Dua Lipa’s second studio-album Future Nostalgia fuses lively electro-pop and disco sounds from decades past with new-school production, resulting in a remarkably fresh full-length product. While the 24-year-old notes that Madonna is one of the key inspirations for the album’s sonic stylings, she gathered influences from all across the board.
This fact is perhaps most evident by Future Nostalgia’s eighth song “Love Again,” which features a 1930s Al Bowlly trumpet sample that was made extraordinarily popular after its use in White Town's 1997 alt-pop hit “Your Woman." Jyoti Mishra, the 53-year-old mastermind behind the genre-mashing White Town project, tells Billboard that his own song was also created to be “deliberately nostalgic,” as it combines Bowlly’s gloomy brass with George Clinton-style funk from the ‘70s, Depeche Mode-inspired ‘80s electro pop, and ‘90s boom-bap hip-hop.
While listeners may have instantly recalled White Town’s hit upon hearing “Love Again,” Mishra notes that he was never contacted by Dua for its use -- since, technically speaking, the song was Al Bowlly’s first. However, he is aware that “Your Woman” brought the lovelorn trumpets to public consciousness.
“Not many people know Al Bowlly and not many people know that much 1930s pop music… but then, you know, I'm a music geek,” Mishra, who created “Your Woman” on an Atari ST in his bedroom while studying at university, tells Billboard over the phone with a laugh. “It's very unlikely [Dua Lipa] remembers ‘Your Woman’ from her childhood [either]" -- Lipa, 24, would've still been in her infancy during the song's late-'90s peak -- "but then again, it was played for a while afterwards. So, maybe [while crafting Future Nostalgia] she remembered it vaguely and said, ‘What about this song?'"
Now 53 and living in Derby, England, Mishra says that sampling in music has always been important in order to transport listeners back to a memory that’s both special and specific. He praises the “talented” Dua Lipa, as well as artists such as Tove Lo, electro-pop musician Lauv and Filipina indie pop star Beabadoobee for doing their part to help shape the landscape of the genre in 2020 through their songwriting and production approaches, which he calls “f--king amazingly, mind-bendingly, sustainably good.”
“[Sometimes] when you use an old sample, it has these associations which make you think about time gone past,” he says. “I think there's magic in old samples. Even though ‘Love Again’ is a brand new song, it's got this level of nostalgia in it.”
“Your Woman” peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1997, and hit No. 1 in Lipa's home country of the U.K., where it is certified gold. Its production juxtaposes the original song’s despondent sound with upbeat, enduring energy, which Mishra says was inspired by the 1970s BBC series Pennies From Heaven, which mixed dramatic and comedic themes.
The song itself features lyrics providing various perspectives about love and relationships, which Mishra sais was meant to be a flip of Bowlly’s original “anti-woman” tune. While listening, it’s not clear whether the song is told from the perspective of a straight woman to a straight man, a lesbian to a straight man, or a straight man to a gay man -- resulting in warranted, yet intentional confusion.
“When you love somebody, it's not logical, it's not rational, and you think ‘This is ridiculous, I can never be with you, I can never be the person you need, why am I even feeling these feelings?’” Mishra says of the track’s conceptualization. “So, I was trying to write from all these different sides… I wanted people to go ‘this is catchy’ and sing it, but then be like, ‘What the hell?’ at the same time."
Mishra had developed some popularity within England’s underground music scene in the years leading up to the mainstream release of “Your Woman.” The song made it into the ears of BBC Radio 1 DJ Mark Radcliffe, who broadcast it on the radio station in 1997, catapulting Mishra from a relatively unknown musician to an overnight success story.
“Everything I'd done [up until then] was such a small amount [of fame],” Mishra says. “So when you have 20, 30 million people hearing your song at one go, that makes a big difference. Without that happening, [“Your Woman”] would not have been a hit, I can tell you that for sure.” While he was happy to have acquired enough money through the song to live a sustainable life, he notes that being signed to a major label (EMI) relinquished his necessary creative control, and the loss of his anonymity due to the song’s popularity drove him “mad.”
“[Fame] really badly affected my mental health, I went quiet for a while, I had quite bad depression,” he sighed. “I know if people hear me say this, they might go ‘Oh, boo hoo, he made a lot of money' -- and I did, but then if you don't believe in it, you can't really enjoy where you are… I was only very famous for about two weeks, but that was two weeks too long. I don't know how people are famous or why they choose to be.”
Mishra was dropped from EMI in 1997, and since then, he has worked consistently with indie labels in the years following the success of “Your Woman.” He’s released a number of projects in the past 20 years, including 2019’s Deemab and Polyamory, which feature the electro-jazz-tinged “This Could Be The Best Thing,” and the introspective, synth-pop-flavored “Christmas Eve 2019,” respectively. He notes he’s “happy” to be a one-hit wonder, as it’s “better than a no-hit wonder.” Despite this fact, he still has a devoted fanbase, and accumulates over 500,000 Spotify streams per month.
“My favorite thing about my music is one million, billion percent its honesty,” he says about the driving force behind his work today. “Over the last 20-odd years, I've had so many messages from people saying, ‘Oh hey, as a young gay kid growing up, your songs made me feel less alone.’ That's what I’m here for. Whatever you're doing, your job is to do the s--t that other people aren't gonna do, and then put it out into the world so people maybe connect with it.
“I feel so privileged [because] to be 100 percent honest with you -- I'm a mediocre singer, I'm a terrible guitarist, I'm a pretty good keyboardist, I'm a good producer, not amazing, but good,” he chuckles. “So, to be a professional musician and to be entertaining people 20 years after my biggest hit, I feel like I'm the luckiest person alive. Just to have one song that connects with people -- most musicians dream their entire lives of having that.”