Radical Optimism by Dua Lipa // Album Review

Radical Optimism is a testament to Dua Lipa's unwavering belief in the power of positivity amidst all of the chaos in the world. Every single song on this album is so uplifting and vibrant in the musical journey she is taking the listener through. With her third album release, Dua continues to be one of the few pop stars to be doing it as well as she is, continuously redefining the boundaries of the genre. 

"A couple years ago, a friend introduced me to the term Radical Optimism. It’s a concept that resonated with me, and I became more curious as I started to play with it and weave it into my life. It struck me – the idea of going through chaos gracefully and feeling like you can weather any storm," Dua wrote in the album's liner notes. That mantra shines through in Dua's unbridled confidence in herself and her vision for this album, which is really inspiring to see. The album cover is a really interesting interpretation of that radically optimistic message too, when she's in the face of danger with a shark in front of her, she is still looking into the camera with such a calm look on her face, like she can take whatever is about to come next. "This record feels a bit more raw," Dua said in her interview with Rolling Stone. "I want to capture the essence of youth and freedom and having fun and just letting things happen, whether it's good or bad. You can't change it. You just have to roll with the punches of whatever's happening in your life." 

Radical Optimism arrives four years after Dua's 2020 sophomore album, Future Nostalgia, which absolutely changed her career in every possible way. Released right at the start of the pandemic, it is an album that shifted the culture in a major way and served as the soundtrack of escapism during those uncertain times. To me, Future Nostalgia is pure pop perfection, it's one of my favorite albums ever. An aspect that made it such a great record is that every single song was distinctly different from the last and was able to stand so tall on its own even outside the context of the album, while still creating such a captivating full body of work. The highs are just so high on that album, they are truly levitating above the rest. It's not even really worth comparing this album to Future Nostalgia, because it is so different. I think that is the main reason why her newest release has been getting mixed reviews so far, because it a lot looser and more relaxed than what we have gotten from Dua in the past. For me, she can do no wrong though, and I continue to love this album more and more every time I listen to it.

Radical Optimism is mostly a departure from the disco sound that she went all in with on Future Nostalgia. As much as I truly adore her sophomore release, I am happy she switched it up because if she kept going in that direction, the music could have potentially ended up sounding stagnant, especially since it took her four years to follow it up. Her artistic evolution between then and now is so clear. The best part of Radical Optimism is that the listener can really hear that she and her collaborators were having so much fun while making this album. The pure positivity and joy radiate in all of these songs. It is the perfect fun, breezy album for summer. With eleven tracks on the standard album, it is relatively short, but is very concise and devoid of any filler. It is also just so addictive to listen to.

An aspect of this album that I think goes so underrated is the lyricism. While Dua isn't necessarily known for being overly personal or diaristic in her writing, I do think being able to write an uplifting pop album that is still this high quality, smartly written and well-produced is a skill in itself that many in her field can't compare to. While there are times that I wish she would open up and be a bit more personal, there is a benefit to leaving the door open for the listener to see themselves in the music and connect it to their own experiences in life. There will always be artists putting out heavy and sad music, so it is such a refreshing change for there to be an album that is this happy, positive and genuinely fun to listen to without it sounding corny or overly commercialized for the sake of a viral moment. "It's still a pop record, but more psychedelic with more alternative influences that show another side. It’s more experimental," Dua said in an interview with The Gaurdian

She worked with an incredible team of collaborators that really elevated her artistry to new heights. They are truly among the best of the best in the genre. The primary producer and co-writer is Tame Impala's Kevin Parker, known for blending psychedelic influences with modern pop and rock sounds in such an innovative way. The essence of his musical style is incredibly influential and can be heard across so many artists' works over the past decade. In her interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music, Dua says she "manifested" working with him early in her career. "When I was writing my first album, I was kind of having thoughts about my third album – jumping ahead," she said. "But I thought that by the third album, I would maybe be deserving of working with Tame Impala." The production is such a stellar aspect of this entire album and their collaboration resulted in some of the best music of her career thus far. With that being said, it doesn't sound like 'Dua Lipa trying to mimic a Tame Impala album' at all - it still sounds so Dua to me, which is probably the biggest accomplishment of all when working with producers that are so well-established and distinct in their artistic styles. 

