Is this any time for a dance party? It is if you’re a fan of Dua Lipa, the English singer who won the best new artist Grammy in 2019 and is back with a sophomore album that literally doesn’t skip a beat. “Future Nostalgia” is 100% ballad-free, with a style that might have seemed at home in the Studio 54 era, or at the height of Prince’s Minneapolis sound, as they do in clubs today (or will, once they reopen).
Lipa talked with Variety about speaking the universal language of timeless dance-pop on her new release. (For our full review of “Future Nostalgia,” read here.)
VARIETY: The album is so upbeat, it has the promise to make a lot of people at least momentarily very happy — but you’ve admitted you had some inner conflicts about putting it out during the coronavirus crisis.
LIPA: It’s been definitely a weird time, and you never really know what the right thing to do is at times like this. But I’m really excited to put this album out now to give people time to live with it and listen to it when they’re at home. I hope it will brighten people’s day. We’re all staying at home, or the majority of us are, and hopefully we can get the rest of the people to stay home too.
What were some of the discussions you had with people about whether to delay it or bump it up, or even any internal conversations you had with yourself? Did you think of just delaying it until this whole crisis is finally over?
It’s very tough to know exactly what to do, because we’ve never been through anything like this before, and so I was trying to understand what the right thing to do was. I obviously wanted to put the album out, but I also didn’t want to put it out at a time when people were really suffering. And so I was kind of just going back and forth with the idea of moving it back in the hopes that when the weather gets a bit warmer, as some people were saying, we might hopefully see the virus go. So I was just kind of thinking about maybe to put it out at a happier time. But I then also decided that I’ve already been waiting for so long to put this record out, and I think the fans are really excited for me to put the record out. And so I just thought I’d be doing them a disservice to delay it, especially during this time.
Are you imagining them having any kind of disco parties in the privacy of their homes with this record?
I hope so. I’ve seen a couple of people do FaceTime house parties, so I’m hoping that’s going to happen.
Is it true you started from the title backward in making this album?
Yeah, I did. Around the time of the American Music Awards in 2018, when I did [the single] “Electricity,” I had the album title. I kind of went backwards in making “future nostalgia” what I was aiming for — making it my genre. I wanted to make sure that every song touched on both the future aspects and the nostalgic aspects, to somehow bring something fresh and new to the table, but also something that reminds you of a time. In terms of the future, it really is the production, and the lyrics about what’s currently going on in my life. But some of the sonics behind it have that nostalgic reminiscence.
The album’s title track sounds like something right out of the Prince playbook of the 1980s. You weren’t alive then, or even for some of the later influences you’re carrying into this record.
Artists like Jamiroquai, Moloko, Blondie and Prince, they’re the artists my parents listened to, so that’s where all of that inspiration was really from. It was something that my parents brought into my life that then I so gladly borrowed and claimed as my own childhood inspirations.
A lot of the album seems to go even further back than that — to disco. There is so much real-sounding, heavy, melodic bass that we’ve rarely heard in pop since the late ‘70s, in your hit “Don’t Start Now” but also album tracks like “Levitating,” “Pretty Please,” “Break My Heart” and “Love Again.”
I think it was trying to make the record sound as cohesive as possible, so that it all feels part of the same story. And alongside the bass in multiple songs, I also have strings in multiple songs. My first record was so electronic that I wanted to make this really organic in having a lot of live instrumentation, so that when we’re on tour, the record doesn’t sound much different from what you would hear live. After performing live for three years, I wanted to have it so that when you listen to a record, you really hear the instrumentation at the forefront of it.
In the past you’ve used the term “dance-crying” for your music. There’s no crying on this album, though.
It is a very happy album. I feel like on my first record, the easiest thing for me to tap into and felt I could write about was my sadness, really. like those are the memories that linger longest. With this record, I felt like I could get out of my comfort zone, almost, and tell myself that it’s okay to write happy things and really write about how I feel in the moment. And if there is anything even remotely sad now, I’ve been saying it’s a celebration of vulnerability. This album is purely about dancing and having fun and being free and being in love. And the album definitely doesn’t stop in pace. It doesn’t really give me a second to breathe, so I’ll be grateful for the songs from my previous album when I’m on tour.
“Boys Will Be Boys” is kind of the one non-dance song, at the end of the album. Did you feel it was important to kind of sneak a feminist message in there at the end?
I did think it was important to get that song on the record, because I talk so much about female equality and women’s rights, and so for me it was important to talk about my own personal experiences as a woman, and show solidarity with all the girls around the world that we go through the same thing. I wanted it to be a conversation starter about these growing pains that we go through — how we alter ourselves in order to fit somebody else’s lifestyle. We should be teaching boys to treat girls equally, but it’s been ingrained enough in us since we were kids, that boys will be boys, and that needs to stop at a certain point. because everybody needs to take responsibility for their actions.
Are you getting more comfortable with having made the call to put the album out now and not put it off?
I think so. For me, at least, when I hear something that makes me feel good, it takes me away from whatever situation is kind of going on around me and puts me very present in the moment with the music. That’s all I could really hope for, especially at a time like now, that that would be of some help to someone, at least.
You’ve said your new look is a manifestation of the album title. Your dark roots, under the blond, are the nostalgia part?
Yeah, yeah … [laughs] and the future is the hair on top. It’s nice to give things a meaning and find the symbolism in something, just for the fun of it. The nostalgia underneath, the future on top – I like to make things make sense. Sometimes it’s by force.