Random Tracks: Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now”

In Random Tracks, I’m reviewing a random hit song from any point in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 going from the chart’s beginning in 1958. If you like what I’m doing, comment and let me know what random Hot 100 hit song you want me to review.

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Dua Lipa- “Don’t Start Now”

PEAK: #2 on March 21, 2020

SONG AT #1 THAT WEEK: Roddy Ricch’s “The Box

It has to be one of the most unfortunate of timings in music releases: a dance-pop album being released at the exact moment when dance clubs are being shuttered indefinitely. That’s what happened with the rising British pop star Dua Lipa. In March, she released her second album, Future Nostalgia, an album that lives up to its title with its modern take on retro ‘70s and ’80s dance music. It just so happened that her album came out right as the COVID-19 pandemic had spread out of control all over the world with indoor facilities like clubs, where this album would work very well in, now closed and it’s still unsure on when they’ll be able to safely reopen. 

Yet she managed to make some of the year’s best songs becoming one of the few bright spots in this otherwise dour year. Take the album’s first single, “Don’t Start Now.”

Dua Lipa had been planning on this stardom for a long time. Lipa was born in London to Kosovar Albanian parents who had immigrated to England from their war-torn region of Kosovo. (The #1 song in the US when Dua Lipa was born was Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose.”) Initially growing up around London, her family moved back to Kosovo when Lipa was 11. As a teen, Lipa began to chase her dreams of being a singer where she began posting cover songs on YouTube after seeing the YouTube driven success of then teen idol Justin Bieber. Soon after at 15, Lipa moved back on her own to London to pursue her dreams working various jobs to pay for her sessions that included working as a hostess and a model. 

Eventually, Lipa got a signing with Warner Music Group after her demos were discovered getting to work right away by releasing a slew of singles and touring. Those early singles caught on quickly going Top 10 worldwide mainly around Europe and Australia where Lipa quickly developed her audience. It would take a bit longer to catch on in the US where one of those early singles, 2016’s “Blow Your Mind (Mwah),” peaked at #72 as her first charting hit on the Hot 100. 

All of these songs among others were compiled into her debut self-titled album released in 2017. The album was an immediate hit in her home country but was a slow burn in America including its official lead single “New Rules.” Even in an era of dreary trap, Dua Lipa’s style of empowering dance-pop managed to hit with “New Rules” breaking her into the Top 10 peaking at #6 in 2018. (It’s an 8.) With the success of the album and its singles, Dua Lipa quickly became the next big pop star, one that won over both critics and audiences. All of it culminated in Lipa winning the Best New Artist Grammy in 2019. 

With everyone watching Lipa’s next step, she and her team decided to go back in time for a follow-up. The story of “Don’t Start Now” begins with the classic music industry practice of replicating a breakout hit as an A&R head at Warner Music Group challenged “New Rules” songwriter and producer Ian Kirkpatrick to recreate the song he wrote. He and fellow “New Rules” songwriters Caroline Ailin and Emily Warren got together in early 2019 deciding to write a disco song after Warren took them to a dive bar in her hometown of Wyoming which had a weekly disco night and as Warren told Rolling Stone, “The next morning, we woke up, and were like, ‘We have to make a disco song. It’s the most fun to dance to.”

Kirkpatrick in particular was inspired for “Don’t Start Now” by the disco and dance music he like growing up including the Bee Gees, Daft Punk, and European house DJs. He was initially concerned about the song sounding too disco and European for American audiences especially when trap and hip-hop still ruled the charts. To make it sound more modern, Kirkpatrick, in his words, “de-discoed” the drums and made the bass feel more ‘90s sounding than the original. After writing the bridge as an afterthought and better understanding the song with Lipa’s singing, Kirkpatrick added in vocal chops and extra drums inspired by The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face,” a song that will eventually appear in The Ones of the ‘10s. It took almost 100 tracks to get the song right.

