Is Dua Lipa’s Radical Optimism Really the End of an Era? Two ELLE Editors Discuss

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How do you follow a culturally defining album such as Future Nostalgia? With a little bit of of Radical Optimism, of course. Dua Lipa, current queen of the dance floor, returns with her first album in four years, no longer an up-and-comer but a bonafide global pop star.

On her new LP, she comes equipped with a new outlook on life, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker as a collaborator, and plenty of wisdom about relationships and singledom. Does it mark a new era for the Brit? Does it still make us want to get up and dance? And is it truly radically optimistic? ELLE editors Erica Gonzales and Samuel Maude discuss.


First Impressions

Erica Gonzales: I will start by saying that I loved Future Nostalgia. That was a game-changing album for me. Every single song on that album could have been a single and should have been. I’m like, “Wait, wait, wait. Where’s ‘Cool’? Where’s ‘Pretty Please’?” So, going into this era, I was a bit nervous. I don’t think that Radical Optimism quite hit that level with me. However, as a Tame Impala fan, I think there are some really cool things that she did with the production here. There are still elements of disco, of dance inspirations, but it does feel a little more ’80s, a little more psychedelic.

This is a bit of a tangent, but there were certain moments that reminded me of Gwen Stefani, actually. There were certain chords in the “Houdini” chorus, and in “Maria” when the guitar comes in, that reminded me of “It’s My Life” by No Doubt, and then there were also softer pop moments, like in “End of an Era” or “These Walls” that reminded me of “Cool” on Gwen’s solo album. That’s just a surprising comparison that came up.

Samuel Maude: I feel like this album embraces the sound she’s carved out for herself. Future Nostalgia is one of my favorite albums of all time. It came out at the perfect time, and I know that’s a wild thing to say, because it came out right at the beginning of the pandemic. It gave us all permission to dance in our homes, to push through this really difficult moment, and find some type of joy. It really defined this moment in music. She starts Future Nostalgia by saying, “You want a timeless song, I want to change the game,” and I think that album kind of did.

Coming off of that revelatory album, she had a lot of pressure here. I think of it as this Lorde post-Melodrama moment, where she released this album that everyone was obsessed with, and then had a lot to live up to. I think Radical Optimism is a good album. I think it sounds like a Dua album. It is fun. It is dancey. Overall, for me, this album doesn’t push her in any way. I think people are going to love it. It’s going to be the soundtrack to a lot of people’s summers. I feel like I’m going to hear it at every gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen for the remainder of time, but I just think it was tough to follow up Future Nostalgia. It is a good album, but it’s not era-defining. It’s not changing the game here.

Erica: I found a lot of these songs kind of blended into each other, but the more I listened to “Illusion,” I’ve come to love it. But I do think that the hook is so much stronger than the verses, just the way that those synths drop in. That’s maybe because it just sounds so Tame Impala. Imagine being on the dance floor, and then hearing that, and then that chorus drops in…that would be a problem.

Sam: It’s a grower, for sure. I think she’s chosen the right singles too. I think these singles do encapsulate the album and are an accurate representation of this Radical Optimism era for her.

The Title

Sam: I’m also curious to hear what you think about the title of the album, and if it encapsulates these 11 songs. Do we feel radically optimistic?

Erica: I would argue that you could have Future Nostalgia be named Radical Optimism, and this be called Future Nostalgia, because there are a lot of ’80s, ’90s vibes to it. And because Future Nostalgia landed in the midst of a global pandemic, it was radically optimistic. I guess the title is maybe more for her. It seems like more of a personal decision, because she also talks a lot about dating and breakups in this album, so maybe that’s what “radical optimism” is referring to.

Sam: I hear the term “radical optimism,” and I really think of sitting in therapy, and my therapist being like, “Everything’s going to turn out okay. Everything’s going to be all right. You’re going to be fine.” It’s an ambitious album title. I think it does feel radically optimistic to me, and I am in this moment in my personal life where I’m radically optimistic about what could happen.

