Dua Lipa: Studio 2054 review – a celebration of up-close disco joy

The British pop paragon tops off a triumphant year with a retro-futurist dance-party live stream complete with Kylie, Elton John and a pole-dancing FKA twigs

It opens with a gaggle of lithe people milling about on a set last seen on Top of the Pops circa 1983. It ends with a long shot of Dua Lipa and her many dancers, promenading their way through the seemingly endless, neon-lit club spaces that make up the singer’s Studio 2054 live stream.

They strut through giant hula hoops, the scene for Break My Heart, past a pink and gold boudoir, the setting for Un Día - her collaboration with J Balvin, Bad Bunny and Tainy – and under dangling geometric shapes, ending up where Lipa’s live band is playing. Some dancers are on roller skates. American house DJ the Blessed Madonna – who oversaw Lipa’s Club Future Nostalgia remix album – is behind real decks, fading the outgoing strains of Lipa’s smash hit Don’t Start Now into Abba’s Gimme Gimme Gimme. It’s all happening at Printworks, a multiroom club space and sound stage in London’s Docklands, where real newspapers were once made and make-believe now flourishes.

No one in this elaborate club re-creation is social distancing. Stringent Covid testing protocols were followed, as for sports events and film sets. Most music live streams this year have been lonely, audience-free affairs run by skeleton crews, but just as Lipa’s second album, Future Nostalgia, dropped like mirror-ball ordnance into the middle of our first lockdown, unleashing frou-frou dance-pop into a world sheltering fearfully in place, her Studio 2054 appears determined to bring a rash of human contact to people’s laptops in lockdown two.

Even before you begin to factor in the largely excellent pop music, the high-profile guests and the remixing, seeing humans cavorting so near one another provides a kind of giddy contact high – and a tantalising preview, too, of what the world might be like next year after the vaccines. We’re witnessing both a 16-song, nonstop party-mix music video that nods to disco and the 80s, to Europop and club culture, and a foreshadowing of a better 2021, a glimpse of what used to be, and what might be again, soon.

It was once thought that there was a relationship between hemlines and the economy. The link between the times and their sounds isn’t quite as straightforward, but our plague year was very definitely characterised by a wholesale re-embrace of disco and dance-pop. Just as the pandemic was setting a bonfire under most vanities, Dua Lipa’s female-positive, front-footed pop songs were glam succour to which we could cling. Although many of these songs found themselves all loved-up, Lipa continued dealing with exes very well in song, a trend established by her breakout hit from 2017, New Rules (re-enacted tonight, complete with telephone). The role of the sad banger has been well documented, but Lipa’s take on it – “dance-crying”, she calls it – found a receptive audience this year, one where difficult emotions were hardly in short supply.

Disco fun was the currency not only for Dua Lipa but more established artists like Lady Gaga and Kylie. In a stroke of laudable camaraderie, Kylie is one of the guests on set tonight, duetting merrily with Lipa on One Kiss and Electricity. There’s a pole-dancing FKA twigs, too, selling an as-yet-unreleased collaboration, Why Don’t You Love Me. Belgian pop singer Angèle is on hand to re-enact their bilingual song Fever. More guests join in on screens: Miley Cyrus for Prisoner, and a fairly pointless broadcast of Elton John doing Rocket Man. It would have been much better had he ridden into the club on a white horse, as Bianca Jagger was said to have done at Studio 54 in 1977.

The 2020 disco trend was, however, largely a coincidence. Many months in the making, these albums were – in the case of Gaga and Kylie – returns to glittery home turf after a country album (Kylie) and Gaga’s singer-songwriterly Joanne LP (and her starring role in A Star Is Born).

Watch the video for Levitating by Dua Lipa.

Not only was Dua Lipa’s album more convincing than both of those, it was also, weirdly, something of a gamble. It’s hard to characterise such a well-loved record – more weeks at No 1 in the UK than any other album this year, widely credited for keeping people’s spirits afloat – as a risky undertaking, in retrospect. She ends the year with 5 million-plus worldwide viewers for this live stream, six Grammy nominations, and 20bn streams across all platforms. But when Future Nostalgia was released in March, Lipa cried on her Instagram live stream, in part from having to bring forward the release after it leaked, but also because no one then was quite sure the world wanted frivolous songs in which Dua found herself “levitating” because of her “sugar boo” (apparently, the writing session for Levitating had featured doughnuts).

There’s the argument that whatever Dua Lipa did after her 2017 self-titled hit debut album scooped her two Grammys, it was probably going to work out OK. You get the feeling that although she may have teams working on her music, this is a hugely ambitious and capable figure actively stage-managing her own destiny – something of “a female alpha”, as Future Nostalgia’s title track says, one who can work US architect John Lautner into a rap. But this time last year, opting for Eurodisco and the 80s over trap-pop or futuristic R&B was little guarantee of six Grammy nominations.

So as ridiculous as some of it is – Lipa never speaks, just executes tunes, choreography and costume changes flawlessly – Studio 2054 really is a celebration. Risks have been managed; rocky waters navigated. This is a hymn to playfulness; a 16-song sigh of relief at the survival of silly escapist effervescence.

Contributor

Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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