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Dua Lipa is on the attack: Her new single “Houdini” was released on Nov. 9 in anticipation of her still untitled third album — one that has to follow up the stellar musical performance of “Future Nostalgia” — which dominated the charts in 2020. So how did she do? Well, decent.
One of Dua Lipa’s strongest aspects as a musician is how much her songs make the listener want to drop everything and just groove. For example, “Don’t Start Now,” her most-streamed song, exemplifies this with its thick moving bassline, and “Houdini” definitely attempts to keep this trend going. The new single features ’80s-like synths and a quick, dense drumbeat, with a focus on a funky clav bassline, but it fails to capture the sense of movement that she usually injects into her songs. Maybe it’s the repetitiveness that’s just too apparent, or the way the vocal melody and rhythm don’t quite complement the beat, but something in the song seems to be missing a final connection that would bring it together as a dance hit.
According to an interview with W Magazine “Houdini” is a single that’s supposed to be ushering in a more “personal” album for Dua Lipa; one where she feels she can say what she wants, and that should be more involved lyrically. The overarching reference in the song is famous magician and escape artist Harry Houdini, whose name marks the title of the track. Her chorus lyrics “I come and I go” and “I’m not here for long” build up to the chorus’s main line of “Catch me or I go Houdini,” which highlights the song's theme: how fleeting Dua Lipa’s potential love can be. If you don’t “prove you got the right to please [her]” then you might as well count yourself out — she will escape just like Houdini.
As far as being more personal, these lyrics miss the mark. This theme could certainly be a valid personal reflection, but the words used to portray it come out as bland and unspecific. The chorus doesn’t make any definitive statements past the coming and going, and the verses are short and fail to add to the story. If Dua Lipa is planning for her album to be more personal and more lyric-heavy, one can only hope that the rest of the songs will dig a little deeper than “Houdini.”
Still, there are certainly some pockets of great music in this single. The last third of the track stands out (coincidentally, or not, that’s the part with the least words), with the synth picking up a more interesting melody and the song coalescing into an all-encompassing vintage Dua Lipa sound. The outro features an awesome distorted and wah-heavy guitar that would ideally be soloing but still sounds enjoyably edgy in its repeated riff.
“Houdini” suffers from one major problem: its lack of risks. It’s instantly recognizable as a Dua Lipa track, but in a safe, kind of boring way, not because she’s displaying the best of her abilities. It’s not necessarily a bad sign for the album — on the contrary, Dua Lipa and her label could be trying to play it safe with the first single — but one does hope that she comes out of her shell a little more in the songs to come. It’s time for Dua Lipa to take more of a stand both musically and lyrically, and once again show the pop world what she’s capable of: a record-smashing album that retains a unique and nuanced sound among its more run-of-the-mill contemporaries.
— Staff writer Alessandro M. M. Drake can be reached at email@example.com.
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