Tuesday, February 11th, 2020

Dua Lipa – Physical

It’s okay! Move that boogie body!


[Video]
[7.50]

Leah Isobel: It is a dark and stormy night. In a sinister science lab located somewhere in Carmen Sandiego’s plush pomo lair, a pop singer plugs in a neon light, shrugs into a next-season Gaultier lab coat and gets to work. In the reflection of her gold-tinted goggles we see her add one (1) part Extract of “Into You,” one (1) part Juice of Newton-John, and four (4) drops of Synthesizer Spice into a contoured beaker. She turns on the flame of a Bunsen burner; stream gushes from her concoction like a geyser, emitting a high, keening refrain. She whispers a few luscious words into the steam — “diamond,” “sssimulation,” “adrenaline” — but her experiment still lacks a certain something. Then — BOOM! — in a thundercrash of lightning, it hits her. Eureka! She turns and sees her reflection illuminated in the glass of an emergency axe container, kept onsite in case of fire. “Well,” she chuckles to herself as she breaks the glass with a four-inch stiletto heel, “I am creating something… hot.” Axe in hand, she chops the neon light into pieces and stuffs the shards, now glittering like a million sequined dancefloors, into the beaker. With the addition of this Decoction of Disco, her potion bubbles… it burbles… then KABOOM: it explodes the entire building and half of the surrounding city! She stands in the wreckage as thunder splits the sky above and sirens wail in the distance. We see Dua’s eyes glow green before she throws her head back to the sky and screams: “GAY RIIIIIGHTS!”
[9]

William John: Probably the best example of what parts of the Internet’s stan culture would facetiously refer to as “gay rights” from a mainstream musical artist since… the last Dua Lipa single, or, failing that, “Into You.” Like those precedents, “Physical” is camp but magisterial; playful but extremely melodramatic; sweeping, dance floor ready, and dripping with an exultant swagger. Her reminder to “hold on, just a little tighter” at the bridge is, truthfully, a hollow gesture; at that stage, the listener is so deeply embroiled in her glorious disco caprice as to not really be capable of gripping anything at all.
[10]

Jackie Powell: It couldn’t be clearer that Dua Lipa had something to prove not only to herself, but to the pop music intelligentsia on her sophomore offering. What has struck me most about the Future Nostalgia cycle is how Dua is executing every facet of it with confidence. On this track, she’s not afraid of hitting notes that eclipse the breadth of her previous singles, especially on the bridge. “Physical” is a representative offering of exactly what she’s aiming to prove. Each track we’ve heard so far reflects a different decade accompanied with a modern polish. I don’t think I’m the only one who believes Olivia Newton-John’s ’80s exercise sexual metaphor smash “Physical” deserves the tribute it’s getting here. There’s a clear homage paid to her and to Patti LaBelle on Lipa’s own “Physical.” I’m going to interpret her lyric “We created something phenomenal” as a bit of a double-entendre. Not only is it about sex in the narrative of the track, but it’s a comment on Lipa’s approach to this era and her confidence on every single part of it. The sexual symbolism isn’t just in the lyrics, but also in the track’s composition and the narrative communicated in the visual treatment. The vocal highs that she hits on the bridge represent a climax musically and sexually. She has so much confidence in the visual treatment, she spends most of it braless. That takes guts.
[9]

Tobi Tella: Dua Lipa’s perceived lack of personality has turned out to actually be lack of a schtick preventing her from artistically evolving, something many of her peers are plagued with. Also, I’ve died and gone to gay heaven.
[9]

Alfred Soto: The way Dua Lipa’s unexpected bon mots and smoky sultriness ride the beat and compete with the strings compensate for a production too dressed up in leg warmers and headbands for my taste — I mean, her exhortations are more fearsome than erotic. 
[7]

Julian Axelrod: Pop’s ’80s revival arms race has escalated to its natural endpoint: the accidental exhumation of Olivia Newton-John. I wish Dua Lipa had used “let’s get physical” in a more literal iteration; singing it over hyperdrive synths guarantees it’ll be never played in its intended setting, especially when she has half the energy of ONJ. But she hit the mark where it counts: This is going to rule spin classes for the rest of the year.
[6]

Brad Shoup: A throwback training-montage track that suggests sex but is really about dancing and Olivia Newton-John erasure. This is Stranger Things pop.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Sex is natural, sex is fun, sex is best when soundtracked by throbbing ’80s synths. 
[6]

Ashley Bardhan: Okay, fine, I enjoy horny music. Sue me! This song is what would happen if ABBA was brought back to life as a bunch of hot 20-year-olds in little shirts from Fashion Nova. The “let’s get physical” chorus feels a little lazy since it’s a direct lift from Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 hit, but this is a great song to listen to while thinking about that video of Charli XCX holding poppers. No complaints here.
[7]

