At first glance, it may seem surprising that Dua Lipa chose to name her latest single after a phrase commonly used to describe disappearing. Since the release of her second album, Future Nostalgia, in 2020, the 28-year-old British-Albanian pop star has been a constant presence in the media world, showcasing her talents in multiple areas. Along with her chart-topping singles from the album, she has collaborated with a variety of artists such as Elton John, Megan Thee Stallion, and Calvin Harris, as well as delving into fashion with Donatella Versace. Additionally, she hosts her own BBC podcast, curates a lifestyle newsletter, manages an online book club, and serves as a brand ambassador for numerous companies. This year alone, Lipa has graced the covers of several high-profile magazines and made guest appearances in various forms of media. Her highly curated Instagram feed, filled with glamorous photos from exotic locations, has become a source of style inspiration for many. She also made a cameo in Greta Gerwig’s film Barbie and contributed to its successful soundtrack with her song “Dance the Night Away.” Fans can also look forward to seeing her in the upcoming film Argylle alongside Henry Cavill in February.
The title of the NYT article stated, “Dua Lipa Doesn’t Settle for Just Being a Pop Star”. In the piece, writer Kurt Soller highlighted the unique approach of Lipa, who builds her brand based on her own interests and passions instead of allowing her personal life to be consumed by public curiosity. This serves as a clever means of self-protection against intrusive media and fans. However, it also creates a paradox in Lipa’s status as a global pop star, as she can sometimes appear distant in her own work. Her style is bold, straightforward, and adaptable, with a touch of old-school flair. Her defining feature is her versatile voice, capable of both luxurious melodies and sharp retorts. Through her discography, Lipa’s artistry has evolved, with her 2017 debut showcasing a mix of simple yet captivating pop hits that are now losing popularity. The late success of her single “New Rules” gave her the opportunity to establish herself as an artist with the album Future Nostalgia, which combines playful disco elements with a 90s pop vibe, all centered around Lipa.
When she playfully alluded to Houdini this week, fans noticed that the small key in her mouth was reminiscent of the cover of Kate Bush’s album The Dreaming, which also features a track called Houdini. Those hoping for Lipa to take a daring departure from her popular music career with a self-produced, unconventional masterpiece may be disappointed (or perhaps relieved) to find that – at least from her first single – it’s simply a playful nod to the illusionist. Houdini does have a more experimental team behind it, with co-production from Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker and PC Music’s Danny L Harle, known for his recent work on Caroline Polachek’s ornate pop albums Pang and Desire, I Want to Turn Into You. However, Houdini is not a psychedelic daydream or avant-garde fantasy, but rather an energetic and persistent revamp of Lipa’s love for disco and her talent for crafting catchy lyrics with a strong message – adding yet another song to her collection about how men don’t stand a chance.
After the dazzling cosmic energy of Future Nostalgia, Houdini takes a more grounded approach, evoking images of traditional recording studios and live musicians. The bass, which is a clear indication of Parker’s involvement, provides a strong foundation while also playfully straying away from the beat. Underneath it all, hand percussion adds a lively and subtle touch. Lipa’s vocals take on a more subdued tone in the verses, but still maintain their impactful quality, as she directs her words towards her love interest and expresses her difficulty in being tied down. In the chorus, her voice becomes part of a shimmering illusion as she coyly suggests her partner could change her ways. The song builds to a thrilling finale, with synths that evoke a sense of walking down sparkling stairs and a sudden, unexpected guitar solo that adds a touch of edginess reminiscent of Daft Punk’s darker tracks.
The song is incredibly catchy without being overpowering, and successfully blends Lipa’s love for retro sounds with polished pop songwriting. It is evident that Lipa’s focus is still on being a pop star and Houdini does not challenge her dominance. This also ties into the song’s theme of Lipa being untouchable.