powerful and assured vocals on both catchy singles demonstrate the confidence and energy that underpins Future Nostalgia. Lipa, a credited writer on every song, sounds emboldened, empowered and in control from start to finish.
The myriad influences of disco, dance and pop run throughout the album, to its advantage. From the sampling of White Town’s 1997 hit ‘Your Woman’ (itself sampling Al Bowlly’s 1932 ‘My Woman’) for the song ‘Love Again’, to the use of the guitar riff from INXS’s 1987 hit ‘Need You Tonight’ on ‘Break My Heart’, the album is certainly a homage to the music of decades past. Lipa is evidently not the first to be influenced in this way – the use of ‘80s-style synth pop is becoming increasingly commonplace within the mainstream, seen in notable recent projects such as The Weeknd’s new album After Hours – but she perhaps takes it the furthest.
However, rather than blindly following a trend, Future Nostalgia consciously crafts a distinct sound for the singer. Lipa’s nods backwards do not simply replicate the sounds of the past, but use and manipulate them to shape a record which sounds undeniably modern. The album twists ‘80s pop tropes in a way that feels unique, personal and fresh, creating a project that evidences Lipa’s growth from rising radio favourite to Britain’s leading popstar. As promised by its title, Future Nostalgia takes the listener on a nostalgic ride to the future: whilst recalling the dance pop of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the album cements Lipa’s place in the future of British pop. Catchy, bright and enthusiastic, the album leaves the listener with no option but to dance along and be pulled into its worry-free world, if only for a few minutes.
Dua Lipa succeeds in building on the successes of her chart-topping first album by layering her well-established vocals and commanding lyrics with new sounds in pursuit of a cohesive and innovative follow-up that certainly tops its predecessor. The album marks a turning point in her own career, as well as marking Lipa out from her pop peers. Future Nostalgia is completely its own, refusing to fade into the background of the crowded field of contemporary pop music.