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The Sunflower

Dua Lipa’s ‘Radical Optimism’ isn’t her best album, but it’s still filled with bops

Photo courtesy of Warner Records
Photo courtesy of Warner Records

When Dua Lipa released her second album, “Future Nostalgia” (still, in my mind, one of the best albums of all time), the music felt made to be blasted in a packed club. 

There was only one problem; it came out in March 2020, when getting together and dancing became a public health risk.

Four years later, we finally have a chance to right some wrongs. While her new album, “Radical Optimism,” doesn’t quite reach the highs of “Future Nostalgia,” it still is filled with bops from front to back that deserve to be danced to.

“Radical Optimism” is Lipa’s strongest album from a thematic standpoint, keeping a positive outlook on life despite going through a breakup. It’s a strong contrast to “Future Nostalgia,” which has a theme of ‘I know this is a bad relationship, but I’m horny.’

It’s not much, but if we’re being honest, her music isn’t meant to be dissected lyrically. It’s much more about the vibe. In promotions for the album, Lipa called it a “psychedelic-pop-infused tribute to UK rave culture.”

Yeah, no. It’s far more “retread of “Future Nostalgia” than “radical new direction.” But that’s okay, because “Future Nostalgia” was so good that I would never complain about lingering in that style four years later.There are tracks where you can hear the psychedelic, rave elements Lipa references — namely, the first two singles of the album, “Houdini” and “Training Season.” 

Unfortunately, I view these songs as some of the low points of the album; it’s still listenable, for sure, but they both simultaneously feel stuck in neutral while also seeming like Lipa is trying too hard for a club banger.

In contrast, the third single, “Illusion,” is the best song of the album. The hook, where Lipa repeats the “Ilu-oo” sound in “illusion” seven times, sounded strange during the first listen but has stuck in my head, in a good way, ever since. 

“Illusion” reminds me of the YouTube remixes where the vocals of a track are shifted back a few beats from the instrumental, keeping you on your toes the entire time. The instrumental backing that transitions the song between the chorus and verses is another highlight.

Lipa is at her best when she’s in her element, making catchy dance-pop songs with a retro, disco sound. You can tell that songs like “These Walls,” “Whatcha Doing” and “Happy for You” are where Lipa feels most comfortable. There’s a reason she keeps returning to this style, even after “Future Nostalgia.”

Lipa is never going to have the rabid fanbase of someone like Taylor Swift, who probably considers herself more of a poet than a hitmaker. I’m not a fan of Lipa because I’m invested in her life or her personal relationships; I’m a fan because she keeps making amazing tunes.

Her songs have a tendency to stick in the brain and grow over time, which is why they generally remain on the charts for a while after release. So even if the new album doesn’t hit on the first listen, trust me, those hooks have a way of sticking in your brain and forcing you to dance.

Sure, “Radical Optimism” can be accurately described as a slightly worse version of “Future Nostalgia.” That’s okay. Instead of asking Lipa to leave the sound she’s best at making, I’m choosing to remain radically optimistic as I listen to her new collection of bops.

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About the Contributor
Jacob Unruh
Jacob Unruh, Assistant Sports Editor
Jacob Unruh is the assistant sports editor for The Sunflower. He is a junior at Wichita State, majoring in journalism and minoring in political science. This is Unruh's first year on staff. He goes by he/him pronouns.

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