Dua Lipa review – a pop star for the ages

O2, London
Forty dates into a world tour, the British star’s joyous, knowing set doubles down on her flair for homage

A giant inflatable lobster convulses menacingly behind Dua Lipa. Sitting on the edge of an ersatz pool, back turned, she is singing about ending a mismatched relationship, oblivious to the threat.

“We’re not meant to be, like sleeping and cocaine,” Lipa muses as the lobster writhes, its absurdity magnified by the fact that it is dry humping the stage rather than moving in for the kill. We’re in the middle of We’re Good, a minor single from the more recent deluxe edition of her pandemic-era hit LP Future Nostalgia, the silly peak of a slick arena show foregrounding witty kiss-offs to bad boyfriends and disco as embodied therapy. Lipa is 40 gigs into a massive, delayed world tour; one that, more than most, marks a return to some kind of normal. “I used to spend so many nights on my own,” goes her song Love Again. “I never knew I had it in me to dance any more.” Turns out, it’s like riding a bicycle.

Despite a modest chart placing (25), We’re Good neatly encapsulates the appeal of Lipa, who is shaping up to be a pop star for the ages. With this upbeat album, originally released in March 2020, paying tribute to dancefloors past, she effectively became the hold music of the pandemic, as well as its indoor workout soundtrack. But Lipa first established herself as pop’s big sister with her debut hit, 2017’s New Rules, a dispenser of memorable, pithy relationship advice fashioned into pop with a flourish and a wink. (Lest we forget: “If you’re under him, you ain’t getting over him,” she counselled on New Rules, a huge singalong tonight.)

The lobster, meanwhile, originally appeared in the heart-tugging video for We’re Good, the sole survivor of a tank full of crustaceans who end up on the dinner table of the Titanic, where Lipa colludes as the entertainment. Its vengeful intentions – and the singer’s sense of humour – are signposted tonight on a “menu” on the video screens, featuring “Dua Thermidor” and “Half-Dua on the shell”. It’s all ridiculous, wise and self-assured by turns.

We’re Good leans on tropical pop, standing out on this all-dancing tour’s prevailing roller-disco vibe. Crucially, though, it fits a much larger template. The song’s bittersweet chorus sounds like a slew of other tracks – including, but not limited to, Charli XCX’s White Mercedes and the Byrds’ Mr Tambourine Man.

Future Nostalgia was unquestionably a runaway success, an antidote to the fear, grief and pent-up frustration of Covid that won the pop vocal Grammy in 2021. But Lipa resonates with recent times all the more because of her knack for pulling off pop homages with just enough flair to impress, rather than land awry. Her album was packed with declared samples (INXS, White Town) and upfront quotes (“Let’s get physical!” Lipa commands, echoing Olivia Newton-John on Physical, the set opener), not to mention more subtle evocations of styles and vibes.

Watch the video for Don’t Start Now.

But somehow – like her roller-skating dancer tonight who does a flip and rights himself gracefully on to his wheels, gliding away – Lipa continues to gild her hi-NRG house-disco composites with just enough dazzle to avoid a blizzard of lawsuits or any real backlash from pop fans, who love “inspiration” but hate copyists. She is currently battling two court actions for her song Levitating (naturally, she spends that song aloft on a platform high above her fans). But given the album’s nods and feints, it’s fascinating that there aren’t more.

Back in 2015, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams lost a landmark court case brought by the heirs to Marvin Gaye’s estate for lifting the feel of Gaye’s music, rather than any combination of notes, as copyright law was previously understood. You could ascribe the recent upswing in pop lawsuits to many causes – there will always be creatives with a legitimate case, as well as speculative suits. Last month, having fought off a copyright claim against Shape of You, Ed Sheeran made the point that there would inevitably be coincidental assonances between pieces of music when so much is being produced every day. But much pop now, including Lipa’s, seems to intentionally dance on a tightrope made of fissile material, with many hands ready to pull on the loose strands.

Dua Lipa at the O2 Arena, London.
Dua Lipa at the O2, London. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

None of this detracts from the joyousness or personality of her offering, a two-album, nonstop party whose brazen glee remains infectious. Not even a slew of arena tour cliches – confetti cannon, balloons, dancing with chairs – or a lacklustre collaboration with Elton John, who appears on a screen, can diminish the Dua effect. She strides up and down the runway with all the effortless confidence of “a female alpha” – a key lyric from the song Future Nostalgia.

More importantly, her songs of flirtation, infatuation, recovery and resilience rarely fail to clock anything other than a very high emotional IQ. It all ends with Don’t Start Now, in which Lipa revives some simple dance moves she was mocked for earlier in her career. “Walk away, you know how!” she taunts a former lover. But she seems ready to take on all comers.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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