Over the past two years, Top 40 radio has been dominated by downtempo hits from artists like Post Malone, Halsey and Billie Eilish. Which is why Erik Bradley, music brand manager at WBBM and WBMX Chicago, clearly recalls the first time he heard Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” about a month before its November 2019 release. “I instantly thought it was going to be one of the biggest songs of the year,” he says. By February, more high-profile disco-infused tracks arrived with Lady Gaga’s comeback, “Stupid Love,” and the Justin Timberlake–SZA collaboration “The Other Side,” off the Trolls World Tour soundtrack. Now, not only are all three songs in the top 20 of Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 chart, but they’re also bringing energy back to top 40.
“It seems like it all came at once,” says R Dub, director of programming at XHTZ and XHRM San Diego. He says Lipa in particular has the ability to keep this trend going: “She’s the consummate entertainer — and the door was wide open for a new superstar to emerge.” Bradley agrees, saying that Lipa has been crafting this energetic throwback vibe for some time, pointing to “Be the One” and her U.S. breakthrough, “New Rules.”
Both R Dub and Bradley cite a handful of other artists who have recently tapped into retro production, like Doja Cat’s “Say So,” The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” and BENEE’s “Supalonely.” While R Dub believes this slew of disco-pop tracks is “absolutely a trend,” he says, “the question is, how big will it grow and how long will it last? It will be interesting to see if artists like Cardi B and Drake find their way over to a disco-sounding track.”
And while R Dub isn’t sure if there has been a true disco phase since the disco era itself, he says songs like soulDecision’s “Faded” in 2000 and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” in 2013 “attempted to stoke the fire, but with little success of actually igniting an inferno.” Now, it seems like Lipa may be the one to do just that; “Don’t Start Now” is at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at the Radio Songs summit. As Bradley says, it “became this juggernaut that can’t be stopped.”