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Dua Lipa's transformation into a superstar has me cautiously optimistic

Dua Lipa is deep into the promotional circuit for her upcoming album Future Nostalgia. She’s released three singles and has made appearances at awards shows in the United States and Europe. It’s shaping up to be a seminal moment for the 24-year-old singer: A grand entry into mainstream pop.

The first single from her new album, a breakup anthem titled “Don’t Start Now,” takes plenty of cues from one of Lipa’s earlier hits, “New Rules,” from her self-titled debut. It’s a power-pop ballad about a permanent farewell to a shitty former lover. The kind of self-empowerment you long for in your early twenties. But the next two songs were quite different, both from the first single and all of her previous work. “Future Nostalgia,” released late last year, and “Physical,” which arrived last week, amplify the least compelling parts of Lipa’s catalog.

They’re heavy on saccharine nostalgia and feel more strategic than inspired. There’s nothing wrong with making the kind of retro-sounding pop that’s cropped up among the genre’s biggest stars. Selena Gomez’s latest, Rare, features a number of moments plucked straight from early Kate Bush. Even The Weeknd appears to have fully embraced the kind of power pop that dominated ‘80s exercise videos. It’s just that these two new songs from Dua Lipa aren’t particularly good. Bridging the past and future doesn’t always result in excellence.

And this is coming from a Dua Lipa fan. “Be The One,” which experienced most of its success in Europe, is played more than any other song in my library. It’s dark and moody pop. Soulful and soaring, at home in its genre but totally distinct as well. “Future Nostalgia” and “Physical” sound less like Lipa as an individual artist and more like the machinations of the pop industry. The two new singles arrive as Lupa’s public image becomes as distinct as ever. Her dark brown hair, first worn long and then in a blunt bob, has been traded in for an edgier bleach blonde look. Her clothes have gone from sweet and cute to sexy and on-trend. She’s working with Rosalia’s choreographer, Charm La Donna. She’s started hanging out with the Hadid family, spotted out and about with Bella and Gigi, and dating their brother Anwar. All of this, unfortunately, is more exciting than the new music itself.

In an interview with MTV, Lipa said this album is the result of coming into her own and feeling more confident than ever. “Always stay true to yourself. Always be authentic. Don't allow these little pressures, or pressures from people online, or what other people may think, to make you change your trajectory and change exactly where you're headed," Lipa said. "They're there for a reason, and they're there because they've worked."

Before April 3, when the entirety of Future Nostalgia is released, there’s no telling what this next iteration of Dua Lipa will be like. Hopefully, there will be more songs like “Don’t Start Now,” and less like the “Physical,” which is an anonymous, too familiar synth-pop nightmare. Lipa doesn’t have to stay the same as she was before, I just hope that her music doesn’t start to sound like everyone else’s.