Dua Lipa’s Radically Optimistic New Era

0
186

So much has changed since Dua Lipa’s last full-length album was released in March 2020. The bold disco-infused pop of “Future Nostalgia” served as the soundtrack to many a bedroom dance party in the midst of what seemed like a never-ending lockdown. Songs like “Don’t Start Now,” “Levitating” and “Break My Heart” stayed true to the theme of looking back to the past while looking forward to brighter days ahead. Since then, Dua Lipa stayed booked and busy collaborating with monumental artists such as Miley Cyrus, Elton John and Megan Thee Stallion. She even made her acting debut as a mermaid in the 2023 blockbuster “Barbie” and contributed the anthemic lead single “Dance the Night” to soundtrack the Barbies’ dance party at the beginning of the movie. Although Dua Lipa never really faded from the spotlight, fans wondered if this would lead to a new album with her signature euphoric pop. 

The first taste came late last year with the single “Houdini,” an undeniably danceable song that blends sinister synths and lo-fi guitars courtesy of producer Kevin Parker of Tame Impala fame. “Houdini” followed by equally club-ready singles “Training Season” and “Illusion” were not so much a departure from the retro style of pop that made Dua Lipa a star but an opportunity to explore further her identity as a pop star. Her latest album, “Radical Optimism” shimmers with the retro sounds of synths and groovy basslines while blending heartbreaking lyrics with..what else, optimism. 

The tone is immediately set with “End of an Era,” which instantly feels summery as she counts down to a groovy bassline and lightly hitting piano while Lipa sings about the feeling of being together forever as the end of an era of lonely nights. Moving from her previous era’s late night at the club, the light and bubbly opener moves to a poolside party in a far off resort somewhere. Who couldn’t use a vacation right about now? While the hard-hitting beats of a disco revival album like “Future Nostalgia” have been toned down, singles “Houdini” and “Training Season” are reminiscent of the club hits of years past. Lipa portrays herself as elusive as she sings, “I come and I go, I’m not here for long, catch me or I go, Houdini.” The plucky guitar on “Training Season” is infectious, as she contemplates giving her love to someone who may or not break her heart in the dizzying late night. 

By the mid-point of the album, a minor switch up occurs with the albums’ tone as the down tempo songs “These Walls,” “Whatcha Doing” and “French Exit” carry a somber tone as Lipa sings about love facing an uncertain future. “If these walls could talk, they’d tell us to break up,” she sings, despite it not supposed to hurt this much. The pace picks up slightly on “Whatcha Doing,” as Dua Lipa ponders the power her lover has over her as the groovy verses build to a glimmery disco-inspired chorus. “French Exit” opens with drums and an acoustic guitar while Lipa is at her most vulnerable so far, choosing to leave a situation via French exit over officially saying goodbye. 

Dua Lipa’s “Radical Optimism” could be argued as fitting within a trend within pop artists subverting expectations by delivering an album that is more “mature” musically or thematically over an album of solely pop bangers. Recent examples include Lorde’s “Solar Power”, Kacey Musgraves’ “Deeper Well” or even Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” and “Evermore”. As Lipa sings about leaving harmful situations or listening to the walls that tell her to break her heart, the instrumentals allow her to explore those feelings of heartbreak and experiment sonically. While “Future Nostalgia” set Lipa up as a pop star who was a fixture of euphoric disco pop who made us want to go out and dance when we simply couldn’t, “Radical Optimism” sees her growth as an artist. “Illusion” and “Falling Forever” are sure to hit listeners with a familiar sweaty club beat that calls back to Lipa’s past discography. The former features a music video of Lipa and a cast of backup dancers performing aquatic acrobatics that fits the spectacular scale of “Illusion’s” desire to dance all night. “Falling Forever” showcases Lipa’s vocal strength as she sings, “How long can it just keep getting better, can we keep falling forever” over a rapid synth beat that simulates the feeling of falling forever. Lipa’s vocal strength on “Falling Forever” has sparked many memes on Twitter by fans, but if anyone appreciates a good meme, it’s Dua Lipa. 

“Anything For Love” is a piano ballad that switches up into a psychedelic-inspired beat that formally declares the desire for a love that is set for life over one that is fleeting. The added audio of what sounds like talking to a group of friends over dinner adds to the intimacy of Lipa’s inner circle. “Maria” takes inspiration from rapid Spanish guitars as she thanks her boyfriend’s ex, acknowledging that she is still in his heart. The closing song, “Happy For You” ties the theme of optimism together, saying that her ex looks hot as hell with his new love, suggesting an acceptance of moving on and being happy for someone who may have hurt her in the past. As radical as it may seem, she knows taking the higher ground will work in her favor. 

With “Radical Optimism,” it is fair to say that Dua Lipa is in her healing era. Whether fans prefer her older work or her newest material, she has established herself as a pop star that utilizes her vulnerability to create music that is larger than life that looks toward the future incorporating sounds of the past. At a tight 36 minutes in length, “Radical Optimism” may be what listeners are looking for as pop powerhouses like Beyonce and Taylor Swift release blockbuster movie-length albums. With summer rapidly approaching, Dua Lipa invites listeners to escape, cry and of course, dance.