Originally written and published by me for Spectrum Culture.
Heading back into the studio for her second album, pop phenomenon Dua Lipa had a lot to live up to. As the recipient of the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2019, the consensus was that to avoid a sophomore slump, she had to make something just as trendy and current as she was perceived to be. Even though Future Nostalgia, which incorporates elements of disco, dance and electropop, borrows samples from her predecessors, it’s original and imaginative enough that it doesn’t feel like hero worship. The result is a much more cohesive body of work with less filler in comparison to her 2017 self-titled debut.
“People always talk about how scary the second record is. But for me, it’s more scary to go back into the studio and try to create something like ‘New Rules’ over and over again,” Lipa told Apple Music. “I felt like I’d end up in a vicious cycle of trying to get somewhere but never being able to mature as an artist.” So instead of giving in to that pressure, she flipped it the bird and went on a soul-searching journey to the past—and made a record that’s even more of her own time.
It would have been easy for Lipa to make a sophomore album with more sassy bops and heartfelt ballads co-written by Sia or Ed Sheeran, but instead she has crafted something as sonically distinctive as Madonna or Kylie Minogue. The only worthy comparison that came to mind upon first listen was Confessions on a Dancefloor, which makes sense since both projects contain contributions from producer Stuart Price.
“You want a timeless song, I wanna change the game / You wanna turn it up loud, future nostalgia is the name,” Lipa proclaims moments into the album’s opener. “No matter what you do, I’m gonna get it without ya / I know you ain’t used to a female alpha.” Amid a general theme of empowerment, Future Nostalgia is also a carefree, disco-fueled soundtrack to dance away your troubles—and Lord knows the world has enough of those right now. The singer chose to release the album a week early not only because of an unexpected leak but also because she suspected an album that quite literally forces you to dance is what everyone could use during the worst of a global health crisis. It might not cure any illnesses, but “Physical” is therapeutic in its own way. And even though it was most likely coincidental, the new release date coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Britney Spears classic “Oops! I Did It Again,” which feels apropos for an album with both space imagery and promises to become its own future staple.
Other highlights include the synth-heavy “Cool,” the discofied “Levitating,” the Lady Gaga-resembling “Hallucinate” and the electro-infused “Love Again,” which sounds like Lipa’s modern version of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” The difference is that Lipa has been on this ride before. We can tell she’s had her heart broken but she still remains open to what the future might bring. Things could be different this time. It’s about learning to dance our troubles away and still have hope—and we could all use a little bit of that right now. And we can’t leave out the unforgettable singles “Don’t Start Now” and “Break My Heart,” which has already become something of a quarantine anthem: “I should’ve stayed at home / ’Cause now there ain’t no letting you go / Am I falling in love with the one who could break my heart?”
Future Nostalgia closes with “Boys Will Be Boys,” a ballad-turned-anthem taking on sexual harassment, sexism, and female empowerment. It may appear a bit out of place at first, but it suits an album of female empowerment: “Boys will be, boys will be / Boys will be, boys will be boys / But girls will be women.” Along with respectful nods to the past, Dua Lipa blasts forward into the future by proclaiming that girls will not only be women everywhere, but most certainly in pop music and most certainly on an album that is only the beginning of what this woman can do.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Future Nostalgia: “Future Nostalgia,” “Don’t Start Now,” “Cool,” “Physical,” “Levitating,” “Hallucinate,” “Love Again,” “Break My Heart,” “Good in Bed,” and “Boys Will Be Boys”