Curated From Check Them Out For More Content.

A vinyl of Dua Lipa’s single “Houdini”. Laid on a plain, cream coloured surface.  The cover art features a close-up shot of Dua Lipa licking her own reflection in the mirror. With her name and the song title in an italic bold form of Helvetica.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Dua Lipa’s Barbie song “Dance the Night Away”. I liked it more in the context of the film, although I feel you could have put any song in that dance sequence and it would have worked, because the whole sequence was so damn good. I also wasn’t the biggest fan of Future Nostalgia. So for Dua to release a song after that album had finally run its course which wound up sounding like a song from it, my eyes rolled. I completely understood why Dua would release such a song. But I was so fatigued from Future Nostalgia and was glad she had finally allowed herself and the world to move on from it, that hearing “Dance the Night Away” made me think ‘She ain’t ever moving past that damn album’. So imagine my surprise when I heard “Houdini” and the shit was DIFFERENT.

Okay bitch. I am listening.

Whilst I’ve not liked every single Dua Lipa has put out, one thing I cannot deny is that she has been consistent and incredibly smart with her singles. To reduce the success of Dua’s singles solely down to a formula would downplay the work that she and her collaborators very clearly put into making them so primed to be hits. But there definitely is a formula to her singles, as there is to making any good pop song. And it’s really fascinating to me just how locked down Dua has this formula and how aware she and her team are of it. To such a point that she could work the formula across most of an album, and then again for a song like “Dance the Night Away”, which I’m sure was very intently made to sound like something from Future Nostalgia. And then “Houdini”, with that same formula in play. It’s an element of Dua that I think is oft-overlooked. The girl really knows how to put a song together and surround herself with people who can plug into the formula without changing it. Although this may end being a double edged sword for her, and we’ll get to that.

“Houdini” sounds different from what we’ve heard Dua do before, but the formula of a Dua Lipa song is still there. And it’s key. Because it shows that none of Dua’s previous singles were flukes. And it reassures fans (and her record label) that all of the singles which follow “Houdini” will probably all be good too; exhibiting slight shifts in her sound, whilst still retaining the elements of a Dua song which have made her the mega pop star that she is. And the fact that she’s managed to do this with Kevin Parker is bonkers!

Kevin Parker and Danny L Harle are both credited as producers on “Houdini”, but I can’t hear Danny L Harle on it for shit. “Houdini” is a Tame Impala song, from top-to-fucking-bottom and is glorious largley because of it. It’s certainly been a turn for Kevin Parker to see him become a producer for some of the biggest acts in pop. First Rihanna (kinda) which put a lot of people on Tame Impala, then Lady Gaga, then an original song for the Barbie soundtrack (the best song on it) and now Dua Lipa.

It’s nice to have a producer in pop who has a very distinct sound and style. Especially at a time in music when (I know it’s cliché to say, but it’s true), so much of the music sounds the same, because everybody is chasing each other’s sound. And because of the accessibility of production and recording tools, everybody is a producer now, which means there are more people chasing the sounds and successes of others. So to hear a song and for me to go ‘This sounds like Tame Impala’ at a time like like this, and to then find out that Kevin Parker co-wrote and produced it, I couldn’t stop grinning. I felt like it was the late 90s / early 2000s again, when you could hear a song on the radio and identify the producer from the sound. I hope Kevin doesn’t lose his sound as he becomes more of a fixture in pop, and also hope that it doesn’t spark this wave of imitators. But it’s a possibility now that he is affiliated with a Duolingo song. But it would be great to have a producer in pop with an identifiable sound again. Because even Max Martin’s music has become indistinguishable now. And the next big pop producer could very easily become Kevin Parker.

