Three years ago, Dua Lipa gifted us with one of the strongest dance-pop albums of the past decade at the precise moment we were all stuck inside. Future Nostalgia, the U.K. pop star’s sophomore album, arrived in March 2020 just as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world it was entering, offering sleek escapism during a hellish global period. As quarantine dissipated, Lipa’s music naturally made the leap from cooped-up bedroom dance breaks to packed clubs and arena shows, the thrills of her unflappable delivery and chorus construction translating to large crowds and turning Lipa into a superstar.
While her new single “Houdini,” which kicks off her third album era, arrives with plenty of anticipation, Lipa’s Barbie soundtrack single “Dance The Night” — which has blossomed into one of the bigger hits of 2023 — offered a subtle hint at the direction in which the 28-year-old is steering her discography. Future Nostalgia is both behind and in front of Lipa: she is tinkering with the edges of popular dance music, refining her pop stylings, doubling down on a successful sound while heightening its pressure points. “Houdini” is an immediate blast, but it’s also a high-wire act, each second whirring with production tidbits that coalesce into a three-minute wallop.
Working with producers Danny L Harle and Tame Impala mastermind Kevin Parker, Lipa operates above a thicket of nu-disco flourishes while deploying the titular metaphor to demand that no one waste her time (“I’m not here for long / Catch me or I go Houdini,” she declares). From the opening seconds, “Houdini” establishes a deep, neck-snapping rhythm as its foundation — fans of Tame Impala’s “Is It True” will also be getting down with this sick beat — and then the song adds star-crossed synths, call-and-response harmonies and fuzzed-out riffs. Yet Lipa’s steady sense of cool is unquestionably the glue of the single, capable of knocking that hook into your brain as well as make a line like “Maybe you could cause a girl to change… Her! WAYS!” sizzle on the bridge.
Some of us will have to wait until next summer to experience “Houdini” as a staple of beach playlists and backyard barbecues, but Lipa’s brand of pop has proven durable, and she keeps polishing her craft. If the rest of Lipa’s third full-length is elevated nu-disco in the vein of “Houdini,” we’re in for a hits-packed 2024.
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