Upon initial consideration, the idea that Dua Lipa chose a shorthand term for disappearing as the title for her latest single may seem unexpected. Since her 2020 release of her second album, Future Nostalgia, the 28-year-old British-Albanian pop sensation has been a constant presence across various mediums. In addition to the album’s widely popular singles, she has collaborated with a multitude of artists such as Elton John, Megan Thee Stallion, and Miley Cyrus, and has also ventured into fashion with a collection for Donatella Versace. She hosts her own podcast, curates a lifestyle newsletter, runs an online book club, and serves as the face for numerous brands. In just this year alone, Lipa has graced the covers of Vogue France, Dazed, and style magazines from the New York Times and the Sunday Times. She even appeared in illustrated form on the 85th anniversary edition of the Beano. Prior to her comeback announcement, her Instagram feed showcased her impeccable sense of style through glamorous photos from various locations. She also made a cameo in Greta Gerwig’s film Barbie alongside other celebrities, and her song “Dance the Night” was the most successful track on its soundtrack. In February, she will also star in the film Argylle alongside Henry Cavill.
The title of the New York Times article was “Dua Lipa: More Than Just a Pop Star.” The author, Kurt Soller, acknowledged the unique approach of Lipa in building her brand based on her own passions and interests, rather than relying on her personal life for attention. This serves as a way for her to protect herself from intrusive media and fans. However, it also highlights the paradox of her fame – she is a top pop star but can also come across as somewhat elusive in her artistry. Her style is bold, straightforward, and adaptable, with a touch of old-school charm. Her most notable feature is her versatile voice, capable of both luxurious tones and sharp criticism. Her discography reflects her evolution as an artist, with her 2017 self-titled debut album featuring catchy, simplistic pop hits that are now less popular. However, her breakthrough hit “New Rules” propelled her to become the focal point of her more experimental and fun album “Future Nostalgia,” which combines elements of disco and 90s pop.
When she playfully referenced Houdini this week, fans noticed the resemblance to the cover of Kate Bush’s The Dreaming, which also features a track titled “Houdini.” Those anticipating Lipa to deviate from her mainstream pop career by creating a self-produced, unconventional masterpiece will be disappointed (or perhaps relieved) to find that – at least with the first single – it’s simply a visual nod. While “Houdini” does involve more experimental collaborators than Lipa’s previous hits, with co-production by Kevin Parker of Tame Impala and former PC Music artist Danny L Harle, known for his work on Caroline Polachek’s ornate pop albums Pang and Desire, it ultimately falls short of being a psychedelic daydream or avant-garde fantasy. Instead, it is a bold and persistent revamp of Lipa’s disco influences and her knack for crafting memorable lyrical concepts – another addition to her repertoire of songs about male inadequacy.
After the ethereal sound of Future Nostalgia, Houdini takes a more down-to-earth approach with its use of live instruments and a studio vibe reminiscent of wood-paneled rooms. The bass, which is a clear indication of Parker’s involvement, provides a strong and dynamic presence, both driving the beat and playfully dancing around it. Underneath, there is always a playful hand percussion that adds to the overall groove. Lipa’s vocals in the verses are softer and more understated, a departure from her usual piercing style, but still direct and powerful as she locks eyes with her listener and makes it clear that she cannot be easily pinned down. In the chorus, her voice becomes part of a shimmering illusion as she playfully suggests the idea of changing for someone: “Maybe you could get a girl to change her ways.” The song’s ending builds up to a dizzying climax, with synths evoking a glamorous staircase and a sudden, unexpected guitar solo that adds a touch of grit and edge, reminiscent of Daft Punk’s edgier tracks.
The song is incredibly catchy without being overpowering, and does a better job of blending Lipa’s love for classic sounds with expertly crafted pop songwriting than Future Nostalgia. It’s clear that being a pop star is still Lipa’s main focus, and Houdini only reinforces her strong presence. This is also reflected in the song’s concept, hinting that Lipa is untouchable.