OOutside of Joe Wicks and Conservative Party-linked PPE suppliers, few have come out of lockdown as well as Dua Lipa. At least that’s the received wisdom about how the career of an already successful pop singer turned into a rarefied realm, where Madonna and Elton John offered to collaborate with her and five million people paid for his pay-per-view live concert.
Released just at the time of lockdown, Lipa’s second album Future Nostalgia proved to be exactly what people wanted to listen to in their constrained circumstances: brilliant dancefloor-focused pop, thick with known chart references from the past, which evoked an attractive nightlife. fantasies about what might happen when they are allowed out.
How exactly we got here is a question that hangs over the opening date of her much-delayed UK tour, notably during a section where Lipa sings We’re Good while being threatened, for reasons that aren’t all completely clear, by a giant inflatable lobster. Watching her explode through her hits and precision dance routines, you’re struck by the feeling that she doesn’t quite conform to today’s notions of what a pop star should be.
She’s not the kind of powerhouse singer who decorates her voice with elaborate undulations and intertwining – the strength of her voice is her hint of raspy intimacy, which vanishes live – nor is her show the kind of breathtaking spectacle that dazzles you into submission, despite the inflatable lobster.
There’s fantastic staging, especially when she and her dancers step onto a smaller stage in the center of the crowd and square lighting descends: hemmed in by its beams, they effectively evoke the atmosphere of a dance floor. nightclub dance.
Likewise, there are points where it might feel a little low on watts. A balloon drop during One Kiss seems to have suffered the cost of living crisis: there really aren’t many balloons. She looks fantastic in a sparkly jumpsuit, but her career isn’t built on bewitching charisma or outsized personality. At a time when the key to pop’s success is supposed to be relativity, she exudes a kind of cool, well-spoken distance: “Like modern architecture,” she sings during the title track of Future Nostalgia, ” John Lautner coming your way”.
But she is undoubtedly a big star, with an arena full of fans who go crazy for everything she does, even if what she does is what pop starlets playing arenas invariably do: a dance routine that involves sitting upside down on a chair, a moment when she is hoisted up by her dancers and carried prone around the stage, still singing.
And the concert also provides an answer to why, albeit prosaically. What Dua Lipa has, and has in abundance, is a significantly better songwriting class than any of her UK pop peers. It was a perceptible state of affairs on his debut album, as underscored by the nighttime performance of New Rules, a confection made entirely of earworms and memorable lines (“if you’re under it, you can’t get over it “), and the one that becomes essential when the set is based on Future Nostalgia.
Tonight, songs that seemed potentiated by the deprivations of lockdown feel even more powerful plucked from the kitchen disco backdrop and shaken to a breathless beat: Love Again’s artful reworking of Al Bowlly’s old sample used debuted on White Town’s 1997 hit Your Woman; Break My Heart, with its conscious echo of INXS’s Need You Tonight.
An artist with a plethora of hits, she’s smart enough not to deviate from the script with anything unexpected – like a house DJ set, the tempo is more or less fixed throughout; Cool’s middle beats are about as slow as her set gets – and she keeps the interludes between anthems as brief as possible. Indeed, sometimes the interludes are non-existent: a version of Hallucinate elides into a version of Cold Heart, his collaboration with Elton John, the latter appearing in video form.
Rather than an outsized personality or a powerful voice, it’s exactly what people want at this particular moment in history: a live show that delivers on Future Nostalgia’s lockdown promise of simple good times and great tunes. flawless.