Dua Lipa – who broke through internationally with her hit ‘New Rules’ and proved herself to be more than a one hit wonder with ‘Don’t Start Now’ – may be the pop star of the future, but with ‘Future Nostalgia’ she’s determined to take us back to the 1980’s. However, Dua is far too imaginative and innovative to offer a derivative nostalgia trip of an album. Instead, the British pop singer updates the sounds of old to create an album that is both accessible to and enjoyable for Gen-Z/Millennials, but honours the sounds of the 80s in a way that will appeal to older listeners (The best example of this is lead single ‘Don’t Start Now’).
At it’s best, ‘Future Nostalgia’ is unbelievably catchy. It is rare to find a song that gets stuck in your head from your very first listen, but in Dua Lipa’s second album we find multiple of these songs – from second track, and lead single, ‘Don’t Start Now’ to ninth track, and third single, ‘Break My Heart’. Most hit pop songs rely on a tried and tested formulaic approach to create an infectious and catchy chorus; resulting in a song that gets millions of streams from listeners who are almost resentful that they can’t stop pressing replay. However, songs like ‘Break My Heart’ are genuinely innovative and original, and will likely age better than 99% of other songs on the charts at the moment.
The only time where Lipa comes close to entering the disappointing territory of grating, uninspired, made-for-radio songs is on ‘Good In Bed’. The song is reminiscent of Lily Allen’s early work; except it lacks the originality and authenticity that made Allen’s first two albums so great. The song is more derivative than much of the rest of this album, and the era it is derivative of – the mid to late 2000’s – is too recent to merit a nostalgic throwback. Given the developments of the last 10-15 years in music, Dua Lipa’s tongue-in-cheek tone and her openness when talking about sex (“Yeah, we don’t know how to talk / But damn, we know how to f*ck”) doesn’t feel particularly ground-breaking or risque in the way Lipa probably intended it to be. Even though this song has a relatively strong melody that could distract from the occasional weak lyric, there is no baseline in the world that could make the rhyming of “bad, bad, bad, bad, bad” with “mad, mad, mad, mad, mad” not annoying.
Unfortunately, the album reaches a lull at it’s end; with final two tracks ‘Good In Bed’ and ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ being something of a let down in comparison with the rest of the album. It speaks to the high quality of the rest of the album that even one of it’s worse tracks – ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ – is by no means a bad track. But compared to the greatness of tracks like ‘Love Again’ and ‘Levitating’, the final two tracks simply don’t do justice to the rest of the album. Except for it’s incredibly abrupt ending, ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ doesn’t have any major flaws when judged in isolation, but in the context of the rest of this album, it feels like an anomaly and is certainly a left-field choice for the final track.
For much of the album, Dua Lipa seems to make a trade-off – instead of providing deep, multi-layered lyrics, she will give us high-quality, infectiously catchy bops. This trade-off works well for most of ‘Future Nostalgia’; giving us hits like ‘Don’t Start Now’ and ‘Hallucinate’. However, in final track ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, it as if Lipa has suddenly started to doubt whether this trade-off was the right decision; as she makes a sudden 180 and tries to pack an entire album’s worth of social commentary into one song. The message of the song is feminist and anti-toxic masculinity. In it’s subtler moments it offers effective commentary, like in the lyric: “Boys will be boys / But girls will be women” – a reference to how the toxic behaviour of young men is dismissed as ‘boys will be boys’, while the onus is put on girls and women to protect themselves from such toxicity. However, at other times in the song, Dua Lipa’s approach to female empowerment is incredibly heavy-handed (“If there’s something that I can’t find the words to say / I know that there will be a man around to save the day / And that was sarcasm, in case you needed it mansplained). Meanwhile, the direct address to listeners (“If you’re offended by this song / You’re clearly doing something wrong”) doesn’t land as effectively as it’s clearly intended to. All in all, the ending of an otherwise joyous, light-hearted, disco-heavy album with a song like ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ feels like a peculiar mistake.
That said, it feels unfair to focus too long on this album’s low points. While this album contains the occasional disappointment, when it does manage to stick the landing, the results are outstanding (see: ‘Love Again’, ‘Don’t Start Now’ and ‘Levitating’). In fact, out of all the artists who have attempted to revive the 80s disco sound this year, Lipa perhaps does this the best. While ‘Future Nostalgia’ is a somewhat uneven album, it is still incredibly enjoyable and listenable and, puts any concerns of a ‘sophomore slump’ firmly to rest.