Other collaborators on this album include Danny Harle, Tobias Jesso Jr, Caroline Ailin, Ian Kirkpatrick and Andrew Wyatt, among others. Some are her frequent collaborators from the start, while others she is working with for the first time on this album. She calls them her "band", as the album first started to take shape when they all got together in one room.

Much of this album focuses on the back-and-forth battle within herself to want to find a forever love, but at the same time not being fully open to giving up a piece of her independence. She is often writing from the perspective of the heartbreaker instead of the heartbroken, which is kind of a cool and different point of view to be sharing. As she sings on the ninth track "Anything For Love"; "we're all so scared of forever", while also being "terrified of heartbreak". All eleven songs are so much fun and very upbeat dance pop songs. Even when it seems like she may slip into a piano ballad at the beginning of "Anything For Love", by the second verse it transforms into a funky mid-tempo dance track. 

The vacation vibes absolutely shine through in this music, it's very Dua in that regard! I could see this album becoming the soundtrack to everyone's summer beach getaways or all-night dance parties for sure! They are bold, feel-good anthems of self-empowerment, which is an aspect I have always loved about her as an artist. It definitely feels like that was what Miley Cyrus was also trying to capture with Endless Summer Vacation last year, although I do love that record for what it is too, I think that is just inherently Dua's style in a way that she doesn't even need to try to embody it. 

In her interview with Rolling Stone, Dua talked about Radical Optimism being a "psychedelic-pop-infused tribute to U.K. rave culture". In the lead up to the album's release, Dua put out three singles, "Houdini", "Training Season", and "Illusion" - the perfect trifecta of summer hits. All three songs connect together really well but are sonically quite different than a lot of the other songs that ultimately make up the rest of the album. This is also mostly where the strongest of those psychedelic rave influences come through, but the other eight tracks still do tie in with the full narrative of the record so well. 

All three of these songs focus on Dua knowing that she has learned her lesson too many times to want to play games anymore in the early stages of her relationships. They all have these big choruses that are so infectious and guaranteed to get stuck in your head all day. Kevin Parker's production on these songs in particular is so immaculate. He is truly such a visionary and elevated her sound to new heights throughout this entire album. I especially really loved the extended versions she released for all three of the singles, I'm hoping we get a full extended album soon because I already know that would sound so incredible!

"Houdini" was the first taste we got of Radical Optimism, which was an incredible lead single and among my favorites she has ever released. I have been so obsessed with it since the day she put it out and even now, no matter how many times I listen to it I can still never get enough of it. It is so electrifying and perfectly opened up the new era that Dua is in with the rest of this record. "'Houdini' embodies the energy of a good night out. This was the first track I wrote about that fun and freeing time of being single. The lyrics are a bit cheeky, but there is a real underlying message of understanding yourself deeply and having no guilt about knowing your self-worth. Sometimes you just have to pull a Houdini and leave a situation that's no longer serving you," Dua said in an interview with Apple Music. 

In the chorus she sings, "I'm not here for long, catch me or I go Houdini". The message of wanting to be treated right or she'll disappear like the magician the song is named after is such a clever way of enforcing the boundaries she is making for herself. I literally can't stress enough how much I love this song, it is so incredible. My favorite part of the song is toward the end with the echoing of "maybe you could be the one to make me stay" in the bridge, it sounds so transcending.

A lot of the same magical themes of "Houdini" also follow through into the third single, "Illusion". In this song, she swears not to fall for someone projecting a façade of themselves onto her to make believe is real. "I already know your type, tellin' me the things I like, tryna make me yours for life, takin' me for a ride, I already know your type, think you play your cards right, don't you know I could do this dance all night?" Dua sings in the pre-chorus. I love the way she performs that particular verse in a higher tone than we usually hear her sing. 

