One of the best things about Dua Lipa is that she seems to revel in the complete silliness of being a pop star. As well as getting the memo that all new eras should be accompanied by a dramatic haircut reveal in order to count, she’s also been having plenty of fun with Houdini’s roll-out.
After relentlessly teasing her new single for weeks on end, with a series of cryptic photographs, coded messages, and social media blackouts, she chose to air it for the first time in the most ridiculous way imaginable. She dispatched a small team of volunteers, and tasked them with accosting members of the public with a Walkman, a disco ball on a flimsy wooden rod, and a large hand-painted sign reading “Congratulations, you are the first person to hear Dua Lipa's brand new song”. As each stranger took a listen, the singer laughed from behind a newspaper like a cartoon spy, watching the scene unfold through a comedy eye-hole. Tonight, meanwhile, she threw the first of three launch parties, and invited along a host of lucky London fans to party with her in person.
While Future Nostalgia was all spacey sheen and glossy nu-disco with a pure-pop veneer, Houdini sounds grittier, and far less pristine. Beneath bold, brassy peals - if they’re not made by an actual Oberlin OB-Xa synthesiser, the staple Eighties sound has to be the thing they’re shooting for - a deeper layer of murky analog synths crunch, creak, and fry. A teaser for the single showed a vintage TEAC reel-to-reel tape recorder.
Embracing this kind of imperfection suits Dua well, it turns out, and a variety of eccentricities shine here, from a fun sprinkling of bongos (Kylie Minogue’s Love At First Sight, anyone?) and subtle layers of percussive whispering, to the sheer joy and welly she puts into the first syllable of “Hoooo-de-nee”.
The song is, of course, named after the Hungarian-American escape artist Harry Houdini - who was famed for wiggling his way out of all manner of sticky situations. Miraculously escaping after being shoved into a vat of water or a locked milk can, upside down no less, while wearing a straitjacket? No problem. Here, though, his wily ways are used as a metaphor for constantly escaping commitment: “could you be the one to make me stay?” she challenges, mischief in her voice. “If you’re good enough, you’ll find a way.”
“This track represents the most light and freeing parts of my singledom,” Dua said in a press release. "Houdini is very tongue in cheek, exploring the idea of whether someone is really worth my while or if I’ll ghost them in the end. You never know where something may take you, that’s the beauty of being open to whatever life throws your way. I’m looking forward to sharing that feeling of defiant bliss with my fans.”
Just as Future Nostalgia featured a dream team of talented producers (including Madonna collaborator Stuart Price, pop heavyweight Ian Kirkpatrick, and multiple Grammy winner Jeff Bhasker) this new era appears equally well curated. As well as enlisting the in-demand, PC Music-affiliated Danny L Harle (who is heavily influencing the pop landscape with his campy, plastic production, and collaborations with Charli XCX and Caroline Polachek) she’s also linked up with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker for Houdini. Something of an accidental pop sensation, Parker started out fronting a scuzzy Australian psych band, but now works with everyone from Lady Gaga to The Weeknd. Once again, he brings a left-field touch of psychedelia to proceedings.
Sure, this is still firmly within Dua Lipa’s comfort zone, but it also has a slightly offbeat, relaxed feel which sets it apart from the flawless finish of her past releases - it will be fascinating to see if she ventures further in this direction as her new chapter continues.
Dua Lipa's new single Houdini is out now