In terms of music, 2023 has been marked by fragmentation. There have been record-breaking tours – step forward Beyoncé, we see you Taylor – and some fantastic records, but few prevailing trends. It takes someone special to tower above it all, someone unique to become a pop Everest – and that’s where Dua Lipa comes in.
Teased on socials and unveiled at a special, hysteria-laden fan event in London, new single ‘Houdini’ is less of an escape and more a framing of core values. If Barbie soundtracking single ‘Dance The Night’ was a luminescent disco burner with a Studio 54 fixation, then the erotic plasticity of ‘Houdini’ spins the dial forwards by a few years.
Embracing the sheen of mid 80s pop, you can hear aspects of Madonna’s imperial phase – the lyric “practise what you preach” vs the song title ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ – and Michael Jackson at his most appealing. The rhythm has the finger-snapping quality that make ‘Dance The Night’ so irresistible, but there’s a raunch here that was absent on her summer smash.
Packed with lyrical leering and the odd double entendre, it’s Dua Lipa doing what she does best – a gleaming, sun-drenched pop star who yearns to dominate huge spaces. With her profile soaring in the United States, this coming era could be her moment, the time for Dua to truly take her position as one of the planet’s biggest pop stars.
‘Houdini’ could easily be the first step forwards. A song about irresistible attraction – “I see you watching and you blow me a kiss / It’s our moment baby don’t let it slip…” – it’s definitely her to be more than just good friends. “Prove you’ve got the right to please me,” she purrs, before the track explodes into a Tame Impala adjacent overdriven finale. And who could resist that final line: “Maybe you could be the one to make me / Stay…”
Pulling off magic tricks left, right and centre, ‘Houdini’ is less an escape act, and more the sound of Dua Lipa reaching peak velocity.
Words: Robin Murray