The 50 best albums of 2020, No 2: Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

The pristine club-pop on this energetic album owes a great debt to the musical past but sounds magically, wonderfully of the moment

For Dua Lipa, 2020 began with a puddle of tears and it ended the same way. When her second album leaked in April, the singer sobbed her way through an Instagram video explaining that she’d brought the release of Future Nostalgia forward by a week. She didn’t know if the early days of a pandemic-induced lockdown was the right time for a record so heavily calibrated for the dancefloor. But she needn’t have worried: in a year fraught with anxiety and fear, a shot of future nostalgia was just the thing.

The album fizzes with coiled energy, each of the 11 songs delivering a euphoric high over an irresistible beat. The track that gives the album its name contains the brassy line: “You want what now looks like, let me give you a taste.” It’s true, but it’s also not – the album owes a great debt to the musical past, nostalgic itself for the costume jewelled glitz of disco and the Day-Glo of 80s powerpop and those who have gone before. Among others, it references Olivia Newton-John, turn of the millennium Madonna, 1930s bandleader Lew Stone (and by extension, 1990s White Town), 1980s INXS, Lily Allen and the Who. Deftly cajoling these disparate sounds into a lithe 43 minutes of pristine club-pop music that does sound incredibly now is nothing short of alchemy.

Dua Lipa: Break My Heart – video

This hasn’t been a year for subtlety, and there is absolutely no subtext to Future Nostalgia’s songs. They are brazen in their wants, whether that’s for an ex-lover to eat humble pie or a future one to jump her bones. Levitating and Hallucinate skate across slinky bass lines and syncopated disco beats, Physical and Break My Heart invoke party highs even as we listen in our living rooms clad in loungewear or pushing through 40 minutes on a cross-trainer. The songs have taken on a very different role than their intended ones. When making the album, Lipa must have had visions of sweaty clubs and frantic dancefloors, of drinks spilt and arms enthusiastically flung around each other. The name alone suggests that we’d look back on these songs with happy memories attached. But will we ever be nostalgic for 2020?

I suspect that Lipa will: 2020 is the year she became a pop behemoth. She transcended the “great look, serviceable songs” box she’d been marketed into and became one of pop’s most exciting major players: she out Gaga’d Gaga and out Kylie’d Kylie. In late November, more than 5 million people tuned in to her Studio 2054 livestream to watch her cavort around London’s Printworks with a gang of dancers and pop guests, heavy with product placement, meme-able moments and bookended by giant Lipa-helmed brand endorsements. It was enormous fun but less illegal rave than high-budget school disco, recalling the satire of Josie and the Pussycats and images of the Spice Girls travelling through Times Square in Spiceworld, their own gigantic faces grinning down from every billboard. There was no hint of wryness here: Lipa is making hay while the sun shines. And why not, for a pop star who’s been building to megastar status breaking through when arenas are closed and clubs left dark?

The tears that bookend the release came last week when Lipa was nominated for six Grammys, including album of the year. Future Nostalgia isn’t trying to make a bold declarations about the state of the world or engage with anything beyond having a good time. If it’s making any statement, it’s that Lipa is a bloody good pop star. She might only have made it to second position in our list, but make no mistake: 2020 was Dua Lipa’s year.


Kate Solomon

The GuardianTramp

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