Dua Lipa Is Changing the Rules of Pop Music

Dua Lipa is mid-sentence when Bleachers frontman (and producer to the stars) Jack Antonoff interrupts our post-pH๏τoshoot conversation in a nearby coffee shop to heap praise on the newly minted pop sensation. “I had no idea that he even knew who I was,” the 22-year-old Brit whispers, hiding her mouth behind her hands in genuine shock.

It’s not even a year since the release of her self-тιтled debut album, but it’s the sort of encounter Lipa should get used to. She’s already at the point in her young career that more seasoned vets spend years striving to hit. And she’s earned it, too: With an undeniably mᴀssive hit single under her belt—we’re talking about “New Rules” here, the catchiest way to teach your kids how to count to three since Sesame Street’s heyday—and a modest-sized but powerful collection of songs that mean business (the eternally groovy Miguel duet “Lost in Your Light” and the guitar-licked sendoff “IDGAF” among them), Dua Lipa is a rare first-time-around success story.

With an ear for songwriting (I dare you to name an album that’s as chock-full of unassailable choruses as hers) and a rich, subtly husky voice that stands out among a homogenized, Spotify-primed crop of fellow young singers, Dua Lipa’s basically the coolest thing around. During our chat in late November, she told GQ all about the wild “New Rules” ride, her thoughts on success, and how things might be a little different as she begins work on her second album.

Do you remember the first time you heard a song of yours on the radio?


I do. The first song they played on the radio was “Be the One.” I knew it was gonna get played on the radio because it was being premiered by Annie Mac. I was in the studio that day, and because I knew exactly what time her radio slot is, I treated myself to a cab and I made sure: “Please can you turn the radio on?” The whole way home, I had the radio on and I was waiting, and I was waiting, and I was waiting, and they still hadn’t played the song. I’d arrived home, I quickly ran through the door, turned the radio on, and the song started playing! I collapsed on the floor and I was in tears, and I just couldn’t believe what was happening. It was so exciting.

Do you feel differently now, hearing your songs on the radio?

I still feel just as excited, but I tend to make jokes about it. So I guess the last time I heard [“New Rules”], I was on my way to the airport. I was in London. I was like, “…I fucking love this song.” And everybody in the car was like, “Are you kidding me?”

Let’s talk about “New Rules.”

Did that come out of later sessions?

That came out of later sessions, and it was also the last, final push where I did my last two trips to L.A. and I got “I Don’t Give a ҒUCҜ” [her single “IDGAF”], I did “Lost in Your Light,” and I did “Homesick” and “Begging.” It was really those last few trips that really kind of solidified and closed the album for me, which I was really grateful for.

I’d been postponing the album. I wanted lots of new songs on there. I didn’t just want to fill it with “The Very Best Of!” So it gave me the opportunity to add lots of new songs. It’s also the reason I got the tattoo “Patience” on my hand: So I can remember. But yeah, “New Rules”…it’s crazy, really, what that song’s done, because…I couldn’t have made this sнιт up.

Dua, all the gays saw this one coming. [laughs] Really? But I think it was the video, you know? The album came out, and it definitely streamed really well, but I always knew it was going to be the single. I just didn’t expect it to do this. But I don’t think anybody really expects a song to go as crazy as it does when they first release it, unless they’re a psychic.

The last time you and I chatted, you said something interesting about songwriting. What you told me then—and you may have a different perspective on it now—is that you preferred the songs of yours that you’d had a hand in writing. And with “New Rules,” you didn’t.
I did not. But that song feels imbued with your DNA.

It feels like yours. Has your perspective changed on songwriting?

I think it’s definitely changed. I still take a lot of pride in being able to write my own songs. My story’s coming from me. But “New Rules” is a song that I felt like I had been in the room and written. I’m so close with Emily [Warren] and Caroline [Ailin] and Ian [Kirkpatrick], who had worked on it, that I feel like it was a song they had written with me in mind. I’m proud of it as if I had been in that room. I just feel so closely to it. I guess I don’t have that perspective anymore. But like I said, I still love writing everything. And I’m still going to do it. But it’s a song that I feel like I can relate to on a personal level, that I also feel that when I do perform it, it becomes mine and I embody it in a different way.

