Dua Lipa – Radical Optimism

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For the past four years, Dua Lipa has had hit after hit after hit. With a title like Radical Optimism, and another streak of success with singles “Houdini,” “Training Season,” and “Illusion,” excitement was high for Dua Lipa’s third album release. However, for an album with exhilarating visuals and a radical title, the remaining tracks feel decidedly mid.

The disco-pop perfection that was Future Nostalgia saw Dua establish herself as a dominant force in music. Then, on the heels of her successful world tour, she featured as Mermaid Barbie in Barbie, and provided yet another Studio 54-inspired hit for its soundtrack. While “Dance The Night” marked the end of a musical era, it was also a reminder of how great a performer and artist she is. Showing zero signs of the dreaded sophomore slump, Lipa deservedly took the crown as Britain’s princess of pop.

It’s no surprise, then, that expectations were extremely high for her third album. Dua showed no signs of a sophomore slump and had mentioned a musical pivot towards psychedelic pop. She confidently performed a song no one had heard yet at the Grammy’s, and it was a true stand-out moment. With a stellar music video for “Illusion,” perhaps the problem is simply that Dua Lipa’s single picks were too good.

Let’s get one thing straight, there’s nothing bad about the songs on the album – they just feel less cohesive and impressive. The opening track “End Of An Era” is breezy, and would be a perfect background track for a summer pool party. It’s sonically similar to “These Walls,” which nicely contrasts downtrodden lyrics with happy-go-lucky instrumentals. Songs like “French Exit” and “Falling Forever” see her branch out and experiment with different tempos and song structures. However, they just don’t really stand out on this record, or seem radical in any musical sense.

When speaking of choosing the title for her album, Dua Lipa heralded it as a feeling she could identify with: “The idea of going through chaos gracefully and feeling like you can weather any storm.” This seems to be somewhat represented on the album’s closer “Happy For You,” which offsets singing birds with a raucous, sleek chorus.

The closing tracks are definitely stronger, more memorable tracks in general – partly due to their experimental production. “Maria” is a love song to a lover’s former lover, and opens with a great acoustic guitar hook. On “Anything For Love,” Dua Lipa showcases her vocals on a stripped-back recording. It’s almost a pity a song that starts out as a ballad still ends up in a mid-tempo track. However, the lyrics do tend to give a better idea of what the album is actually about. How to navigate love – what is an acceptable cost or investment? When do your endings get to turn into new, better beginnings?

Perhaps there’s nothing more radical than a happy, confident woman knowing her worth, and who’s not settling for less than that. Still, the feeling persists that this album is just not as potent as it could’ve been. And that leaves you slightly dissatisfied, weirdly wondering what’s next instead of basking in the afterglow. Rather than a tidal wave, Radical Optimism leaves you afloat – it’s relaxing, more so than radical.