On March 26th, 2020, the United States officially surpassed China and Italy and became the global leader in COVID-19 cases with 82,404. Dua Lipa’s sophomore album Future Nostalgia dropped on March 27th.
I won’t spend too much time transporting us back to the Pandora’s Box of panic that was March of 2020, but the timing couldn’t have been worse for a pop star hoping to squeeze as much momentum out of her album cycle as possible. A certain slew of late-night interviews, red carpet appearances, and the promise of an arena tour was replaced with Zoom performances and animated music videos. But sometimes the best jewels of creativity are born under pressure, and Dua proved herself to be the rising workaholic of pop as she promoted Future Nostalgia from her London apartment.
While it’s debatable to say that the United States’ situation has truly improved, the rest of the world has inched back into normalcy. With the summer winding down and the possibility of gatherings no longer a pipe dream in some parts of the globe, Dua announced her new project: a remix album called Club Future Nostalgia.
“I’ve watched you all dance in your homes and on your Zoom parties to Future Nostalgia like you were in the club with me,” Dua said in a statement. “It brought so much joy to my days spent at home, even though I would’ve much rather been playing these songs live for you all on the road. During this time, I decided to take the party up a notch with the incomparable the Blessed Madonna, who secretly helped me to craft the mixtape that would become Club Future Nostalgia. We invited some friends and legends to join in on the fun with us.”
Club Future Nostalgia promised to be an ambitious experiment in pop world-building and a reward for fans who celebrated Future Nostalgia amidst the chaos. Or, at least it should’ve been. The project was met with, to put it lightly, mixed fan reception even from those most loyal to the original album. The top replies to Dua’s release day tweet:
“I love and appreciate you Dua but I’m going to the club bathroom and never coming out until they stop playing it.”
“Queen of releasing the best female album of 2020 and the worst”
“Please never collaborate again. The album was perfect as it was. The remixes are hideous”
Though stan Twitter can be one of the brashest voices in the world of online music discourse, its verdicts aren’t law. But if Dua assembled this project for Future Nostalgia disciples, why was their reception so cold?
The most obvious reason is that Club Future Nostalgia (and its accompanying fifty-minute visualizer) is decidedly a house album meant to be played start-to-finish, a format not fully appreciated in the streaming world. The Blessed Madonna spearheaded the project, but as for the rest of the roster, Dua took a blended approach. Heavy hitters like Gwen Stefani, Mark Ronson, Madonna, and Missy Elliott appear on “Physical” and “Levitating,” but most of the record features niche house acts like Horse Meat Disco and Masters at Work. The ubiquitous smash “Don’t Start Now” finds new life in the hands of left-of-center electronic artist Yaeji. The original has over a billion streams, but the remix is not nearly as palatably radio-friendly. This might be one reason stans incited a small digital rebellion; traditional pop albums are designed to be as universally earworm-y as possible. Club Future Nostalgia, like any remix album, recycles existing earworms to produce a sonic collage designed for ambiance and energy, not replay value.
Two of the weakest tracks on the original album apparently work better in the club. The Lilly Allen-esque “Good in Bed” is made richer by Zach Witness and Gen Hoshino, and token ballad “Boys Will Be Boys” is transformed into a Beyonce-at-Coachella moment by the percussive swagger of a marching band. New tracks “Love is Religion” and “That Kind of Woman” are the standouts to the average Dua fan; “Love is Religion” especially bridges the gap between the energy of the remix record and the Madonna-inspired classic-ness of the original.
The two albums are sisters, not twins, and stan Twitter may have missed that the re-release was never meant to eclipse its originator. But their disdain isn’t entirely unfounded; apart from a few standouts, several of the mixes are cluttered, challenging the original electricity of the album with diluted house beats and tempo choices that feel more forced than natural. But Club Future Nostalgia is undoubtedly fun and redeemed by its full-throttle embrace of its form; DJ tagline cameos from Louie Vega and Mark Ronson only add to the sonic illusion.
In a world that’s starting to become saturated with “quarantine art,” Club Future Nostalgia exists purely for what it is, in spite of and despite the pandemic. The magic of it is that Dua Lipa isn’t interested into chameleon-ing into pandemic-friendly streaming this time around. Fully immersing herself in the retro ethos of her record was a risk, but one that says more about her nuanced understanding of her own sound and dedication to her craft than anything else.