Radical Optimism

Radical Optimism

When it comes to manifesting, Dua Lipa is, well, radically optimistic about its power. And with good reason. “I know this is going to sound mad, but when I was writing my first album, I was having thoughts about my third album,” she tells Apple Music’s Zane Lowe. “I thought by the third album, I would maybe be deserving of working with Tame Impala. Currents [Tame Impala’s career-defining 2015 album] was the record that completely shook me.” With Radical Optimism—the follow-up to 2020’s impeccable, superstar-confirming Future Nostalgia, and the next note after her 2023 Barbie smash “Dance the Night”—Lipa got her wish. The 11 tracks here were made with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, as well as Tobias Jesso Jr. (the singer-songwriter Adele has labeled her “secret weapon”), OG PC Music artist Danny L Harle (PinkPantheress, Caroline Polachek), and Lipa’s long-term collaborator Caroline Ailin, co-writer of “New Rules.” It’s not the most obvious team for a chart-dominating name like Lipa to recruit, but maybe there was radical optimism in that, too. Plus, the proof came in the first song they wrote together: A moodier sister to Future Nostalgia standout “Hallucinate,” “Illusion” is an indisputable banger that feels tailor-made for Lipa’s 2024 Glastonbury headline set (something else she manifested for her third album). “It was like, ‘OK, how are we all going to connect together in the room? How is it all going to work?’” says Lipa. “[‘Illusion’] really kicked us off. When we wrote that song, it just gave us confidence as a group.” Like Future Nostalgia, Radical Optimism pulls from the past, so you can expect shimmering synths, groove-laden basslines, nods to psychedelia, and plenty of ’80s production (Lipa has also cited the adventurousness of both Britpop and Massive Attack among the album’s spiritual influences). But the singer-songwriter wanted to “experiment and do something different” as well, and in place of Future Nostalgia’s polished nu-disco, Radical Optimism often embraces an organic, golden-pop feeling with bright acoustic guitars, pianos, roomy drums, handclaps, and the occasional panpipe, plus some skyscraping vocals that should stop anyone describing Lipa’s vocal style as “nonchalant” again (see: “Falling Forever”). All of which is set against Lipa’s most personal writing to date, fueled by reflections on heartbreak, singledom, the arresting experience of meeting someone you might just give your heart to, and realizing the person you once loved has moved on. “With this album, I feel like I’ve managed to put so much more honesty out there and be really open in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to,” she says. “It was a beautiful experience to not be afraid.” That was helped, again, by the team around her. “You come into the room, you’re hanging out with your friends, and you’re just having a tell-all,” she says. “There was absolutely no holds barred. They knew everything that was happening. There was no judgment. The fact that everyone felt free to just be themselves is what, I think, created such a beautiful energy in the room.” The singer-songwriter gets heartbreak pop; after all, she’s made a whole career out of crafting sharp, post-breakup empowerment anthems (and you’ll hear her trademark up-front lyricism here, such as on “Training Season,” in which she declares, “Are you somebody who can go there?/’Cause I don’t wanna have to show ya”). But here, Lipa also favors acceptance and a heartening sense of hope. Perhaps the album’s most powerful moment comes at its end, when Lipa realizes her ex has moved on and experiences an unfamiliar feeling: just happiness that they’re happy. “It feels like a full 180,” she says of closing track “Happy for You,” a song she admits she couldn’t have written until this point in her career. “Maturing, seeing almost my ghost on the other side and being like, ‘Wow, you’ve grown so much from an experience to be able to see things from that perspective. You have to be in the act of forgiveness and growing and learning and being OK with the past in order to move on. For me, ‘Happy for You’ is a beautiful, happy song because it’s so reflective of my journey.” You might say the same about “Maria,” in which Lipa salutes a new partner’s ex for making them who they are today. “I’m better, too, from the ones that I’ve lost/Now he is everything I’d ever want,” she sings. “I wanna thank you for all that you’ve done.” Working through these stories has been “a form of therapy” for Lipa, but she always kept two things in mind: what her songs mean to other people and how they might land at Glastonbury, which the singer-songwriter calls “the pinnacle.” “I think about emotions and feelings and thoughts. How does this make me feel? How will this make someone else feel when they hear it? What is the energy and the emotion and the thing that I’m trying to convey at this point in my life?” For Lipa, the answer seems to be in this album’s title. “What [this album] was really about was the theme, which was ‘radical optimism,’” she says. “It’s this idea of rolling with the punches, of not letting anything get you down for too long. I’ve always seen the positive side of things, of being able to grow and move forward and change your perspective regardless of what’s happening in your life—whether it’s heartbreak, whether it’s a friendship, whether it’s a relationship, whether it’s just growing and seeing things differently. I think it’s a big part of maturing.” When Future Nostalgia came out in 2020, just as the global pandemic set in, the album met the moment in a way Lipa could never have foreseen. It became a vehicle for escapism—another kind of radical optimism in a locked-down world. It seems that, for Lipa, Radical Optimism was about meeting her moment—the point she began working with the collaborators she’d always dreamed of, on songs made to perform on the most important stage she can think of. And now, she can draw a line under everything she needed this album to help heal. “Now, I’m done. This chapter is done,” she says. “I did so much growing. I feel like that is my exorcism.”

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