You can say all that work paid off a lot as “Don’t Start Now” is a fun blast of a song to listen to. The people involved do a lot of great work here. It manages to be a throwback while also having a modern sheen that doesn’t sound totally out of place in today’s world. The song through its funky driving bass, steady four on the floor drum beat, pounding piano, out of nowhere cowbell on the chorus, and Nile Rodgers inspired chicken-scratch guitar manages to recreate the fun cocaine rush of disco for Gen Z audiences. That bridge with its melodramatic string stabs, squelchy synths, and vocal chops are especially pure disco something that with minor adjustments could have easily hit in disco’s late ‘70s peak.

Lyrically, “Don’t Start Now” like with “New Rules” is about moving on from a breakup but more direct about the situation and ultimately a better song. Lipa broke up with a guy who wasn’t right for her and is all but happy to be moving on but her ex is not. Her ex is jealous now that she’s having a good time and tries to get back into Lipa’s life. That’s where she immediately shuts him down on the chorus saying that if he doesn’t want to see her having a good time with someone else then simply don’t show up where she is. She’s not having any of his bullshit. 

The song even calls back to another defiant breakup disco anthem, Gloria Gaynor’s 1979 #1 “I Will Survive” with the line, “Aren’t you the guy who tried to/Hurt me with the word “goodbye”?” Like Gaynor, Dua Lipa delivers the song in a self-assured diva confidence that sounds like she’s been through it before and has been waiting for this ex to come back just so she can mess with him again. That’s one of the best tricks that make for good dance music: a song that’s fun on the dance floor while also expressing themes of defiance and empowerment.

The music video, watching it from nearly a year of social distancing, seems almost ancient now. Director Nabil Elderkin, the same man behind the video for Bruno Mars’ “Grenade,” does a great job visualizing the neon dance floor aesthetic of the song by depicting Dua Lipa all dressed up going out on the town. It starts out with Lipa at a full camera close up before throwing it on the ground. It then goes back to five hours earlier showing Lipa starting out singing at a pub before entering a crowded nightclub where she’s the center of attention. I especially like the fun scene where Lipa is dancing at an old-style masquerade ball with the old paintings on the wall coming to life with their moving eyes.

Upon its release in October 2019, the fears that “Don’t Start Now” wouldn’t catch on for its dance-heavy sound were quickly proven to be unfounded. It turns out “Don’t Start Now” and Future Nostalgia was part of a wave of retro-minded dance songs that hit it big in 2020. The single reached the Top 10 on charts around the world and after almost half a year became her biggest hit in America so far peaking in the runner-up spot behind Roddy Ricch’s viral trap smash “The Box” in late March as COVID-19 lockdowns had started to go into effect. Even when we can’t go out to the club, we still want to dance.

Almost a year after Future Nostalgia, the album is still cranking hits. Its second-biggest single, the similarly disco-heavy “Break My Heart,” peaked at #13 and its latest single “Levitating” is still on the charts where it peaked at #20 in November thanks to a remix version with rapper DaBaby. At the upcoming 2021 Grammys, “Don’t Start Now” is nominated for both Song and Record of the Year while Future Nostalgia is nominated for Album of the Year. She looks to be a heavy favorite to win and we will certainly be hearing a lot more from her going further into the decade.

Whenever this shit is over, music like “Don’t Start Now” will certainly make for a great time at a club or any dance type function. 

GRADE: 9/10

BONUS BEATS: Here’s Hayley Williams performing a sultry and jazzier take on “Don’t Start Now” during a 2020 performance on BBC Radio 1:

(As a member of Paramore, Hayley Williams peaked at #10 with 2014’s “Ain’t It Fun.” It’s a 9. As a solo artist, she peaked at #2 with her guest appearance on B.o.B.’s 2010 hit “Airplanes.” It’s an 8.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s “Don’t Start Now” soundtracking a dance scene on a 2020 episode of Riverdale:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s prior The Ones of the ‘10s subject Kelly Clarkson covering “Don’t Start Now” on her talk show in October:

Separate note: Hard to believe in the space of everything that’s gone down throughout 2020 that it’s now been a year since I started D’Orazi Hit Parade. Thank you to all who have supported this site in 2020 and am looking forward to the music I’ll be covering in the next year. Wishing everyone a Happy and healthy New Year in 2021!

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