The production on “Houdini” is really simple, but there’s a lot of texture to it. And the groove is so infectious that it just makes you want to move. One of my favourite things about “Houdini” is how alive it feels, almost as though the music itself is dancing. Whenever I listen to “Houdini”, a thought that regularly enters my mind is ‘Michael Jackson woulda sounded great on this and woulda sweated that wig out dancing to it’. “Houdini” doesn’t sound like anything Michael has ever done, but it sounds like something he would or could have done, and it’s because of the energy of it.

As catchy as the lyrics to “Houdini” song are, the star is really the production of it. Because you can strip Dua’s vocals out and the song will still work and hit the same way. Speaking of Dua’s vocals…

A close up shot of Dua Lipa right up close to the edge of a mirror, looking into the camera.
Dua Lipa – Houdini | Warner Music

Dua has a really nice voice and it’s a very different voice for pop, because it’s so much lower and huskier. I’d put her and Lady Gaga in the same bracket in this regard. Whilst she and Lady Gaga have become hugely successful primarily due to releasing great pop songs, I do think their voices played a part in their music hitting the way it did, because they were different from the types of voices we had associated with pop for so long. Pop has oft favoured high and kinda nasal voices. Madonna. Kylie Minogue. Britney Spears. Then Duolingo and Lady Gaga come along with these lower voices with a bit of grit to them. It gave their songs this almost edgier quality, which packaged their songs as ‘pop songs which were cool and you could admit to listening to’, which also matched their personas.

Dua sounds good on “Houdini”, but I still think she could give far more than she does. She’s a pop girl. I get that the genre doesn’t require her to do much, and she’s built a brand on…not really doing much. But I wish she would lean into her tone more and just push a little to give me that extra something more, because I know it’s in her. We heard it on songs like “Electricity” and “Lost in Your Light”. And the sound of “Houdini” and the way in which it is structured lends itself well to her actually giving something more vocally in ways that a song like “Levitating” doesn’t. So she should have taken advantage of that. I feel Dua sometimes hides behind the tightness of the songwriting and production, and uses it as an excuse to not have to do much when she sings songs, because ‘Well, the lyrics and the sound are speaking enough for me’. And I’d like to see her step out from behind this a little more. Because “Houdini” gave her a lot of space to work with and still she chose to do nothing with it. There are flecks of it in a couple of her ad-libs, but I wanted more. Especially given that the vocal moments on the song which stand out the most to me are the occasional contributions from Kevin.

Short songs is how it goes in pop these days. So “Houdini” is a tight 3 minutes. Although in Dua’s defence, her songs have always been on the lean side. So the runtime of “Houdini” doesn’t feel like a case of Dua committing to what has become a trend in pop. After all, she herself is now a trend in pop. One of the cool things which does help offset how short the song is, is the switch at the end, which completely transforms the song and makes it soar. There is a 5 minute and 54 second extended mix of “Houdini”, which also sounds like an earlier cut of the song. Everything about it sounds a little rougher around the edges, and there is also an additional verse, which is cool to hear. But having an extended mix which had the finesse and finish of the final version which was released first would have been nice. Maybe the finesse is what Danny L Harle added. Who knows? Answer on a postcard.

I can see “Houdini” being the Duolingo song which [turns and looks into the camera] comes and goes. I think the song is great. But whilst it does stick to the Duolingo formula, the sound being on the slightly psychedelic side of pop and also sounding a bit like an ABBA song may prevent it from catching on and sticking the way her songs usually do. Which is crazy for me to even say, because a psychedelic pop ABBA song sounds like a golden ticket in my book. But I feel it may be a step too ‘old’ for an audience that I imagine skews quite young. Although Dua does have a pretty diverse fanbase. So maybe if we were to see a demographic breakdown of “Houdini”, we’d see that it’s the old bitches running it up the most – which would not surprise me. Still a great song though. And it’s going to be interesting to see if “Houdini” manages to catch the psychedelic pop wave and ride it through the mainstream early, the way “Don’t Start Now” did with the disco wave.

Source link

- A word from our sposor -

Single Review: Dua Lipa – Houdini