May 28, 2024

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Dua Lipa dedicates herself to having fun through ‘radical optimism’

Dua Lipa dedicates herself to having fun through ‘radical optimism’

Recently, some of the world’s biggest pop stars have been eschewing the banger in favor of a postmodern, self-referential approach to the form. I don’t necessarily mind the idea of ​​personal mythology being central to unpacking an album’s themes (they keep me busy, after all), but the immediacy and broad appeal of pop music have always been crucial to its enjoyment. Twenty-eight-year-old singer Dua Lipa, who was born in London to Kosovar Albanian parents, seems to instinctively understand the utility of pop music as an escapist fantasy. Lipa’s new album, Radical Optimism, doesn’t require its listeners to know anything about Lipa, her constellation of bandmates, her cultural history, or her relationship to the past; It doesn’t take you to know anything about anything, really, except how cleansing and ecstatic it can feel when you mindlessly move your body.

Lipa’s not alone on this journey — Sabrina Carpenter, Tate McRae, and Troye Sivan are all working in similar modes — but she may be the most reliable, smart, laid-back pop performer we have. (Lipa, of course, owes a debt to her predecessors, including Kylie Minogue, Madonna, and Britney Spears.) She seems fully committed to pop as a genre that has limits (short songs, big hooks, widely adaptable lyrics). That may be why she was tasked with opening the Grammy Awards this year, where she performed a medley of songs from “Radical Optimism.” This is not difficult music to enjoy on first hearing.

Over the past seven years, Lipa has evolved as a dancer and performer — in the video for her first major single, “New Rules” from 2017, she moves so relaxed that she occasionally delivers “Weekend at Bernie’s.” -And even though she was more attractive and experienced now, she still exuded a kind of detached coldness, as if she could take it or leave it. Lipa has legions of devoted followers (particularly on Instagram, where she’s often photographed looking sexy and holding a book), but I wondered, at times, if that was the reason she didn’t cultivate a hysterical, frothy fan community: something just couldn’t be touched. It’s glorious. Her apparent lack of need can seem ambitious to anyone experiencing a lot of emotions. “I don’t want to stay ’til the lights come on / I can’t relate to the words of this love song,” she sings on “French Exit,” a new song. On “Anything for Love,” a piano ballad that transitions into a turbulent pop tune, she sings about how she tends to go too far already: “And I’m not interested in a love that gives up so easily / I want a love that’s determined to keep me.”

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Recently, technology has made analyzing the individual musical components of pop songs (especially dance-floor pop songs, augmented by various synthesizers, unnamed plug-ins, and effects) something of a farce. The tracks on “Radical Optimism” feature drums, bass, keyboards, guitars and percussion. I know this mostly because I read the credits. The album’s instrumentation is a shiny, impenetrable space, and the main attraction is Lipa, whose voice is powerful and sometimes guttural. If papacy — a critical philosophy that boils down to the idea that if something achieves a broad purpose then it is inherently worthwhile — has taught us anything, it is that doing it well is very difficult. Much of “Radical Optimism” was co-written by Lipa, Danny L. Harley, Tobias Jesso Jr., Caroline Ailin and Kevin Parker, an Australian musician and producer who also makes dreamy psych-pop like Tame Impala. (Parker has proven his mainstream bona fides in the ’20s. In 2016, Rihanna covered his song “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” on her album “Anti.” Parker also co-wrote and produced “Perfect Illusion,” the lead single from Lady Gaga’s song “Joan.” .) It helps give Lipa’s record a warm and fuzzy ’70s feel – a little “Saturday Night Fever,” a little Quincy Jones, somewhere between Chic and Michael’s “Le Freak.” Jackson “Don’t stop until you get enough.”

I especially hear Parker’s influence on the chorus of the “Houdini” solo, just as the backing vocals kick in. (I also hear him verbatim; he’s listed as a background singer.) It’s one of my favorite moments on the album. “Maybe you can make a girl change,” Lipa sings, her voice sharp, clear, and somewhat skeptical. (“Knock it!” Lipa adds.) If “radical optimism” has a central theme, it’s independence, or more specifically, an unwillingness to engage in the kind of romantic foolishness for which we’ve come up with cute names (love bombing, gaslighting, ghosting). . The idea is to get healthy or leave. Lipa has no time to fuss or quibble (she once told Jimmy Kimmel that she regularly includes even the most routine or enjoyable tasks — like showering and watching “Succession” — in her daily schedule), which is, constitutionally, the opposite of what could be. -I can kind of fix it. Why do you care? It’s a good idea to roll her eyes until the right partner comes along. “Are you someone who can go there? / ‘Cause I don’t wanna show you,” she sings in “Training Season,” a vibrant song about not having the patience to teach someone how to handle it. That idea is at the heart of “Houdini.” also:

I come and go
Prove that you have the right to please me
Everyone knows
Catch me or I’ll go Houdini

It’s possible my mind has simply been liquefied by modern life, but I hear a hint of rapper and teen criminal Bhad Bhabie in Lipa’s enigmatic phrasing of “Catch Me.” (In 2016, on an episode of “Dr. Phil,” Bhad Bhabie — who was there to discuss her car-theft habit — reacted to audience laughter by quipping, “Cash me ousside, howbow dah?”, a catchphrase that quickly became It went viral and was later remixed into a single.) Bringing up Houdini in this particular context makes me laugh too. I can’t stop picturing a short, narrow-eyed Hungarian man in a turn-of-the-century swimsuit and chains, an image that’s fundamentally at odds with Lipa, who was famously graceful and cool. I think that’s what ends up getting lost in more narratively ambitious pop music – the sense of fun, the idea that art can be important but also low-stakes, sophisticated but easy to feel, artfully presented but bent on delight.

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In 2019, Lipa was interviewed at the New Yorker Film Festival. My father’s family is from the Balkans, and I recently spent some time in the cursed mountains of northern Albania, not far from Pristina, the city where Lipa’s parents lived before they left Kosovo for the UK (by 1998, the KLA and the federal government). The Republic of Yugoslavia was at war; Lipa’s family returned to their homeland in 2008, after Kosovo declared its independence. Lipa returned to England alone, at the age of 15, to pursue a career in music. “I take the opportunity to tell people that I am from Kosovo,” she told me. “I’m really very proud of my roots.”

Lipa said she was influenced by Britpop because of “Radical Optimism”. I name-check Oasis, Primal Scream and Massive Attack, although the presence of these artists (and British pop in general) is far more spiritual than musical; I told diverse They were attracted to the sense of “true freedom” they felt in their work. For anyone who has witnessed or experienced grief on a large scale, freedom can sometimes be intertwined with the idea of ​​refuge. Lipa was clear about how a good pop song can help a person get lost in a moment, and unburden themselves briefly but truly. Pop music—charming choruses, repetition, propulsive beats—is mantra-like by design. Listen long enough and the contours of a difficult day begin to blur. The problems seem smaller. Happiness seems closer, more possible. When pop music is done well, the end result is something resembling transcendence. ♦