Opinion

Revisiting Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia, the Perfect Pop Album That Got Everyone Through the Pandemic

Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa Photo courtesy of Permanent Press Media
In the nearly four years since Dua Lipa last performed in Miami, the British pop star's career has skyrocketed beyond even the wildest expectations. She's been everywhere — from British Vogue covers to the Grammys stage to the Versace runway — and for good reason: Her 2020 follow-up to 2017's self-titled debut dominated charts and swept awards. With inspirations ranging from Europop and 2000s dance to funk and disco, the album proved an instant classic, expertly toeing the line between influence and innovation, all while remaining endlessly listenable.

Just this past December, her dance-pop track "Levitating" was named the number-one track on Billboard's Hot 100 Songs of the year (the first by a female artist since Adele ten years before), despite never having reached number one on the weekly Hot 100. At the same time, "Levitating" (despite the controversies surrounding the lead remix) was the most-streamed song in the U.S., with a whopping 804.71 million streams across various audio and video platforms.

When Lipa stops at the FTX Arena on February 9 (with the witchy Caroline Polachek as her opening act), it will kick off the long-awaited tour of that mega-popular album, Future Nostalgia, of which "Levitating" is the fifth single. Released shortly after pandemic lockdowns began in late March 2020, her sophomore effort was critically acclaimed and soon became a hit, reaching certified platinum status in the U.S. by March of 2021 — a feat no doubt aided by the public's pandemic- and lockdown-induced thirst for something upbeat and danceable.
Future Nostalgia proved to be exactly what listeners needed. At a time when artists were pushing back their album releases dates to better weather the pandemic, Lipa brought hers up a week and was well rewarded. The unlikely combination of retro disco influences and space-inspired escapism made Future Nostalgia the perfect album (and "Levitating" the perfect track) for the moment. Songs like "Break My Heart," the third single off the album, for example, is marked by the blend of its infectious dance beat interpolated from INXS's 1987 hit "Need You Tonight" and its disco-inspired string arrangements pulled right from the '70s, was but one hit in an album full of them — each hailing from retro elements while maintaining a modern, future-oriented twist. "Cool," too, draws directly from the synth-driven soft rock of the '80s, but this time with a 2000s hyperpop sheen.

And though it's clear with Future Nostalgia that Lipa's inspirations were vast and varied — she has said she was drawing from the music of her childhood when creating the album — the result is both cohesive and groundbreaking. An ever-present ray of light in a dark and difficult two years, Future Nostalgia has proven a critical piece of music, a promise of revitalized nostalgia-driven optimism for the future as much as it is a promise of more dance parties to come. "Yes, it was made to be listened out in the clubs and at festivals," Lipa told BBC in an April 2020 interview. "But at the same time, I wanted to give people some happiness during this time, where they don't have to think about what's going on and just shut off and dance."

Still, it's impossible to talk about Future Nostalgia and Dua Lipa's subsequent meteoric rise in pop stardom without engaging with the realities of the pandemic era into which the album was released. As columnist Poon Singhatiraj wrote in Northeastern University's Huntington News, the shift from a party-oriented album to a pandemic-released one "elevated Future Nostalgia to something more than just a playlist of fun club songs — it cemented the album as a masterpiece of music that both defined and got us through quarantine."
And as it did for dozens of other pandemic music releases — including songs from Meghan Thee Stallion's critically acclaimed debut Good News and Doja Cat's more recent singles from Planet Her — TikTok played a major role in causing the album to blow up in popularity. Listening to Lipa sing "Did a full 180" at the opening of lead single "Don't Start Now" is like being transported back to March 2020, back when TikTok was cementing its ever-growing dominance over social media and the creation of viral songs and celebrities were shooting virtual covers of John Lennon songs to pass the time. "Levitating," for example, is featured on over 800,000 videos on the app. And "Don't Start Now"? It has topped 2.9 million, from choreographed dances to comedic takes on the opening line. The cultural significance of the album is undeniable.

A third album is in the works, and though Lipa promises it will have a "unique sound" relative to Future Nostalgia, she is poised to keep her place in the pop stratosphere. And with Lipa's upcoming Miami performance setting the stage for four legs of touring Future Nostalgia over a nine-month period (after being postponed three times), she will be plenty busy until then.

In finally getting to celebrate an album that proved a lifeline for so many and a true beacon of escapism and dance-fueled poptimism amid the pandemic — and after spending nearly two years promoting the album through livestreamed concerts and high-profile performances — Dua Lipa is bound to give her audience a show to remember.

Dua Lipa. With Caroline Polachek and Lolo Zouaï. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 9, at FTX Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; ftxarena.com. Tickets cost $40.25 to $124.75 via ticketmaster.com.
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Sofia Andrade is a journalist and undergraduate at Harvard University. A Miami native with roots in Ecuador, she often writes about issues of gender, migration and Latinidad in arts, culture, and politics. Along with the New Times, her work has appeared in Slate, the New York Times, and the Harvard Crimson.
Contact: Sofia Andrade