A famous bluesman of yore was once asked what was the cure for the blues. “The blues,” he answered. Like the hair of the dog that bit you, wallowing in the pain and emotion of the blues is one of the most effective ways one can exercise their personal demons, sad feelings, and historical trauma. Or, if you’re singer Dua Lipa, you can suggestively mount a mechanical bull, dress up like a rodeo clown and dance the blues away, as she does in the new video for her song, “Love Again.”
Though it first came out a year ago on 2020’s Future Nostalgia, “Love Again” was released this past March as the sixth single off the hit album. It also kicked off Song Exploder Season 2, the podcast turned Netflix series “where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made.” As in Season 1, the show is hosted by series creator Hrishikesh Hirway, who sounds as if he has a radio compressor mic built into his larynx and has a knack for identifying the elements of a song that unlock its creation and what makes it great.
As the title suggests, “Love Again” tells the story of learning to open the heart once more after betrayal and loneliness. “So many nights, my tears fell harder than rain / Scared I would take my broken heart to the grave,” Dua Lipa sings in a voice that alternates between husky authority and crackling sensuality. The song was informed by Lipa’s own romantic ups and downs. “I was going through a bunch of personal shit,” she tells Hirway. A long-term relationship ended with someone who she describes as “quite dishonest.” “Love Again” was her own self-empowerment anthem, “to manifest a new positive energy in my life.”
Like any number of current pop songs, “Love Again” was created by a team of writers and producers mining the musical past and modern technology to make megahits that emotionally resonate with listeners. Seven writers are listed on the song’s credits, including crooner Bing Crosby who has a writing credit on Al Bowlly’s 1932 single “My Woman,” from which the song borrows its chord progression and much of its melody. Other sonic touchstones for the song and album include Blondie, Prince and Jamiroquai, childhood influences Dua Lipa picked up from her parents.
We meet Dua Lipa’s collaborators, co-writers Clarence Coffee Jr. and Chelcee Grimes and producer Stephen “Koz” Kozmeniuk. “Coffee is like my spiritual guiding light,” the singer says, while Koz is “My number one man that I love to have in the studio.” Chelcee brings an element of fun and unpredictability to the proceedings. Watching the group bounce ideas off each other, we see their collaboration is rooted in camaraderie. Coffee says Lipa is like family and they obviously enjoy one another’s company.
The 26-minute episode charts the song’s creation from the ground up, originating in a heart to heart about the state of Dua Lipa’s love life. “We started the song and the conversation was the song,” says Chelcee. Koz’s early demo featured new wave synths and ska guitar. Coffee and Grimes added acoustic guitars and the vocal hook. Everyone added lyrics, Lipa butting heads with her co-writers over her insistence they include the line “I’ll sink my teeth in disbelief,” which is kind of clunky if we’re being honest.
Though Dua Lipa often writes about sad subjects, she doesn’t like singing songs that sound sad. A balladeer she is not. With “Love Again” she sings her blues against a pulsating Euro-disco beat, surrounded by strings, samples and background vocals. This mix of emotions and musical ideas is a manifestation of her own life, growing up in both London and Kosova. “I’m so grateful for my dual nationality,” she tells Hirway. “It’s probably why I’m so obsessed with juxtaposition and duality, making happy sad songs or dance-crying songs. I thrive the most when I’m playing with two emotions at the same time.” Koz says working with Dua Lipa is, “a pop project with real artistic ambition.”
In many ways Song Exploder is the perfect music documentary series for the modern age; succinct yet detailed, packing information and insights into bite size episodes which run under a half hour. Other episodes this season include The Killers “When You Were Young,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” and star Natalia Lafourcade’s “Hasta La Raiz.” The breadth of artists keeps things exciting and Hirway’s musical intuition and affection raises the show beyond mere entertainment. The only question for the series at this point is not what they can do better but how soon we can expect more episodes.
Benjamin H. Smith is a New York based writer, producer and musician. Follow him on Twitter:@BHSmithNYC.