She has dominated the charts with instant hits, sold out international shows and sang on stage with her dad in front of 18 000 people. Music editor Bill Baker meets Dua Lipa.
Duality appears, without irony, to thread its way through Dua Lipa’s life. The majority of her teens were spent between London, where she attended the Sylvia Young Theatre School, and her home country of Kosovo. Moving back to the UK in pursuit of a music career, 2016 found Lipa up for Brits Critics Choice award, a BBC Sound Of poll nod and, more recently, the UK recipient of the European Border Breakers Award. Her first UK show was to 140 people in Bristol; 9 months later would see a Kosovo outdoor headline show to 18 000 fans (the equivalent of London’s O2 arena).
Living under a rock would be the only excuse for not hearing either Hotter Than Hell or Blow Your Mind (Mwah) on repeat during the course of last year. She’s left her stamp on pop as quickly as she entered the scene, marking herself as much as a ‘one to watch’ as a fully-fledged pop star, seemingly simultaneously.
“Everything’s been step by step, especially with the London shows growing from Oslo [Hackney] to Heaven to KOKO. It gradually grew in a healthy way and it is really exciting to see how I’ve grown as an artist, for sure,” she says, before a brief pause of laugher to herself. “Especially from my first show of being an absolute ball of nerves and now to being a small ball of nerves.”
The brisk step up in crowd sizes is a feat many an artist would be lucky to achieve in double the time. Lipa had a sell-out 1500 capacity KOKO show under her belt before 2016 was up. “I grew up around Camden and went to school in Kentish Town so to be able to perform there on the stage instead of being in the audience was really, really cool. I saw loads of my favourite artists there – Bruno Mars, Schoolboy Q, J Cole,” she lists.
All this, without the treacherous debut album out the way yet, highlights just how much of a big deal Dua Lipa is. The aforementioned first record is, however, still pretty far off (and now accompanied with a June release date). “Oh god, I mean, look – I have one opportunity at getting this album out,” elaborating on the inclusion of the “possible new artists” joining the record as she told Twitter, causing the delay. “I really, really wanted to give myself that time to possibly make the album better and have some more additions, you know? All I really wanted to do was change it.”
Delayed or not, her debut self-titled effort is shaping up rather nicely. New Love still packs the punch it caused on first listen, even when sandwiched between the more chart-friendly numbers. Bad Together proves Lipa’s far more capable of a stellar chorus than her past few releases would suggest while Thinkin’ Bout You ropes in the duality element, switching the power pop for soulful balladry and pulling it off just as well.
The art of collaboration seems a key element in the rise of Dua Lipa. “It’s just interesting to see other people’s thoughts and ideas in order to create something that’s new and exciting,” she replies when questioned on how easy sharing the writing process is. “I think it’s so fun to be able to collaborate and you make such good friends. Andrew Wyatt is one of my favourite people to write songs with. I’m actually going to L.A in a couple of weeks so we get to just hang out, write and chill.”
Wyatt, the main man behind Miike Snow and numerous song writing/production credits (Charli XCX, Florence + The Machine), is on New Love duties whilst Lipa’s recent collaboration with undeniable legend Sean Paul on No Lie heralded her first ‘feat.’ moment. “Sometimes I get a bit scared about features. I feel like they can change who an artists is or what they do,” she elaborates. “It was always very important for me from the beginning to get my own music out first before thinking about collaborating and making sure that it’s on a song that I really, really love and feel very personal to.”
Duality crops up again, reflecting the balance of her studio and touring time and its importance to the whole Dua Lipa package. “You know, after being in the studio for such a long time, you start to crave getting out, doing interviews and playing live shows and do all the other fun stuff. After doing that for a long time, you crave the studio and want to get back into writing about all these things you’ve done. It did come to a point where I was on my US tour where I said I needed to sit down and write so I did that whilst on the road. So it really depends.”
The tour in question happened to be a support slot for Troye Sivan’s U.S Suburbia Tour, an artist already a figurehead within pop’s current scene and whose LGBT+ teen following unsurprisingly cottoned on to Lipa in an instant. “I think no matter what fans or what audience you’re connecting to, you should show support for the LGBT+ community,” she states with confidence.
“Troye has done a lot for the LGBT+ community. A portion of his shows went to charity. I think it’s amazing to use your voice as an artist to help. You need to speak to people and in times of need, you need to be someone’s shoulder to lean on. You need to let your fans and your listeners know that you are there for them, that you are going through this together. That’s what makes my bond with my fans so special, that we are there for each other and if they’re upset, they do message me. It’s a really sweet community and I’m so grateful for what they’ve done for me so whatever I can do to help back, I will.”
A respectable 18,000 of said fans showed up to her headline show in Pristina, back in Kosovo in August. “It was insane, I couldn’t believe it myself but it was really, really special,” proclaiming with an obvious excitement. “I decided to surprise my dad [Kosovar Albanian rock singer Dukagjin Lipa] by covering one of his songs for the encore and everyone in the audience started to join in and sing along. My dad happened to be backstage so I made him sing the second verse with me. He couldn’t believe what was happening but it was really nice to have the opportunity to share the stage with my dad.”
Topping a show of that size so early into your career, it’d only seem natural to set yourself a new goal. It’s a thought she ponders on for a short period. “I mean, my one and only goal is music at the minute so I think it’d be a good idea just to focus on that and not be distracted by anything else. But who knows…” Her aspirations for 2017, however, are crystal clear. “Release an album, head out on tour, go everywhere. Just create some amazing memories, ones that I will never forget.” Duality may have followed her to this point, but 2017 is singularly hers for the taking.