I first heard Dua Lipas Future nostalgia, the best album of this young year, on a day when everyone was afraid to breathe.
This week, a tractor-trailer was rolled into the guts of the building at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. It is a white rectangle, the chilled species that races up the city sidewalks and unloads products, fish or meat. In Elmhurst, the cool interior of the truck was used to keep the bodies from overflowing – 13 people had died within 24 hours.
Elmhurst’s killer has hit the United States and all corners of the earth: Italy, Spain, China and Korea. It̵
The corona virus blows up the human lungs, drowns them with liquid and suffocates them until they reach respiratory failure. It passes when people cough and hang in the air, waiting to sneak into uninfected lungs and throats. Doctors say you can wash your hands every time you touch something new to stop the virus from spreading. They also say that you should keep at least 6 feet – basically a whole me – between you and another person.
My hands smell soapy lemons all the time and the skin between my fingers is rough. I haven’t seen my friends in three weeks because I’m afraid to breathe the air around them. Because when I get sick, scientists have said that there are not enough ventilators – expensive machines that can help drowning lungs rest – to keep me alive when my lungs fail. In the meantime, the incumbent president of the United States said New York City was lying about the need for fans, given the refrigerated trucks that keep the bodies at Elmhurst cool.
I had asthma as a child. I know how shallow breaths feel. When I get sick, I need a ventilator that may not be available. My hands smell of lemons and the skin between my fingers is rough and I’m afraid to breathe.
Everyone is afraid to breathe.
The human toll of the pandemic has left its mark on the economy and turned the entertainment industry into purgatory. The cinemas have closed, and the studios have put potential billion-dollar blockbusters on hold. Broadway closed. Television is still chugging, but people find less consolation in new content, more replay and shows that existed long before the corona virus appeared. Even Lady Gaga, arguably the world’s greatest pop star, has postponed her album.
Art is an escape in times like these, and access to much of it has been closed.
But electro pop star Dua Lipa did the opposite: she opened her music to the world. After leaked early, Dua Lipa pushed the release of her rocking, disco-inspired new album up a week. And Future nostalgia is a record that is exactly what I needed.
Future nostalgia is a defiant, great dance pop escape
Dancing in the middle of despair is an act of defiance.
Dua Lipa announced herself with the release of her album of the same name in 2017 and a guest appearance in Martin Garrix’s inevitable emo-EDM hit “Scared to Be Lonely” in the pop scene. Their songs were overflowing with the beat drops and choppy riffs found in many of this summer’s billboard hits. But Lipa’s voice stands out among them and sounds like a tribute to singers decades ago. It is molasses thick, faded like in an attic and highly polished.
Think Amy Winehouse with a hint of Dusty Springfield. Lipa’s great 2017 cover of Etta James’ “I would rather go blind” and Winehouse’s “Tears dry on my own” sound almost too effortless, too clean, so good that they could border on soullessness in the hands of a lesser artist. Voices like Winehouse, James and Springfield have a lifetime of struggle, pain and triumph. Lipa, who was about 22 years old when she recorded these covers, can sound like she sings with cheat codes.
On Future nostalgiaThese vocals have found their uncanny agreement in disco-soaked synthesizers. “Don’t Start Now”, the throbbing single with an increased pulse, is an effortlessly catchy hit. “Has the heartache changed me? Maybe, ”croaks Lipa, a simple, shy phrase that hides how much the song is about tenacity and survival.
Another single, “Physical”, is more imperative, a flash of neon. It could easily double up as a bloody video game tune played before your group takes on the boss. Fans of these songs should enjoy the shaky swarm of “Levitating” and the laser beam spectacle of the spaceship, the “Hallucinate” at 120 beats per minute. Down-tempo bops like “Cool” and “Good in Bed” seem to be blasted from there Black mirrorSan Junipero.
But it is “Love Again” that is special. The melody contains a sample from White Town’s erotic, unusual torchbearer from 1997 of a hit “Your Woman”, which is used as a slingshot in the intro and then repeatedly woven back as a hypnotic disco march.
Lipa is also a lyrical homage to White Town and sings about a love that she rushed back after a heartache. She has been here before. She knows how it will end. But there is a possibility that things will be different and better this time.
“Show me that heaven is here, baby. Touch me so that I know I’m not crazy,” she pleads – it’s not joy or butterflies, but reluctance in a velvety voice. “I used to be afraid of love and what she could do. But damn you fell in love with me again. “
This album made me feel like I was okay again
My affection and loyalty to Dua Lipa and this insured album of the year is linked to my exhaustion through relentless fear.
Not just fear for my own health, but also for the people I love. I want to stop thinking about what happens when my nephews, a 3 year old and a 1 year old, get cough and how their parents, my brother and sister in law do everything they can to protect them from the virus before you take your own risk consider. I’m tired of worrying about my aging parents and brothers and being afraid of my sister, who is due to be born in a hospital in June, or a provisional one if New York’s is too crowded.
My friends, whom I haven’t seen in weeks, have told me that they all love this album. But we can’t enjoy it together because they’re also worried about getting sick – one of my best friends has just tested positive over the past week. They worry about their families. I don’t sleep anymore because the refrigerator van had no reason to leave Elmhurst Hospital. And if it’s not there, it will inevitably be somewhere else when I wake up.
Future nostalgiaThe ability to let my eyes close, to lose my rhythm and to imagine another version of myself, another version of us in which we dance all night without this plague is a gift. This virus doesn’t exist in this world and all my friends are in the flesh, sweaty, smiling and screaming about our terrible decisions, about boys and how we have to stay for another song. And we are happy.
“I hope it makes you smile and I hope it makes you dance. I hope I make you proud, ”said Lipa in a tearful video announcement about the early release of her album and the timing of the release of new music during this godforsaken pandemic.
She delivered an album that, if you allow it, offers a release from a strangled and struggling world. Isn’t that the power of art – letting us be lost in your pockets and creating our own stories? I think so. And in this world, if only for a moment, this art says it’s okay to just breathe.