Of all the high-profile live streams that have sprung up in lieu of actual gigs in recent months, Dua Lipa’s is, by some considerable distance, the most star-studded. Its list of special guests encompasses everyone from Elton John to FKA twigs to Kylie Minogue: proof, should you need it, of the dominant position the 25-year-old singer currently occupies in pop.
By common consent, 2020 has been her year, thanks to her second album, Future Nostalgia, which has earned her six Grammy nominations and spawned a succession of global hit singles: the kind of success that even Madonna wants to get involved in, making an appearance on a remix of the single Levitation.
It deals in spectacularly well-turned production-line pop set to music that recalls disco, 80s boogie and Daft Punk-ish house: a simple idea that turned out to be a masterstroke, giving the album a cohesion and sense of purpose that mainstream pop albums don’t usually have – desperate as they are to spread their bets by latching on to every hip sound in turn, from r’n’b to retro soul to 80s pop – and inadvertently providing precisely the escapist soundtrack people were looking for in exceptionally trying times.
But transforming its contents into a pay-per-view online event that is, in the singer’s own words, “as close to a performance as we can get right now” proves a trickier proposition. From its title down, Studio 2054 suggests it is rooted in club culture, but it is preceded by an advert for Morrisons, which – with the best will in the world – doesn’t really feel in keeping with the decadent extravagances of the 70s Manhattan disco the show’s name is based on.
When the live performances get under way with the album’s title track, what the live stream most obviously resembles is Top Of The Pops: a set featuring neon lights and boxy metal structures, dry ice, dancers functioning as an enthusiastic audience, whooping and applauding during the song. The action moves to what appears to be the world’s most sparsely populated but heavily branded nightclub.
DJ The Blessed Madonna – one of a succession of brilliantly curated remixers called in to work on a more dancefloor-facing version of Future Nostalgia, Club Future Nostalgia – is in the booth. She bops along to the music: either she feels moved to dance by Physical’s taut 80s groove or she is worried that if she stands still for too long, someone will stick a Johnnie Walker whisky logo on her as well.
The guest appearances are a bit of a damp squib, although that has less to do with the guests themselves than the issues involved in bringing people together under current restrictions. Kylie Minogue and FKA twigs turn up, the former stealing the show by the simple expedient of looking less like her every move is choreographed than anyone else in the room, but Miley Cyrus’ cameo turns out to involve showing the video for her duet with Dua Lipa, Prisoner. Elton John performs a verse of Rocket Man on a screen above the stage, before he’s suddenly faded out.
And yet, despite all its shortcomings, Studio 2054 is weirdly fun. You can’t fault the music, which is as good as pop gets in 2020, laden with hooks and neat, nagging references to the past: Break My Heart is equal parts Donna Summer’s I Feel Love And INXS’ Need You Tonight.
If she isn’t exactly a bottomless fount of charisma, Dua Lipa looks fantastic in a series of spangly outfits, hits her marks and sounds pretty great. As far as can be discerned, the vocals are live, and she never misses a note or sounds breathless: no mean feat given the amount of choreography involved. If it were all happening on an arena stage, and you were watching it amid a vast crowd of screaming fans, it would be fantastic. But it isn’t: the quest for something that goes some way towards replicating a live experience goes on.