Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’ Is an Apocalypse Game-changer—and the Best Album of 2020 So Far
The Grammy-winning singer emerges as a dance-floor queen with her disco-inspired sophomore album, a triumph that promises to turn our self-isolated dystopia into a dance party.
Nero fiddled while Rome burned. The band on the Titanic played as the ship went down. And Dua Lipa will have us dancing until the world ends.
Dance-pop and the apocalypse are frequent bedfellows. It’s as if they’re horny for each other. Even the phrase “dance until the world ends” is cribbed from a Britney Spears dystopia banger.
Maybe it’s because the idea of the dance floor is inherently rebellious. From disco to raves, it hosts a euphoric celebration of everything that makes the morality police clutch their pearls and blow their whistles. In its ideal state, one that’s often chemically elevated, all inhibitions, insecurities, and anxieties evaporate. When dystopia looms, what could be more appealing? Or more renegade?
So arrives Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, an assemblage of disco-pop sirens whose release was bumped up to accommodate the Armageddon anxieties of her fans, a cooped-up group both restless and horrified by the news of the world.
While other artists, like Lady Gaga, have pushed back major releases, effectively quarantining fan excitement along with everything else, Dua Lipa saw opportunity—even necessity. Social distancing is a potential fulcrum moment for bolstering community, if properly taken advantage of. Future Nostalgia, then, is her attempt to turn pandemic paranoia into pandemonium. Cue up the Zoom dance party.
The “One Kiss” singer couldn’t have predicted the environment her album would eventually be birthed into when she conceived it, although the palpability of impending doom has arguably been etching the writing on the wall for years. Still, Future Nostalgia arrived at midnight Friday like a rapture.
On the one hand, if a new Dua Lipa album drops and there are no SoulCycle classes in which to play them, does it really exist? Thanks to “Gay Twitter,” where a contingent of Dua Lipa’s fans exalt at the altar of their pop savior, the answer is a resounding yaaas. (Sorry. I’ll crucify myself over that, don’t bother doing it.)
Scrolling through my social feed overnight Thursday into Friday, there were countdown-clock tweets and instant listening parties.
First came the pronouncement that Future Nostalgia is the best album of 2020 thus far, a knee-jerk diagnosis that closer-read second opinions from prominent critics are agreeing with. Then came the spoils of the rare occasion that something so anticipated by Gay Twitter meets its high expectations: the torrent of hyperbolic, hysterical tweets and, with them, the memes.
Future Nostalgia is an album that naturally baits histrionics. Its rollout has been flawless. A sophomore album from a then-polarizing Best New Artist Grammy-winner, a trophy some in the industry purport to be cursed, the pressure was intense to prove her worth in the A-list bop factory. Two sledgehammer lead singles, however, lifted that weight off her shoulders.
“Don’t Start Now” marched in with an addicting euro-dance influence and impressive new swagger for the singer. Her vocals were more robust, the earworm ambition more aggressive, and the carefree kiss-off of shitty men cuttingly resonant. Then came “Physical,” the harbinger of old-meets-new, disco-meets-techno, electronica-meets-soulfulness that was to come on Future Nostalgia.
Purposely evoking the 1981 Olivia Newton-John spandex anthem, the song is like sonic time travel. At first pleasantly familiar in its kitschy sweatiness, it eventually takes off with a soaring hook that blasts it straight into the future, strapping us in with the assured modern menace of Lipa’s droll, low and monotone singing voice.
Future Nostalgia is a victory parade for an army of militant basslines. Each successive track joins the battalion of irresistible thumping beats ensuring that, in a rarity these days, not one entry is skippable. It’s the necessary metronome to ground the erstwhile chaos of throwback influences and genre samples.
Synths here. Something hallucinatory there. Now we’re on an acid trip. Now we’re smacking bubblegum. We’re transporting to a rave. We’re bathed in the sparkles of a disco ball. Just when things seem like they’re veering towards camp, she cuts it off at the pass and goes there herself; the early-days Lily Allen jumped out in “Good in Bed.”
She dances between cheeky and profound in a way that feels of-the-moment, which makes the conceptual marriage of the past and the future appear all the cleverer as the party goes on.
It’s much appreciated that Dua Lipa titled some of Future Nostalgia’s standout tracks to double as descriptions to our reactions when listening to them. “Levitating”? Yep, doing that. “Hallucinate”? At your command, Ms. Peep. “Break My Heart”? Why this Queen-meets-Sugarhill Gang bruiser with hints of Meghan Trainor—and I’m not mad about it—is best listened to while sprinkling the shattered pieces of a broken heart like glitter on the dance floor.
The whole thing feels exciting, like someone is honing a pop moment into perfection while also ushering it into the future. There are flutters of first hearing Madonna’s Ray of Light or Confessions on the Dance Floor, Britney Spears’ musical level-up in Blackout, Justin Timberlake (back when he was still worth stanning) on FutureSex/LoveSounds, Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster, or a flurry of major moments from Robyn, Rihanna, or a Kylie “Can’t Get You Outta My Head” triumph.
Whether Future Nostalgia holds up against those efforts is a judgment reserved for when its shiny-new glow starts to fade and it can be considered a little more reasonably. But it’s quite the feat right now: Prodding the world into motion as it’s being mandated to stand still.