It was fall 2019 and Dua Lipa, the London pop singer, was having a rare moment of doubt. She had just cleared her 21st century pop star code from Instagram for a symbolic revival, and was gearing up to release “Don’t Start Now,” the first single from her second album. Nostalgia for the future. The continuation of their well-received, if not momentous, self-titled debut was meant to serve as an artistic maturity – an exuberant statement aimed at the charts that had been dominated by ballads and dejected hip-hop for a few years. The hardest work was done, and Lipa loved the song: a bittersweet, bittersweet dance floor hymn filled with disco noises and flourishes that they had confidence to spare. However, that October, he was unable to shake off some anxiety, familiar to anyone who has ever launched a creative endeavor online.
“I was like, Oh, it’s very different from what people have heard from me,” Lipa said in a Zoom call from her London apartment in April. She sat on a sofa under a playful wall sculpture, dressed in the immaculate living clothes she preferred even before the pandemic. Between breaks to curb his one-year-old rescue pup, Dexter, he recalled that in the run-up to the song’s debut on Halloween, his apprehension only grew. He tried meditation. He tried hypnotherapy.
“I think I just needed something to calm my brain and help me get rid of the anxiety,” she said, “and almost be able to tell myself that everything I’ve learned I could do in my sleep. “
Talking about all this uncertainty in mid-2021 is, of course, a bit absurd. “Don’t Start Now” would eventually hit number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and amass nearly 1.5 billion streams combined on Spotify and YouTube at the time of this writing. Nostalgia for the future a dance record that begged to be heard in the club’s common space, yet it would thrive in the middle of its quarantine to win a Grammy for best pop vocal album and unleash an extraordinary streak of Top 40 singles. Along the way, Lipa became a one of the first big pop stars to attempt a full promotional roll from home. She appeared on late night shows after combing her hair and makeup, spoke through tears about her sadness for the moment on Instagram Live, and adjusted to working through video calls like the rest of us. The whole company would turn Lipa from an ambitious upstart into a true superstar.
The fact that she had received a lesson in uncertainty before the pandemic could have helped her chart the course. Their longtime manager Ben Mawson told me that at first the team was hesitant to go through with the global shutdown, as many other artists chose last year, but in the end they saw it as a unique opportunity. “She had been waiting for this moment,” he said. “It was uplifting and happy music, so we thought maybe the world needs this.”
To American listeners, Lipa’s success may seem like it comes from here. But his story is one of cross-continent perseverance, a little luck, and one of those generational pop personalities that just won’t be denied. Nostalgia for the future it would have been an unusual record even if it hadn’t come to the start of a global crisis. It takes a buffet table approach to sound decorations from decades of disco, funk, and synth pop, while showcasing Lipa’s keen ear for complex vocal melodies and her distinctively rough and snappy voice. It combines the efficiency of structured pop with the curiosity of dance music, but between pulsing bass lines and naturalistic percussion, it is filled with silence: little spaces here and there that convey a respite before a song blooms into something new. Its emotional and dynamic range is wide, but everything happens effortlessly.
The title of the album came to Lipa before anything else. She almost used “nostalgia for the future” as the backdrop for a performance at the 2018 awards show before deciding she wanted to save it for something special. “I loved jumping into what seemed like a story,” he said. “I really loved the idea of Nostalgia for the future have her own world. ”Although Lipa worked with a long list of collaborators on the album, a core group of collaborators from her 2017 debut, including songwriter Clarence Coffee Jr. and producer and writer Stephen“ Koz ”Kozmeniuk, returned to the I study with her for the Nostalgia for the future sessions in the summer of 2018. Both said that the experience of working with Lipa is mainly marked by how fun it is. (“I have summer camp vibes with one of my best friends,” Coffee told me.)
Koz was one of the first people he told about the title, and he said it was helpful in nailing a sonic paddle. Lipa was struggling to express exactly how it would translate into music until a session in which she, Coffee, Koz, and songwriter Sarah Hudson wrote “Levitating,” which would eventually become the album’s sixth single and a huge hit. The song’s bones are audible on the first voice note they recorded, and with the help of donuts and lots of play, it came together in about a day. “The difference with Dua’s project, compared to a lot of other projects, it feels like you’re in a little band,” Koz said of the song. “I can still hear what the day was like, I can hear the laughter, I can hear the jokes. It was a riot. “