In an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music, Dua said that this was the first song she wrote for the album with her core collaborators; Kevin, Danny, Tobias and Caroline. "That really kicked us off," she said. "I think when we wrote that song, it also just gave us confidence as a group you know. It’s like okay if this is what we can get on the first day, what can we eventually get?" It is evident that this song really did shape the rest of the record in a major way. It reinforces all of Dua's natural confidence and the energy of an all-night dance party that this album exudes from beginning to end. This song in particular feels like the sister to another Dua classic, "Hallucinate". It is such a highlight from the album for me. 

Released in between "Houdini" and "Illusion" was the album's second single, "Training Season", which falls somewhere in the middle of the two in terms of the narrative. In this song she sings about wanting to finally be hit with Cupid's arrow and find a love that will last forever. Dua is so clear and bold in her approach to declaring that "training season is over" when it comes to dating. All she wants is, "someone with some potential, is it too much to ask for?" She talked to Rolling Stone UK about the inspiration behind this song, "I had been on a string of bad dates, and the last one was the final straw. The next morning, I arrived to the studio to Caroline and Tobias asking me how it all went, and I immediately declared 'TRAINING SEASON IS OVER,' and like the best 'day after' debriefs with your mates, we had a lot of laughs and it all quickly came together from there," she said. "And while it is obviously about that feeling when you are just absolutely done telling people, men specifically in this case, how to date you right; it is also about my training season being over and me growing with every experience."

It was actually supposed to be the album's lead single, but at the last minute the original music video was scrapped and she ended up releasing "Houdini" first instead. I like "Training Season", but "Houdini" was absolutely the right choice for the lead single in my opinion. Either way, I think that all three of these singles together perfectly set the tone for the rest of Radical Optimism upon release. The recurring themes within these songs are often directly referenced throughout the rest of the album too. The narrative tying them together made it clear what she was setting out to accomplish with this record.

Radical Optimism opens with one of my favorites, "End Of An Era", an optimistic start to this journey the album is taking the listener on. While it incorporates subtle elements of Dua's past work, it is mostly an all new, fresh sound for her. Looking for new beginnings as a lovestruck hopeless romantic, she is asking herself, "Is this my happy ending?" With this song, Dua is saying goodbye to one chapter of her life while looking onward to what is about to come next. The lyric, "One chapter might be done, God knows I had some fun, new one has just begun," in particular really struck me as an important message for her to be getting across at the start of this album. I feel that it not only applies to the start of a new relationship, but also for the transition from her previous sound - ending with "Dance The Night" as her "goodbye to disco" last year - into this new world of Radical Optimism. I love the way she sings the pre-chorus, "In the clouds, there she goes, butterflies, let them flow, another girl falls in love, another girl leaves the club". This track has such a light and glittering sound, it's truly among her best yet. 

There are so many other great gems that stand-out to me from the rest of the album's track list between all of the big singles. "These Walls", "Watcha Doin" and "French Exit" back-to-back really stick out to me as one of the best track runs on the album. All three of these songs are about her contemplating the idea of a breakup, but the relationship hasn't 100% reached the end yet. Nothing terrible or catastrophic happened, but she feels "this love is fading", as she says on "These Walls". "I think this song is a really good example of addressing the inevitable, it's that conversation that no one really wants to have, but you have to do it," she said in an interview with Apple Music. "Someone has to just pull the plug and as painful as it is, it's usually for the right reasons. You know for sure what's meant for you is meant for you and your gut instinct will always tell you when something's right. We just don't want to listen sometimes." This song is personifying the walls by saying things like; "If these walls could talk, you know you're fucked", "give up", "enough" and ending it with "If these walls could talk, they'd tell us to break up". Some of these lyrical motifs remind me of "Walls Could Talk" by Halsey too. It has such a euphoric sound that draws inspiration from some of the greatest Europop artists that have come before her. 

The fifth track, "Watcha Doin" is among my absolute favorites on the entire album. It feels like it is an elevated version of "Pretty Please", which is one of the best and most underrated songs from Future Nostalgia. The first few seconds of the sparkling instrumental intro always reminds me of "supernatural" by Ariana Grande too. On this song, she is apprehensive and feels like she is losing control of her sense of self in a relationship, not wanting this person to change her. I love the way she sings the lines, "If control is my religion, then I'm headed for collision, lost my 20/20 vision, please". The production on this track is so groovy and such a stand-out moment for me on this record too.

