- Dua Lipa released her sophomore album “Future Nostalgia” on Friday.
- We listened to every song on the 11-song tracklist, and wrote down our first impressions of each one.
- Overall, we thought Lipa going full throttle with bright, danceable disco-pop totally paid off.
- The best tracks on the album were “Don’t Start Now,” “Break My Heart,” and “Pretty Please,” while we were disappointed with “Good in Bed.”
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Dua Lipa released her sophomore album, “Future Nostalgia,” on Friday. The album included its three lead singles, “Don’t Start Now,” “Physical,” and “Break My Heart,” as well as eight new songs.
Overall, we think Lipa shines in the disco-pop arena. She’s also excellent at picking singles, since two of them ended up as our favourites on the album, along with “Pretty Please.” However, we thought “Good in Bed” was deeply questionable and “Cool” was underwhelming.
Here is what we thought of each song on Lipa’s album upon first listen. (Skip to the end to see the only songs worth listening to and the album’s final score.)
“Future Nostalgia” is a strong opening track.
Larocca: “I know you like this beat,” indeed. This infectious opening track is danceable from start to finish. It’s also a great introduction to the album as it heavily employs the electric, retro sound Lipa wanted to centre the entire project around.
Ahlgrim: This was released back in December as,in Lipa’s words, “a lil something to tie you over till the new year.” (It was never promoted as an official single or sent to radio.) I’ve listened to it a few times since then and I get why people didn’t warm to it, as it definitely doesn’t work as a single.
I wish this was my first time hearing it, because I think it’s a very strong album opener. If it had been kept mysterious until the full album release, it would have packed a much stronger punch – as a portal into her marvelously funky new world. It also works as a bold statement of purpose: Lipa’s bonafide thesis statement, “I know you ain’t used to a female alpha,” is a sharp combination of cheeky, challenging, and confident.
“Don’t Start Now” was a killer lead single that holds up within the confines of an album.
Larocca: “Don’t Start Now” was the lead single for “Future Nostalgia,” so naturally I’ve already listened to it. It’s great on its own, but it hits differently (in a good way) when it’s preceded by the title track.
The song has a pulsing beat and centres around Lipa telling an ex to move on because she did: “If you don’t wanna see me dancing with somebody / If you wanna believe that anything could stop me / Don’t show up, don’t come out / Don’t start caring about me now.”
It’s as if Lipa listened to Robyn’s iconic 2010 hit “Dancing On My Own,” reversed the perspective, and took the sound back a few decades. It’s fantastic.
Ahlgrim: All I can say is that I’ve listened to this banger at least three times (and usually many more times than that) every single day since it came out in November. I even named it one of the nine best songs of the year.
And, like many of us (it finally reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 after a steady climb from No. 30), I have only grown more and more obsessed with it over time.
Lipa is almost too cool for “Cool.”
Larocca: This feels like something Carly Rae Jepsen would have included on her ’80s-inspired 2015 synth pop opus “Emotion,” which might be the highest form of praise I could give a pop song.
Unfortunately, for this song, Lipa’s voice is too … cool? Her vocals lack a certain earnestness needed to be convincing when she sings “Got me losing all my cool.” Jepsen should definitely cover this, though.
Ahlgrim: I might’ve liked this song more if its placement on the tracklist was more benevolent. Coming after “Don’t Start Now,” it feels slightly underwhelming. I don’t dislike it by any means, but it does lack a certain power and pizzazz that I’d come to expect after hearing the album’s excellent singles. It’s a little too controlled; I don’t buy that Lipa has ever lost her cool.
I am extremely into the thick, sturdy bass line that commands the hook – it sounds almost muscular. But it also, weirdly enough, caused my brain to conjure an image of Disney Channel’s “Camp Rock.” I have no idea why.
“Physical” overflows with ’80s inspiration.
Larocca: Pulling inspiration from other decades to make modern pop music can work extremely well – just look at Jepsen’s aforementioned “Emotion” or Taylor Swift’s “1989.” Even so far on this album, Lipa has done a great job of incorporating ’80s disco, techno, and synth pop into this album.
But the problem with “Physical” is that it pulls from the ’80s so obviously and excessively that it sometimes verges on corny. I don’t need a track to interpolate lyrics from Olivia Newton John’s 1981 single of the same name to understand it was influenced by the ’80s. Rein it in, Lipa.
Ahlgrim: I wasn’t deeply obsessed with “Physical” when I first heard it, as I was with “Don’t Start Now” – but the more I listened to it, the tighter it latched onto me. The intro is sort of spooky and totally bewitching. I think it’s a pitched-up flute? Whatever it is, it slaps.