Alex Clifton: I’ve underestimated Dua Lipa. Her first album had some hits and misses, but Future Nostalgia is shaping up to be one of the best pop releases of 2020 based on the strength of its singles. “Physical” is a cascade of rainbow lights in a roller rink and makes me long to go out to a club, one where I can get down in a huge crowd of people and dance my white-girl ass off poorly. I’m an extreme introvert, so anything that makes me want to leave the house and be around strangers is powerful stuff indeed. It’s a little cheesy, but who cares? It’s a love letter to the ’80s with all the campiness a song citing Olivia Newton-John should have. I’m desperately in love with Dua Lipa after hearing this, and I have a feeling “Physical” will be one of my favourite songs of the year.
[9]

Stephen Eisermann: Dua Lipa has quietly become the pop superstar that so many of us wanted Carly Rae to be. Both women make incredible music, but it is Dua who has found commercial success; after hearing “Physical,” it seems pretty obvious why. It’s a retro-laden, power-pop track that is extraordinary only in the way Dua delivers it. What should be pedestrian instead is hypnotic, infectious, and oh so delicious. 
[8]

Lauren Gilbert: I promised a friend I’d blurb this song, and now that I’ve sat down to write it, I have nothing to say. It is a perfect pop song — Dua knocks it out of the park on this record. I keep getting distracted from writing jamming to the track. I’m dancing while lying down on my couch. She created something phenomenal; we are left with no choice but to stan.
[10]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I’ve justified Dua Lipa’s dearth of personality in years past, but this is where things don’t add up: her dead-eyed singing makes no sense during the chorus, whose synths lack the fervor to make up for clinical vocal melodies. Around this time last year, we had Lizzo’s “Juice”; now we have “Physical” as an example of ’80s pastiche that only feels like it exudes energy and passion and charm.
[2]

Will Adams: It’s neat to have a single that’s its own Initial Talk remix, but the synthpop revivalism is a bit too literal, to the point of putting all its chips on an Olivia Newton-John quote. It’s not until the bridge — “keep on DANCING!” — where the drama locks in and starts, but only starts, to feel real.
[6]

Kylo Nocom: Dua Lipa, determined more than ever to win the Popjustice £20 Music Prize, accidentally transforms into Alice Chater in the process.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: If “Physical” being by Dua Lipa wasn’t hypertargeted enough to the Popjustice set, is that the synth progression from Saint Etienne’s “No Cure for the Common Christmas” in the intro and beneath the chorus? It’s certainly the same height of drama. The track attached isn’t quite so charged: a little too Lady Gaga circa “Applause” and a little too Peloton instructor quoting Olivia Newton-John for absolutely no reason besides the culture deciding at some point to make the phrase a permanent, meaningless meme. (The song doesn’t even sound particularly ’80s; the disco strings are the decade prior, and the vocal squiggles on the verse are so specifically 2016 a time traveler’s on their way to erase them.) Dua Lipa only betrays a personality on the spoken-word bridge; ironic how that and the vaporous intro, the least physical things on this track, are the most thrilling.
[7]

Vikram Joseph: The intro feels like a prickling at the back of your neck, the one-line pre-chorus feels like plummeting six floors in a broken elevator, and the chorus is such a headrush you can practically smell the poppers: “Physical”‘s thrills might be straightforward, but they’re visceral as fuck. There are vintage Lady Gaga vibes, the “come on!”s are surely a nod to “We Are Your Friends,” and the whole thing reminds me, inexplicably, of Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.” But Dua Lipa is starting to make this all seem effortless, and the panache with which she delivers “Physical” easily pulls it clear of the gravitational field of its forebears.
[9]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: “Physical” dares us to be the boldest versions of ourselves. It finds itself at the perfect intersection of confidence and lust. Dua Lipa is flirting with you with a playfulness she can only possess because she already knows you’re going home together — and she won’t let you leave until the dancing is done. Dancing here is instinct, it’s synths that sound as sweet as they do sinister, it’s salty like the sweat that rolls down your forehead after you’ve been, well, physical. Dua Lipa is crushing the Confessions on a Dance Floor album that I’ve long been waiting for Lady Gaga to make. Dance floor music has long been my site of refuge and catharsis, so it’s refreshing to be reminded that it can still sound so immediately, eminently thrilling. 
[9]

