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Dua Lipa returns with Houdini: Does she still have the magic?

Dua Lipa at the Barbie premiere
Dua Lipa is one of the UK's biggest-selling pop stars

Pop star Dua Lipa has given fans the first taste of her hotly-anticipated third album, with the release of a new single: Houdini.

The track, which dropped at 23:00 GMT, is a warp-speed club anthem, that finds the singer threatening to disappear like the famed escapologist if a man fails to impress her.

It arrives after weeks of cryptic teasers on her social media accounts, many of which were swiftly deleted, in a nod to Harry Houdini's slippery nature.

"The song is essentially about knowing when to stay and knowing when the right time to leave is," she told BBC Radio 1's Greg James on Friday.

"I think a lot of that comes from getting to know yourself, becoming really confident in the fact that, you know what, you deserve that kind of thing," she added.

"It's a very dark after hours psychedelic club track."

Lipa's last album, the disco love letter Future Nostalgia, won two Brit Awards and a Grammy for best pop album.

But earlier this year, the British-Albanian star appeared to signal a new musical direction.

In the music video for her summer smash Dance The Night, a giant mirror ball dislodged itself from the ceiling and shattered on the floor.

“This feels like her triumphant stomp on that era of her music into whatever she does next," said Mark Ronson, her co-writer and producer on the Barbie soundtrack song.

In an interview with Variety magazine, Dua all but confirmed the shift, saying her third album had "taken a complete turn" from her previous material,

"The album is different - it's still pop, but it's different sonically, and there's more of a lyrical theme," she said, later hinting that "1970s-era psychedelia" had been a big inspiration.

At first, Houdini appears to confirm the anti-disco narrative. The muffled sound of a nightclub is heard through closed doors, as though the star is walking away from her trademark sound.

But it's all an illusion. When Dua whispers "OK", the track kicks into gear with a thumping drumbeat and an eccentric, percolating bassline (subtly recalling Queen's Radio Gaga).

It might not be disco - but the insistent groove possesses an intense physicality that's a perfect fit for a singer out on the prowl.

The verses finds the 28-year-old pursued by a man. He watches her across the room. He blows her a kiss. He makes encouraging small talk. But Dua has high standards.

"Everything you say is sounding so sweet," she tells him. "But do you practice everything you preach?"

If doesn't measure up, she warns, the deal is off.

"I come and I go/ Prove you've got the right to please me."

"Catch me or I go/ Houdini."

It's a development of the lyrical themes she established on her break-out hit New Rules: Standing up for yourself, rejecting men who lack integrity, but never allowing your heart to harden.

"Maybe you could make me be the one to stay," she allows in the chorus.

In a press release, the singer said the single was a "tongue in cheek" celebration of "singledom", that explores "the idea of whether someone is really worth my while or if I’ll ghost them in the end".

"You never know where something may take you, that’s the beauty of being open to whatever life throws your way," she added.

Dua Lipa in the studio
The singer posted behind-the-scenes photos from the making of the song on Instagram
Dua Lipa and Kevin Parker
Houdini was co-written with Tame Impala star Kevin Parker

Musically, the song is crammed full of little easter eggs: A timpani roll that introduces the chorus; imperious backing vocals that sound like Dua's friends giving her suitor the side-eye; and a glorious squawk-box guitar solo that arrives just in time for the outro.

Produced by Kevin Parker of Australian psych-rock band Tame Impala, it's more groove-based than Dua's previous hits, riding along on that rock-solid bassline.

That comes at the cost of the chorus, which doesn't have the juicy, lip-smacking joy of tracks like Levitating or Physical.

But after a few plays, Houdini works its magic. Catchy and propulsive, there won't be any escaping it (pun intended) this winter.

Or, if the rumours are true, in the headline slot of Glastonbury 2024.

Dua Lipa at the BBC
Dua Lipa at BBC Broadcasting House on Tuesday, 7 November 2023

The singer explained she and Parker recorded the album with a live band to evoke the energy of her performances on tour.

“I really wanted to do that because I fell in love so much with the live element of my songs when I was touring, and because I was touring so much last year, I was like, ‘I want to try and try and push some boundaries’,” she said.

“So it's quite psychedelic and funky.”

Dua celebrated the release of the song with fans at an event at the English National Ballet in London - which was also the location where her new music video was shot.

The clip echoes the song's narrative, as the singer practices her choreography in a rehearsal studio, while dancers appear and vanish around her.

Dua will reveal more information about her new music in a pre-recorded interview on Greg James's Radio 1 Breakfast Show on Friday morning.

While recording the segment on Tuesday, the star popped outside the BBC's Broadcasting House and gave one unsuspecting passer-by the world exclusive first play of her new single.

Their reaction to the song will be revealed during the show.