Admittedly, I could do without the spoken-word pre-chorus. However, paired with the almost-too-obvious central command (“Let’s get physical!”), Lipa wields just the right amount of campy flair. It overflows with ’80s inspiration, but in a self-conscious way.
Ultimately, I’m not tired of this song yet, I can’t see myself getting there soon, and I hope no one gets tired of it before self-isolation ends and I can finally dance to it in a crowded, neon-lit Brooklyn warehouse.
“Levitating” is a cute bop about being so in love, you feel like you’re floating on air.
Larocca: So far, “Levitating” has the best lyrical concept thus far. It’s filled with space references à la Ariana Grande’s “NASA,” except instead of telling her lover she needs space, Lipa happily exclaims, “I believe that you’re for me, I feel it in our energy / I see us written in the stars.”
Ahlgrim: I can’t get behind the prominent use of “sugar-boo” in the pre-chorus (or, for that matter, the use of that pet name in any situation). I’m also vaguely irritated by Lipa calling this boy her “starlight” and her “moonlight.” Pick one!
However, I can get behind pretty much everything else about this song. It’s already stuck in my head, and not in an annoying way. The bridge is especially ingenious, as it manages to elevate the lyrics from simply cheesy to cleverly kitschy.
“Pretty Please” keeps it fun and funky, but also gives you room to breathe amid the maximalist pop bangers.
Larocca: Lipa brings “Pretty Please” into the 21st century by sometimes employing the same sultry whisper Selena Gomez almost exclusively sings in, which may have been a suggestion by co-writer and Gomez’s close friend Julia Michaels.
“Pretty Please” is one of the “slower” songs on the album, but it’s by no means a ballad. It’s a cheeky ode to being turned on by your partner that’s both alluring and fun. It reminds me of the swagger and sexiness exuded by Miley Cyrus on her “Bangerz” tracks “Adore You” and “#GETITRIGHT,” but with a Gomez-inspired flair.
Ahlgrim: OK, yes. This is the exact bass line I’ve been waiting for. I love how this song feels futuristic and retro at the same time – like the soundtrack of a high-tech video game, sprinkled with disco-pop details, and iced with the pulsing essence of R&B slow jams from the early ’00s.
On top of all that, these lyrics are refreshingly honest, with Lipa treating sex like a balm for her anxious mind. It gives Lipa a shade of vulnerability, all while keeping her in control. Although her vocal style often lacks emotional nuance, she has plenty of conviction and technical command to make up for it.
“Hallucinate” is an onslaught of pop perfection.
Larocca: With its pulsing beats and sparkling synths, “Hallucinate” transports you to an ’80s jazzercise class or an underground rave. The track makes you want to move, making it a worthy addition to any workout playlist or DJ mix.
Ahlgrim: I’m hooked right from the very first line: “Pocketful of honey and I’m ready to go” is deliciously ambiguous. Three lines later, I love the deceptive simplicity of “Breathe you in ’til I hallucinate.” It sounds uncomplicated and undemanding, but so many of us can relate to the singular ache of loving someone so much that it alters the fabric of your reality.
I also love how these lyrics evoke different sensory experiences – and, by extension, any memories that come attached. Just in the first verse, you’re compelled to imagine the taste of honey and the smell of a loved one. These images swirl around with the sparkly synths, not unlike Lipa’s own kaleidoscopic delusions. I’m sold before I even make it to the chorus.
Happily, the rest of “Hallucinate” doesn’t disappoint. With its thumping bass and ’90s diva hook (Lipa sounds like the love child of Madonna and Kylie Minogue when she sings “I’m losing my mi-mi-mi-mind, mi-mi-mi-mind”), it’s honestly pop perfection. I can easily imagine a festival crowd losing its collective mind during this song, and I’d like to be there.
Lipa’s husky voice shines on the cinematic “Love Again.”
Larocca: On first listen, this song is dominated by the assertive repetition of “goddamn, you got me in love again.” But dig a bit deeper, and there’s plenty of bright spots to sink your teeth into (including the lyric “I’ll sink my teeth in disbelief / ‘Cause you’re the one that I want.”)
Lipa really shines when she picks up the pace to sing lines like “I can’t believe there’s something left inside my chest anymore” with an undeniable sense of urgency – it’s like she’s sonically mimicking the rush of falling in love.
Ahlgrim: I personally adore orchestral strings in a pop song, and paired with the ’90s sample of “Your Woman” by White Town, they add an especially brilliant flourish here; they make the song feel super cinematic.
I didn’t expect to hear an acoustic guitar on any of these maximalist pop songs, but those strums in the pre-chorus were another smart addition. They feel like a grounding force, keeping the song from getting too ahead of itself.
