6 feb 2024

Dua Lipa is more pop than radical with her new album “Radical Optimism”

A flamboyant new red hair dye, a collaboration with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, a series of brilliant new singles, including Houdini, Training Season and Illusion… Dua Lipa’s new album Radical Optimism, which came out on May 3rd, 2024, was expected to save pop music. What can we actually say about her new opus?

Over the past few months, the talented and stunning singer has won on all fronts. The British-Albanian singer lit up the Cannes Film Festival with her appearance in May last year, before starring as a mermaid in the blockbuster Barbie, for which she composed the hit song Dance the Night last summer.


The singer-songwriter has also collaborated with Versace on a colorful and sexy collection entitled La Vacanza, and transformed her Instagram account into a real fashion showroom.


On Wednesday, January 31st, she was spotted with Henry Cavill in the film Argylle. In addition to many other ventures, the woman who hosts a newsletter, Service95, a podcast and a book club, has also taken the time to record Radical Optimism, her brand-new album…

A musical turn for Dua Lipa with her new album Radical Optimism?


Last year, the face of Yves Saint Laurent Beauté’s fragrances deleted her old photos on her Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and other streaming platforms, and replaced them with more kaleidoscopic visuals.


In October 2023, Dua Lipa shared a surprising shot of herself taken by English photographer and videographer Tyrone Lebon, who also directed the music video of Nikes by Frank Ocean, where she appeared as a redhead wearing the 1994 Bowie top by Helmut Lang


It could have signaled a more independent, rock, experimental, cutting-edge, and above all, less mainstream musical direction at the time. Her bold, Julia Fox-like new hair dye may have suggested that Dua Lipa was ready to take more risks, just like Doja Cat, who has recently undergone a true aesthetic and artistic revolution.

Radical Optimism, Dua Lipa’s new “optimistic” record


Dua Lipa knew how to arouse attention around her new project. She gradually dropped a few hints, unveiled new visuals, singles and eventually shared the title of her album, Radical Optimism. The album cover features the singer, immersed in water with a shark swimming next to her. Read it as a parable of the entertainment industry if you like… In any case, the image seems to contradict itself with the title ironically, while translating the “dance-crying” feeling her music conveys.


About the album title, Dua Lipa said: “A couple years ago, a friend introduced me to the term Radical Optimism. It’s a concept that resonated with me, and I became more curious as I started to play with it and weave it into my life. It struck me – the idea of going through chaos gracefully and feeling like you can weather any storm.” Dua Lipa’s album is therefore intended to be optimistic, and we can feel the desire to offer a perfect summer project right from the opening track.


A lot of this album was written in those joyous moments of absolute chaos and how I moved through the world with lightness and optimism, whatever the outcome may be,” Dua Lipa explained in a press release.


A collaborative album with Tame Impala


Along with her dream team, Dua Lipa has been working for months on the successor to the excellent and danceable Future Nostalgia (2020). The 28-year-old pop superstar worked with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker in Malibu and London, as well as with Danny L Harle, from the label PC Music, a close collaborator of singer Caroline Polachek.


Kevin Parker wrote the majority of the tracks on the album, which seemed to foreshadow an indie, synthpop and electropop-inspired record. Dua Lipa had also shared that her new record would reflect the spirit of Britpop, trip-hop and psychedelic music. Therefore, we expected the singer to rework the retro-futuristic and disco-pop universe championed by Future Nostalgia in order to shape even more lyrical sounds encouraged by Kevin Parker.


Yet, Dua Lipa has favored pop music over radicalism and that’s the first disappointment. The “psychedelic, pop tribute to British rave culture” promised by the singer in the columns of the Rolling Stone is lacking. But you will also have to look closely for the references cited by the singer, such as Primal Scream, Massive Attack, Oasis, Gorillaz, Blur, Moby, on these rather classic electro pop tracks. Instead, we can hear a few hints of funk and flamenco music, as well as sounds reminiscent of British girl bands from the 2000s, like Moloko (Maria) and Eurovision (Falling Forever).