The following song puts an end to the internal back and forth she has been having over her relationship ending, finally confronting the difficult emotions she has been battling and finally decides she has "gotta hit the road". On "French Exit", she pulls another Houdini, or as she calls it in this song, "filer à l'anglaise," which directly translates from French to "to leave English style." She sings in the opening lines, "I don't wanna stay till the lights come on, I just can't relate to the words of this love song". This is a very cool sound for her, it's so different than anything Dua has done before. She even sings a little bit in French, which is so iconic! The only thing that could have made it better is if an entire verse was in French like on "Fever", the Future Nostalgia bonus track featuring Angèle. 

The ongoing pursuit of finding a forever love continues on the second half of the album, which also brings some of the strongest vocal performances of her entire career thus far. She has always been such a strong vocalist, one that has such a unique and distinctive tone that has only gotten better with each new release. "Falling Forever" really stands out in that regard and continues to progress the storyline of this record. It reminds me a bit of another all-time favorite by her from Future Nostalgia called "Love Again", which follows many of the same lyrical themes with wanting to find someone who can ride with her through any storm they may face. They are both also the eighth song of their respective albums, so that connection does feel intentional. "Falling Forever" also has some of my favorite lyrical moments too, in particular the message behind "I don't believe that every flame has to get colder". The production is so lush and atmospheric, incorporating electronic and house elements into her signature pop style. I can definitely see this becoming another potential hit for her from this record. She stretches her vocal range to new lengths with such an emotive delivery.

The message of us all forever carrying a piece of every person we have ever loved is a really sweet sentiment that can apply to many different people in our lives and is the subject of the final two songs on Radical OptimismThe tenth track, "Maria", is an ode "to the lovers that make you change", thanking her boyfriend's ex for helping to make him into the man he is now. "I'm better too from the ones that I've lost", she also sings. It reminds me of the way "All Of The Girls You Loved Before" by Taylor Swift was written too, but "Maria" definitely expands upon the idea a lot better in my opinion. The layered vocals and the whistling flute sound in the chorus is such a cool addition to the production too, it's so different than the rest of this album.

I love that this music highlights the importance of looking back on those that were once in your life and seeing the ways they shaped you and forever changed you. It shows a lot of emotional depth and acceptance for the things we can't change, but can still learn and grow from. 

"Happy For You" is such a strong ending to this album for those reasons. The message of it is such a good note to end on, showing genuine happiness for where her ex is in life now and all that he has overcome. Unlike a lot of other breakup songs, there are no hard feelings or animosity. In her cover story for Rolling Stone, she talked about these new feelings she was experiencing when she wrote the song, "When you have a feeling like that one, you feel really grown because you're like, 'Oh, whoa, I'm such an evolved human being that I can see my ex move on and feel good about it.'" She continued, "I think I've had breakups in my life where I felt like the only kind of breakup you could have was when things just ended really badly. Things ending in a nice way was such a new thing....It taught me a lot."

She sings, "I'm not mad, I'm not hurt, you got everything you deserve, oh, I must've loved you more than I ever knew, I'm happy for you". It's a really sweet acknowledgement of the love they once shared and that it's ok to move on from that. Just because it's over and they both found love with other people, it doesn't mean what they had wasn't real - it's just the way life is sometimes. Listening to "Happy For You" really puts "Maria" into a new perspective too, as if she is his Maria in this situation. It is absolutely an all-time career highlight for Dua and among her best vocal performances yet.

This album is so uplifting and positive, it is truly the dose of sunshine we all need in the world right now. Dua Lipa is among the best of the best in pop music right now and truly never disappoints with her new releases. I have continued to love Radical Optimism more and more with each listen, each track flows so seamlessly into the next and truly makes such an enjoyable listening experience! 

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Radical Optimism*, I would really appreciate if you would do so through my affiliate link here*, which I may earn a commission from. Shop more music from Dua Lipa here*. 

Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below! 

-Melissa ♡

Photo credit to all owners: Dua Lipa, Warner Music, Tyrone Lebon

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