To top it all off, Lipa’s husky voice is livelier than ever. Hints of tension slip through subtle cracks, adding an essential layer to the song’s melodrama. “I’ll sink my teeth in disbelief” is my favourite line, because it captures that intersection of optimism and desperation, of needing to believe you’ll be safe in someone’s arms this time around.
“Break My Heart” is anchored by its polished production and an expertly wielded ’80s sample.
Larocca: Another single, “Break My Heart” is a danceable track that samples the melody from INXS’ 1987 hit “Need You Tonight.” Unlike “Physical,” this song does a better job of utilising an already-existing ’80s work to make a song that feels both new and nostalgic.
Also, a song that relies on the lyric “I should have stayed at home” is unexpectedly spot-on given the current situation of the world.
Ahlgrim: I heard “Break My Heart” yesterday for the first time. Incidentally, I also heard it yesterday for the 40th time after I played it on a loop for two hours.
I feel drunk when I listen to this song. The production is sophisticated and intoxicating, especially how it plays with hushing the beat, like you’re in the bathroom at a house party and hearing the bass vibrate from the other room.
But what truly anchors “Break My Heart” is its selective minimalism – how the instruments are stripped back as Lipa eases into the chorus, for example, leaving the swaggering guitar riff to underscore each word. When the music drops out in the middle of the hook and abruptly crashes back, it feels like I’m taking a shot that actually tastes good.
“Good in Bed” has some questionable elements.
Larocca: The song might be called “Good in Bed” but it’s bad in the chorus. The way she sings lines like “I know it’s really bad, bad, bad, bad, bad / Messing with my head, head, head, head, head” is obnoxiously grating and I wish I could unhear it.
Also for an artist who rose to fame with the triumphant “New Rules,” it’s disappointing to hear her sing about making excuses for an endlessly disappointing man all because of “that good pipe in the moonlight.”
Ahlgrim: This feels like the type of song that will grow on me. I’m not immediately consumed by it like I have been with many of its predecessors, but I can see it burrowing itself into my brain, like a vintage Lily Allen earworm. Maybe it’s the jazzy piano refrain that keeps me endeared.
The repetitive chorus leaves something to be desired, certainly, but I like how it recalls simplistic ’90s hip-hop. Personally, I think dedicating a verse to “all that good pipe in the moonlight” is inspired.
Also, I can’t tell whether a guest vocalist provided the backing vocals – but if that’s Lipa delivering those fairy-like, Ariana Grande-worthy harmonies, she sounds unbelievable.
“Boys Will Be Boys” puts misogynists in their place.
Larocca: A song called “Boys Will Be Boys” better be a feminist anthem, otherwise it’s automatically garbage.
Luckily, Lipa didn’t disappoint with this one. This verse is excellent: “I’m sure if there’s something that I can’t find the words to say / I know that there will be a man around to save the day / And that was sarcasm, in case you needed it mansplained / I should have stuck to ballet.”
I also loved the introduction of the chorus of young girls toward the end on the lines, “Boys will be, boys will be / Boys will be, boys will be boys / But girls will be women.”
Ahlgrim: The song’s feminist message is a little in-your-face for my personal taste, but this entire album is infused with feminine authority. At its core, “Future Nostalgia” is a portrait of a strong, empowered woman speaking her mind, coming into her own, centering her perspective, and elevating her experiences. In that sense, “Boys will be boys / But girls will be women” is the perfect note to end on.
Final Grade: 8.6/10
Larocca: When I learned Lipa was centering a pop album around the nostalgic sounds of the ’80s, I’ll admit, I was worried for her. It’s been done well on a massive scale – both “Emotion” and “1989” landed on Insider’s best albums of the 2010s list – but I am happy to report that “Future Nostalgia” completes the trifecta of retro-inspired pop gems that became instant classics.
Lipa not only avoided the sophomore slump, she decimated it. I have a feeling this album will only continue to age gracefully upon repeated listens, and mark a pivotal moment in Lipa’s career. She’s levitated to superstar heights with this one.
Ahlgrim: I had super high expectations for this album after “Don’t Start Now” hijacked my brainwaves, and I’m thrilled to report that I’m not disappointed. This is precisely the kind of vivid, danceable pop that I’ve been craving and I can’t wait to blast “Future Nostalgia” at full volume while I dance around my room. Lipa is now the definitive authority on music’s disco-pop revival.
Worth listening to:
“Don’t Start Now”
“Break My Heart”
“Boys Will Be Boys”
“Good in Bed”
*Final album score based on songs per category (1 point for “Worth listening to,” .5 for “Background music,” 0 for “Press skip”).
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