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Radically Optimist, Musically Bettering | Album Assessment

Dua Lipa’s third studio album “Radical Optimism” proves that she officially is the pop star of today. Lipa comes but she seemingly will not go.

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Radical Optimism by Dua Lipa

★★★★☆

It was late-2023 when Forbes described Dua Lipa’s third studio album as the British version of “Lemonade” as an insider-review. Though it is still not that clear in which ways the publication did find a relation between Beyoncé’s most critically-acclaimed record and Lipa’s next one, yet it would not really be incorrect to claim that this review brought a confrontation towards Lipa’s upcoming work. Most of the times it is not the best to raise the hype for an artist and that might be the reason why Lipa’s singles off Radical Optimism could never show amazing chart performance. Yet after a day of the release of Radical Optimism, happy for her that she met the expectations and proved that she is not our next-pop-star anymore. She already is the pop-star of today.

One can claim that she had already become that icon of late 2010s with her first and namesake record Dua Lipa, and another can come up by her sophomore “Future Nostalgia” that brought the retro-futuristic aesthetic and disco sounds back to the 2020s’ pop scene and became a source of inspiration for many peers of Lipa. Yet, Radical Optimism will probably emerge as the milestone for Lipa’s career since it does not settle with being generic enough or experimentally limit itself inside the boundaries of mainstream pop music. The British-Albanian singer and songwriter goes beyond the basic “pop sounds” unlike Taylor Swift for her TTPD, especially by aligning powers with the Australian musician and producer Kevin Parker, a.k.a Tame Impala.

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Dua Lipa and Kevin Parker, via Instagram.

It is interesting to have Kevin Parker as one of the main producers for Dua Lipa’s new record as Lipa herself, 28, have recently mentioned that working with Parker was not something unplanned and she was keen on that since her first album. Seemingly, she just had to wait to discover herself totally in terms of artistic creation. Eventually, what Radical Optimism offers to listeners are mainly these two: Yes, Dua Lipa now is as comfortable as she has never been when making music. Then yes, Dua Lipa has fallen in love as hard as she never did. The songs in the album usually reminisces of her ex-boyfriend Romain Gavras, especially considering the Track 6, named French Exit, by leaving a question mark on if Lipa went for a double-entendre.

“It’s not a broken heart if I don’t break it / Goodbye doesn’t hurt if I don’t say it / And I really hope you understand it / Only way to go is French Exit

“French Exit” by Dua Lipa

Whether it is Gavras that Lipa fell in love or not, seemingly this new inspiration coming straight from her heart have worked well on Lipa’s new record. When the singer released first three singles before the release of the album, most critics were mentioning that she was not experimenting with new sounds and it was still sounding like her magnum opus, Future Nostalgia. However, it would absolutely be unfair to call these singles and album sonically similar to her previous work since even in the most generic song, Training Season, you can feel the voice of Kevin Parker’s production easily. Actually, Parker’s one-of-a-kind touch is not only a symbol to point that Lipa goes “experimental” in her own terms but it also works as a catalyzer for a track in the album: The closing one, titled Happy For You. Imagining the song without Parker’s psychedelic interpretation would bring one of the weakest songs in the record, quite resembling of the FROOT era of Welsh-Greek artist MARINA, f.k.a. Marina and the Diamonds. Yet Parker’s apparent involvement to the song especially close to the final parts serve as a game-changer.

On the other hand, one of the important things to mention about Radical Optimism is how much of a disaster was the marketing and promotion processes of the record: Specifically during the period Lipa released the first single Houdini, all the conversation going around the record was a whole another depiction of what we receive today. As mentioned; Forbes calling it the British Lemonade, Lipa herself calling it a British-rave-inspired culture while expanding into the realms of Massive Attack, and the Kate Bush references through her Instagram account will seemingly not help the singer in the upcoming days of Radical Optimism. Most of the people were waiting for a totally opposite concept when she announced the album’s name as “Radical Optimism” with a quite beachy, summer aesthetic. Yet some even argued that there have been a last-minute change in the album’s concept and it was meant to be called “Vertigo”, as the word is mentioned in Training Season.

dua lipa and romain gavras, french exit
Dua Lipa with her former partner, Romain Gavras.

Still, in the marketing senses, a summer theme can work better than a rave-inspired one for Lipa; both considering the third-album-curse phenomenon and the general success of summer records. Having a look at the tracks, it would also not be inappropriate to call the album “Radical Optimism” – even though it is more of a “wake-up call” for the girls who are too optimist in love. This wake-up call to herself by Lipa is most prominently observed in French Exit and Illusion. The interesting part in the album is that one can claim the sonic area carries a dichotomous nature by its own: There are some clearly psychedelic-pop-bangers like Houdini, Training Season, Illusion which Lipa chose to drop as singles and there are some instrumental, romantic ones with outstanding guitar solos. However, the way Lipa integrated these songs to each other through songwriting concepts does nothing but results in an experience of a complete concept. On the other hand, there are some details that make the album sound incomplete. The opener track, End of an Era, is one of the most catchy songs in the record yet it lacks the strength to start the album. The same also can be claimed for the closer, Happy For You. Comparing Lipa’s previous Future Nostalgia (song) and Boys Will Be Boys; these two do not include the material to put an exact start and end to the experience. However, the pop-star probably will release a deluxe version for this one, too as she did with her former ones and this probably will serve as a game changer, either.

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Also, a deluxe version is not only “better” for Radical Optimism but in a sense, it is also a need for it. There are potential hits in the album just like Falling Forever and once again, French Exit – yet Anything For Love positions itself in an interlude-ish duty. It would not be a problem if Radical Optimism would consist of more than 15 songs. However, for a 36-minute-record, it is confusing to understand how that one made it into the final track list. For Maria and Whatcha Doing, it would not be subjective to claim that they are not as strong as the other ones in the album but as they resemble Lipa’s musical shift with guitars and of course, new vocal techniques, they are worth to celebrate and enjoy.

And how come Dua Lipa did not become the pop star of our days with Dua Lipa or Future Nostalgia but she succeeded in it with Radical Optimism? Well, by going for the hard thing. Even though her experimental identity showed itself as she took us into a disco during the pandemic with Future Nostalgia; still, it was not really a dangerous zone for a pop artist. In the end, anyone can easily enjoy a bunch of disco tracks. Just like Taylor Swift, Lipa was able to create a comfort zone for her listeners and fans. Disco was never and will never be out of that zone. However, now that she brought psychedelic influences into her art, it means she is risking something both to express and discover her artistic persona. In the end of the day, the fusion she offers between Tame Impala and girls’ girl Dua Lipa; it is approved: She is ready to reflect herself regardless of trends and being on a both musically and lyrically improving journey, there is no chance for Dua Lipa to be erased from history next to other pop icons anymore.

WRITTEN BY TOLGA RAHMALAROGLU

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF @ TRAUMODE

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