Kayla Beardslee: This doesn’t quite reach the heights of “Don’t Start Now,” but damn it comes close. “Physical” should, in theory, be a cookie-cutter pop girl release, but Dua proves once again that she is the most important element in her music. The producers are doing everything right too, but who else could pull off her endearing smirk in “common love isn’t for us” or that wonderful growl in “follow the noise”? And Dua takes us through a transcendental bridge that highlights the best qualities of her voice: singing simple lyrics that say everything they need to, she’s breathless yet confident, desperate for touch yet satisfied with the musical world she’s helped to create. Something phenomenal, indeed: this rollout has been a joy to follow.
[9]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “Physical” takes the opposite approach to “Don’t Start Now” — while that song’s studio version swallows up its singer in a beautifully constructed, sterile disco pastiche (the live versions and remixes are much better), turning her into just one more retro cog, “Physical” makes her the center of attention. The production around her is good enough (the synth preset change right before the chorus starts is especially nice), but not particularly coherent or hooky on its own. In the vacuum left, Dua gets to have more fun, charismatically switching between vocal styles and walking around like she owns the place.
[8]

Jibril Yassin: A powerhouse vocal colliding headfirst with production that’s neither plodding nor limp. It’s a song that’s meant to feel like a blockbuster and after a few failed tries, it’s thrilling to hear Dua Lipa finally nail the landing and sound like the superstar she wants to be.
[7]

Michael Hong: “Physical” is magnetic. Its pulse is unrelenting, its atmosphere is shadowy and captivating, and Dua Lipa gives possibly her best vocal performance. There’s no sense of the up-and-coming performer who delivered everything with stolid execution, instead, “Physical” is a sly wink of a pre-chorus leading to a forceful command: “baby, keep on dancing like you ain’t got a choice.” Dua Lipa is at the helm, all thoughts and any other desires are out the window, and the night is neverending. 
[7]

Joshua Lu: Several of Dua Lipa’s past hit songs have relied on a marketable veneer of cool: “New Rules” works because she’s the straight-talker friend giving advice, “Don’t Start Now” necessitates a stoic character who can’t be bothered to fret about her ex, and even on collaborations like “One Kiss” does Dua employ a rather unemotional voice, like she’s a blank canvas for Calvin Harris’ more playful and engaging production. “Physical” feels like such a departure for Dua not just because of its obvious throwback sound, but because this veneer of cool is completely torn down when the song reaches its rushing chorus. She sounds more and more desperate as her voice climbs and the synths soar above her, and her cries of “come on” ring as desperate instead of dominant. The song is indebted to pop titans of yesteryears (Olivia Newton-John obviously inspired the title, but the theatrics of the song feel more indebted to Bonnie Tyler or Patti Labelle) to the point of it not really feeling like a Dua song, but she sells it all so convincingly that it feels like a natural fit. It’s part pop song, part epic showdown, and I look forward to Dua continuing to push herself to the forefront of mainstream pop music greatness.
[9]

Scott Mildenhall: Little wonder that Lipa’s so keen to get physical, given that she’s “dreaming in a simulation” — her focus seems to be on the former, since the latter exemplifies the aimlessness of the verses in comparison to the locked-and-loaded chorus. That has its thrills, yet never feels as loose as seems intended. “Physical” comes across too in love with the idea of being a kind of Perfect Pop to actually be it; an anthem for kinetics developed via science textbook.
[7]

Reader average: [6.16] (30 votes)

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11 Responses to “Dua Lipa – Physical”

  1. Nooo @ that 2*weeps

  2. the popjustice invocations… i feel seen

  3. Surprised I’m the only [10]. Also, I am indeed Popjustice trash; it’s the first pop website I read, age 13 in my bedroom on dialup internet

  4. I would never think that music could made such a big circle after all. Dua has prevent us from being flooded by Male only music and rappers that are that bad that we start to like them. I am very proud of her for releasing such a wonderful pure pop with 80’s/90’s music and sound. That’s what pop music need right now. Resurrection literally! Well done Dua! All what we need right is a proper promo after extremely budget video with a message in it. Don’t let this monster become a promo or get overlooked.

  5. Lauren, I’m beginning to suspect that you’re not real, and instead you are a cleverly-created fake name that I use to write more things.

  6. “a dialup” is an anagram of “dua lipa”… coincidence????

  7. xxp you’re not the only [10]!

    anyway shoutout to leah for identifying this as gay rights and as being “into you” adjacent…and shout out to vikram for noticing the similarities with justice v simian – it took me ages to work out what late 2000s thing the chorus was reminding me of (my initial thought was…little birdy!)

  8. william – i’m glad i’m not the only one who heard it! i’d almost argue that this is gay rights specifically because of the “into you” connection (which in turn was gay rights because of its connection to “dancing on my own”).

    robi – i really like this track but it’s not what pop music “needs” right now. it’s an extremely traditional song, i don’t think pop needs that any more than anything else.

  9. imo the “pure pop” discourse is racist as it seems to imply that the introduction of rap and R&B tropes into pop music somehow dilutes its quality. let’s not engage with that please!

  10. @William J: sorry, I can’t read! Glad that I’m not the only one Extremely Here For This.

  11. @edwardo: if so, does that mean I can make you do the grading I am supposed to be doing instead of writing more blurbs

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