“Falling Forever”

Sam: I think “Falling Forever” could possibly be one of the best tracks of her career. It’s so “Holding Out For a Hero.” I was listening to the track for the first time, seated at my desk in the office, and I stopped everything I was doing and just paused. I had suddenly, I feel like, this acid trip in the middle of the office, where I was transported to the middle of a gay circuit party and needed to be under the disco ball screaming at the top of my lungs, “Can we keep falling forever?” And I seriously have listened to that song probably now 50 or 60 times. I think it is incredible.

Erica: No, you’re so right. One of the notes I wrote was “’80s rock pop.” I also feel it’s a little bit like “Voulez-Vous” from ABBA. Another thing I wrote was, “Okay, riff!”

Sam: Okay, riff!

“Maria”

Erica: “Maria” I thought was interesting, because it had Spanish-sounding guitars, and it opened acoustic, and it’s not this kind of synth-y sound that she’d been riding for this whole album. I’m also intrigued by who she is talking about, personally. Who is the ex? Who is the woman? When I listened to it again, there was flute, I think, in the production of the chorus, and certain interesting moments like that. It feels like a song that, when you’re seeing her live in concert, you’re screaming at the top of your lungs.

“Happy for You”

Erica: I don’t really think of Dua as a lyric girlie, but I did think that the last song was interesting, because it was a very grown-up post-breakup song, and, in that way, it also reminded me of “Cool” by Gwen Stefani. “I’m happy for you. I’m not mad. I’m not hurt.” That was a moment for me.

Sam: That’s maturity, reaching a point with someone where you’re like, “You know what? This just didn’t work out for us. I don’t have any ill feelings towards you.”

Erica: And the fact that she’s like, “That proves to me even more that I love you, because I’m happy for you, even now.”

So. Much. Pop Music.

Sam: I think this is such a tough year for music, in the sense that there are so many artists releasing strong albums. You have Ariana, you have Beyoncé, you have Taylor, you have Dua, you’re going to have Billie. You have some men, I’m sure. I do think we’re looking at a very interesting Grammys year, where you have, honestly, the biggest artists in the world all going up against each other, and it’s going to be wild.

The Beginning of an Era

Sam: I was on the ground floor with Dua. I went to her first world tour, when she had just kind of started to break out with “New Rules.” I love her self-titled album, too. I love Future Nostalgia. I think this is a little dip for me, but I am curious to see where she goes next, if with the next album, she does change the sound up more. I’m curious to see what her tour for this will look like.

This feels more like a transition album, to me, than a career-defining album. Every album can’t be the album, unless you’re Beyoncé, where every album she releases, you’re like, “Oh, my God.” So I am radically optimistic for Dua Lipa’s career, and I think she is doing what she needed to do here. I don’t think it’s going to have the same cultural impact as Future Nostalgia.

Erica: I also have been riding with Dua for a long time. “Lost in Your Light” with Miguel? So good.

It was really interesting to see her trajectory from that album; the transition from that to Future Nostalgia really turned her into the kind of pop superstar that can play at Madison Square Garden for multiple nights. Now, she’s on a new plane of stardom, of musicianship, and with Radical Optimism, even though it doesn’t quite hit like the last one, I can see that she had a vision for it, which I appreciate.

I think that this album might mark the end of an era for Dua, not in a bad way, just maybe in a sonic way. The way she opens the album with “End of an Era” makes it seem like this is a new era, but it just sounds like more of the current one, if that makes sense. So I think maybe this will be the jumping off point for something else, something new, something better. I will jam out every time I hear a Dua Lipa song, because I appreciate what she does for pop music, and it’s never a bad time. We know what she’s capable of. I am interested to see what the next era for Dua holds.

Sam: She’s the dance floor queen. Sometimes, you need music that’s not going to make you question your situationship or make you think deeply about your place in this world. This is an album that allows you to do that, and just let go, take in the moment, and find the silver linings.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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