The other night, since we can’t go out, I listened to Dua Lipa.
I sat criss-cross applesauce in the middle of my bed, put my headphones on, and clicked play on Lipa’s second studio album, Future Nostalgia. The first track, which shares the album’s name, opens with 25 seconds of spoken-word verse before it erupts.
“I know you’re dying trying to figure me out,” Lipa sings as the chorus blooms out in gleaming triads. All the layers of harmony reinforce the melody, leaving the bass line as the only counterpoint, and suddenly the song is in Technicolor. It’s the kind of chorus you want to scream-sing on a night out with friends; by the time it came around the second time I was dancing around my room in my pajamas.
Those aren’t so common right now. Once upon a time (read: 2010), the chorus was where artists put their best stuff. Songs like Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything,” were chart-toppers. When electronic dance music became a dominant influence in mainstream pop, though, choruses were replaced by beat drops and pulsing instrumentals. They were there to get people moving, not belting lyrics out at the top of their lungs.
Those influences are still present in songs such as Post Malone’s “Sunflower,” Halsey’s “Without Me,” and Billie Eilish’s “bad guy,” the biggest songs of the last year and all downtempo pulsers. In 2019, it was better to be vibey than vibrant.
Which is what makes Future Nostalgia remarkable.
From the title track to the instant-classic “Physical,” the slick “Levitating,” soaring “Hallucinate,” and retro-pop “Love Again,” the best songs on the album are spine-tingling endorphin blasts with huge choruses.
I love them and, right now, I think we need them.
These are songs about passion and impulsion and dancing and tonight and definitely not tomorrow, since who’s got a clue? They’re songs that streamed in through my headphones with fearless bravado and knocked down the four walls of my room.
We live in small spaces right now, hunkered down at home if we’re lucky, quarantined in a single room if we’re not. Lungs aren’t filling up with deep breaths of air like they’re supposed to. Dreams are getting smaller, too, as opportunities evaporate and resources get used up. It feels like we’re shrinking.
The coronavirus pandemic has led many artists to postpone their album releases, but Lipa released Future Nostalgia early last Friday, though perhaps only because it had leaked online. Handed unexpected circumstances, Lipa offered up what she had.
“I hope it brings you some happiness, and I hope it makes you smile, and I hope it makes you dance. I hope I make you proud,” she said in an Instagram video.
Lipa’s album was actually not the first piece of music I heard Friday that did those things. That same morning, Bob Dylan released an original song for the first time in eight years, called “Murder Most Foul.”
A verse-and-a-half in, I heard a reference that made me hit the pause button on my phone. “I’m goin’ to Woodstock/It’s the Aquarian age,” Dylan sings, and suddenly I was cuing up the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In.”
When I was a little kid, my mom had a 5th Dimension CD that she always kept in the car, and I loved that song. Midway through, it detonates into a wave of horns and a gang vocal that sends you flying. I hadn’t heard it in years but playing it was a balm.
These aren’t songs written to be played inside tiny apartments but, for now, they’ve been transportive. Music can reflect what a person’s going through but, at its best, it can also be an escape. That’s what these songs have been, a reminder of who we are without this virus and a reason to let the world feel a little bigger for a moment.