How did that song get to you in the first place?

The song actually was really Emily and Caroline and Ian, who had worked together. And I was in the studio with Ian, and we sat down and he was like, “Me, Emily, and Caroline have written a song, but we’re not playing it to anyone. We’re only playing it to you.” And I was like, “Okay.” And I heard it and I was like, “Hold the phone. I am so glad you played it to me. I am obsessed.”

When did you realize, when you put the video out, what it was gonna do?

It was really quick, because none of my videos had ever done anything like that. So many cool female artists were reaching out. Lorde said it was one of her favorite videos she’d seen, and Zara Larsson was reaching out. The message of the video is “Girls supporting each other,” so it meant so much to me when other female artists truly had my back. I think it all just happened so fast. I didn’t expect it. But I still didn’t expect it to go to number one in the U.K. I didn’t! I never really wanted to base success on charts and chart positioning. For me, it’s really about the shows and seeing them grow.

What does success look like for you?

It’s very personal. Success to me is just doing things that I’m really proud of. I feel like I still have little mini-victories, where I’m like, “Oh, I’m so happy that I did that,” and it doesn’t necessarily mean the chart positioning.

I know it’s crazy, but I was onstage in Antwerp, and I don’t know what it was, but it was this crazy euphoric feeling when I was onstage where it just hit me. It was definitely the biggest show I’d played on that tour, and it just hit me that I wasn’t supporting on that stage, but everybody was there to see me. And I just welled up and I was crying on stage [laughs] and I couldn’t breathe. But I said to myself to never forget that moment, ever in my life, because it really meant so much to me.

What does pop, as a genre, mean to you today?

It’s definitely changed. I think the artists are really the face of the music they make. It’s no longer the genre that dictates it. Artists have a lot more creative leeway, and the number one this week is gonna sound nothing like the number one next week. I think that’s what’s so magical about what’s happening. You never really know what’s going to be the next big thing.

How do you feel like you fit into that new pop landscape then?

Well, I always want to be able to reinvent myself, but in a way that feels authentic to me and something that I can identify with. My idea of pop has been P!nk and Christina Aguilera and Destiny’s Child and Nelly Furtado, but it’s also taking that modern-day twist, where you’re allowed to be a bit more adventurous and you’re allowed to talk about different experiences, personal experiences, which is something that P!nk did so perfectly. I feel in a time like now, you are really able to talk about everything and anything in the hope that somebody might be able to relate to it.

My place? I guess I just want to be able to make music that’s empowering, but I also don’t want to limit myself to being someone that just makes empowering songs. I want to be able to write songs that can also bring you down, and they kind of hurt at some point. It depends how people take it. I just want to play around.

I don’t want to be forgotten. I want to keep releasing music, and not every single song that you release is gonna be like, “Oh, this is the song going to the radio!” It’s just releasing music because you love releasing music, and you love playing around. There’s just so many artists and so much inspiration to be had that’s so brilliant that I think that’s what pop music is, is innovative.

When you say you don’t want to be forgotten, that links up with how we consume pop now. The model is: “More, more, more.” It’s like that stretch in which Rihanna put an album out every single year. We’ve become insatiable for content. Is that something you’ve had to be mindful of?
The moment I finished the first album and I was flying back from L.A. to London, I felt this sense of clarity that I was able to close that chapter in my life and write about completely new experiences. If I can finish the record while I’m touring and doing stuff and always be able to come with new music whenever the time is right, so be it.

I think I’ve been so lucky to be able to release an album, because I feel like they’re slowly dying. I feel like, because I released my first one, this allows me to have a second and a third and keep going on the album cycle. But you could also do the Drake thing, which is to always release songs while you’re working on an album and they don’t have to have anything to do with the album when it comes out.

I think everybody’s got a different way. There’s so many possibilities in music. I feel like my aspect of it is, I always either want to be on the road or…I don’t really want to take a break.

So, then, has the success of “New Rules” in your mind—or in the label’s mind—come into play when it comes to talking about Album Two?
No. Well, actually, it might have done in a way, I guess.

Author: Rana Abdullah

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