The summer hit Houdini


The singles already revealed by Dua Lipa prior to the release of Radical Optimism remain the best songs on the album. One of them is the banger Houdini, which was written by Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, Tobias Jesso Jr., Danny L Harle and Caroline Ailin – the latter has already worked with Dua Lipa for the hit song New Rules. “Houdini” is also the title of a song by singer Kate Bush, as well as the name of a famous illusionist who would kiss his wife during his escape acts in order to hide a key into her mouth. But Kate Bush is not the main inspiration of the British-Albanian singer’s new track.


Very electro pop and synthpop, Houdini sounds more like a successful blend of Dua Lipa’s magical retro-futuristic, disco-pop universe, Tame Impala’s synthetic, cosmic world and Daft Punk’s aesthetic, especially at the end of the track. The addictive voice of the singer instantly turns that song into a classic – the kind that sticks in your head long after you have played it, and that you will eventually play over and over again to keep the party going. As for the lyrics, full of sexual double entendres (“I come and I go”), they lean towards the not so well-behaved Madonna.


This track represents the most light and freeing parts of my singledom.” Dua Lipa


According to Dua Lipa, Houdini is a transcription of “that 4am feeling when the night is coming to a close and you’re a bit sweaty, but you just don’t want the party to end”.

This track represents the most light, freeing parts of my singledom (…) Houdini is very tongue in cheek, exploring the idea of whether or not someone is really worth my time. You never know exactly where something may take you, that’s the beauty of being open to whatever life throws your way,” she added in a press release.


The athletic, sexy video unveiled with the track was directed by both Manu Cossu and cinematographer André Chemetoff, and produced by Dua Lipa’s former partner Romain Gavras. It shows the pop star dancing in a gymnasium wearing Dion Lee, Martine Rose and Puma, in an atmosphere reminiscent of the movie Flashdance and of Madonna’s video for Hung up. While the pop star used to be mocked for her rather simplistic hip moves at her debuts, she has now proven that she has everything of a Beyoncé or a Rihanna when it comes to performing wild choreographies.

An uneven album, held by the tracks Illusion and Training Season


Another flagship track on Radical Optimism is Training Season, co-written with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. Dua Lipa delivered a fiery performance of the song involving a dance on an industrial cage at the 2024 Grammy Awards 2024. “This track is about the fact that my season of training is over and that I have grown in every way from all my experiences. I have never felt so confident, clear and strong. And while it may be that training season is never over for any of us, you start to see the beauty in finding that person to experience it with. You stop looking for the trainees and become more interested in having someone where you are and someone to grow with,” the singer detailed about the catchy Training Season.


While the melody of Training Season leans more towards ABBA, the music video shows Dua Lipa sitting at a café, dreamy and restless, while a pack of men try to attract her attention – a metaphor of dating apps. With Training Season, the star proves that it is possible to create songs that are both effective and demanding, yet mainstream and cutting-edge.

Another summer hit is Illusion, an effective synthpop single released with a sensual music video shot in Barcelona, featuring top divers and synchronized swimming pros. The colors and lighting evoke Kylie Minogue’s cult video for Slow. In doing so, Dua Lipa joins the ranks of pop singers who know how to offer songs that are bold enough to seduce even the most demanding critics.


As for the rest of the album, Radical Optimism struggles to fully satisfy us, expected from a few tracks including the splendid and cheerful End of an Era. Admittedly, Dua Lipa’s universe sounds more organic than usual and offers more ballads than her previous releases. Yet the whole project is far too soapy, bright and formatted for it to seduce us in the long run. Kevin Parker’s signature can be heard on a few tracks, but it is a far cry from Tame Impala’s lyrical verve and heady synth loops.


Regarding the lyrics, which revolve around the notions of breakup, hedonism and love, they don’t always have the strength and directness of Dua Lipa’s past albums. On May 3-4, a food truck in the colors of the album drove through Paris to give free cotton candy to people and let them listen to the record. A proof of what the singer offers with this opus – some fun, sugar, and pleasure. Still, it is but an instant gratification, a summer love affair. And given our long-standing love for the artist, who was in charge of saving pop music from sentimental and hackneyed formulas, we expected much better than treats. Even though it does offer some comfort…


Radical Optimism (2024) by Dua Lipa, available now.


Traduction Emma Naroumbo Armaing