In her Saturday Night Live monologue, host and double-duty musical guest Dua Lipa joked about her jet-setting social media presence. “There’s people online who say Dua Lipa is always on vacation, which is totally wrong,” she said. “I’m British and we call it a holiday.” But even eternal vacations, sorry, eternal holidays have their perils.

An impossibly glamorous Dua Lipa appears on the cover of Radical Optimism, her new album and first since 2020’s Grammy-winning blockbuster Future Nostalgia. In the image, she’s floating in idyllic water — save for the shark a few feet away from her. The how-to-remain-calm-in-shark-infested-waters visual metaphor isn’t exactly subtle, but Dua Lipa doesn’t do subtle. She’s one of the best at making universally understood pop music about the joys (the water) and danger (the shark) of romance.

The message might not be radical, but the finished product is. In an era of quantity-over-quality albums with bloated tracklists to manipulate the streaming charts, there is something radical about 11 breezy songs in under 40 minutes.

Forget the song of the summer — Radical Optimism sounds like summer.

Radical Optimism begins with a “1, 2, 3” countdown before a group of voices cheer with the enthusiasm of a surprise party when the birthday boy or girl walks through the door. “What’s it about a kiss that makes me feel like this? / Makes me an optimist, I guess,” Lipa sings. That’s a common theme of the album, this attempt at finding her romantic bliss. In “Training Season,” she asks a partner if they’re someone who’s worth her love, or “just the poison that I’m drawn to?” Lipa isn’t reinventing the wheel lyrically (or even reinventing her dance-pop sound, despite earlier comments about the album being a “psychedelic-pop-infused tribute to U.K. rave culture”), but she’s inhabiting her songs so fully that you’re too busy dancing to notice.

First single “Houdini” sparkles and slinks with the best of her chart-toppers; “Happy For You” shows her range as an expressive vocalist; and during album highlight “Falling Forever,” she howls like a werewolf at the moon over rolling drums. The production from high-profile names like Danny L Harle (who previously worked with Caroline Polachek) and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, is precise, but never suffocating. The songs sound light, carefree even.

But that’s the goal, and anyone who sees that as a negative is missing the point. “I think there’s just this massive stigma around pop music overall,” Lipa told CBC. “If you’re just making songs that feel good — that have the aim to make you feel positive, make you feel good — [people assume] they don’t have depth.” She added, “I’m manifesting these words and I’m going to be saying them to a lot of people who are going to be singing them back to me. Let’s put some good sh*t out into the world.”

Radical Optimism is some good sh*t. It’s supremely crafted and refreshingly free of nods to her personal life. Dua Lipa is extremely online, but there remains a mystery to her. She’s never truly knowable, and she’s not trying to be, either. But that lack of reliability (see: the vacation photos) is one of the things that makes her so captivating. I don’t want pop stars to be my friend; I need them to believe in the healing power of pop music. Dua Lipa is a believer.

Out there [points in the general direction of the world], things are bleak. But in the club playing the new Dua Lipa album, everything’s going to be okay.

Radical Optimism is out now via Warner Records. You can order it here.

Posted in: Pop