Dua Lipa’s rapid rise to worldwide success has been unexpected, stealth almost. Certainly no one, perhaps not even Dua herself, could have predicted such an extraordinary trajectory since she entered quietly, but assertively, into pop music’s consciousness in 2015 with her debut single, New Love. Dua became the most streamed female artist on Spotify in early 2018 – 2017’s outstanding piece of pop, New Rules has amassed over one billion streams alone, while the video for the single IDGAF has racked up half a billion views on YouTube. In 2018, Dua won two Brit Awards, followed by another this year, and she also took home two Grammys in 2019. Not bad for a girl from north London (via Kosovan parents, who sought refuge in the UK in 1992).
Dua’s success isn’t simply accolade and awards driven; her self-titled album was – and remains – an absolute joy to listen to. The record delivers tune after tune, from heart-bursting ballads to self-empowerment anthems, with critics describing it as “a terrific debut” and the singer herself a “legitimate pop sensation”. Dua, who phones from LA on the morning of the Vogue shoot, is both considered and self-deprecating about her success, noting she wrote many of the songs as a teenager. “For the first record all I could do really was a lot of dance-crying,” she laughs (she does this often). “It was so much easier for me to write things that made me unhappy because they were things that stuck in my mind the longest.” Having just turned 24 in August, she promises her second album will be a little more “conceptual” and “mature”, before deciding with another exclamation that it’s also “like a dancercise class. It’s just fun!”.
Dua’s always had drive; after moving from London back to her parent’s home of Kosovo at the age of 12, she persuaded her former-rock-singer dad and tourism-industry-working mum to let her return alone to the UK capital when she was 15. She stayed with a family friend and studied at Sylvia Young Theatre School, sustaining a living by modelling and posting spirited Jamie xx and Mila J covers on YouTube. Four years later, Dua was on the periphery of fame, not just in the UK, but uncharacteristically for a British artist, in the US too. Since becoming super successful she’s been using her platform for positive change; whether setting up the Sunny Hill Academy in the capital of Kosovo, Pristina, or speaking out about gender disparity in the music industry. Dua is a pop star with purpose, a young woman determined to challenge and address global issues, to empower her young fanbase.
Here, she chats to Vogue from Los Angeles about her rise in the industry, and what’s next.
We are, I believe, a matter of weeks before you release your second album. How are you feeling?
“I’m currently in LA finishing off songs and I’m really excited. I’m so bloody nervous (laughs). With the first record, there were no expectations, but now there’s a lot more pressure. Everyone talks about how difficult the crazy second record is, but in terms of writing it’s been way easier. I feel like I really know myself a lot better. I know what I want to write about, I know how to express my feelings. I know how to talk about things and to allow myself to be vulnerable.”
Your debut was such a solid pop debut. How do you reflect on Dua Lipa four years later?
“It was such a big part of my life. What I love about that record is that it’s a pop record but it’s so eclectic. I experimented with so many different sounds. My new record is still pop and it is really fun, but it is definitely more conceptual. I had the album title and went from that. After listening to it, it kind of feels like a dancercise class (laughs). I’m not trying to take myself too seriously but as a record it does feel more mature. I’m so excited to get going again. I’m ready! We’re on the countdown now.”
You’ve mentioned before that Prince influences the new record.
“They are definitely interesting, nostalgic feelings. I ended up listening to Prince, Outkast, old Gwen Stefani and No Doubt. It sounds like such a crazy clash of styles, but that’s just how I like to do things. Juxtaposition has always been a common factor in everything I do. It’s very ‘me’.”
I was reading through some of old reviews of your first album, and The Guardian gave it three stars. I was surprised because I think it’s so clearly a very solid, strong pop record. Do you read reviews?
“I do sometimes, especially when it’s a live show because I put so much time and effort into every little part of it. Sometimes I read certain reviews and I laugh because there’s so much gender inequality. There are shows I’ve been to – I’m not going to name names – of men who get up, sing their songs and don’t really do much but by god they get their five stars! As a woman you get criticised on so many different aspects of your live show. I feel if a man was to do what I do onstage they’d get stellar reviews. As women we have to work a little bit harder, and that’s not something I shy away from. I’m always up for proving people wrong.”
How else have you experienced gender disparity as a musician?
“There are so many incredible new female artists and so much incredible music coming from strong, amazing women that we’re making it too hard to ignore. It has been great seeing a lot more women being nominated at awards shows and winning really big. People are slowly starting to wake up but there is still so much inequality in the world. Sometimes I feel because I’ve been brought up in London I live in this little bubble. When I came to America, and travelled to other parts of the world, I saw it so much more. I get shocked that this is a reality. These are things I constantly speak out and fight for. Even when I have the understanding of inequality, it still shocks me.”
You come from a legacy of protest, your grandfather was Seit Lipa, the head of the Kosovo Institute of History, who fought to ensure people’s stories were told.
“Well yes, I come from an immigrant family and from a family who have always told me to remember my roots and be proud of that. With everything that’s happening in the world, it comes very naturally to me to stand up and talk about injustices. I’m very outspoken about the things that are important to me.”
You and your family are really investing in Kosovo with the Sunny Hill Festival and Academy, which supports new talent…
“Our goal from the very beginning was to one day open up an Academy in Kosovo, which we’ve been able to do after the festival this year. We wanted to build rehearsal studios and a recording studio for demos and podcasts, a creative safe space for kids to get off the streets. It’s a completely free experience. It’s taken a few years as we had to talk to the mayor of Pristina to give us a space. Last year, we gave the money we made from the festival to NGOs that were really close to our heart, lots of young independent music festivals, the philharmonic choir in Kosovo and also Down Syndrome Kosovo. But this year we were finally able to create this space that will properly be open in 2020. The Quincy Jones Music Academy in Los Angeles were really kind and gave us three music scholarships for three Kosovan kids from Sunny Hill to do a foundation in LA in songwriting and producing, which we’ll hopefully be able to do every year. There’s so much talent in Kosovo, so we really want to make sure kids have the opportunities.”
Miley Cyrus recently headlined the festival. What does she smell like?
“She smells like a sexy glittery rock star, whatever that smells like!”
What new names in music are you excited by?
“I love Rosalía, Lizzo, Billie Eilish, this kid called Barny Fletcher I think is amazing, Tierra Whack, Loyle Carner, the new J Cole Revenge of The Dreamers III album is fucking amazing, I’m obsessed with it. Brockhampton have been putting out some really cool songs. Megan Thee Stallion is so good! Oh and the new Bon Iver music is really cool, as is the new Jai Paul music. As you can see it’s a mixture, it’s all over the shop. I love music and I’m so inspired by different sounds and everything that’s happening. DaBaby is a new rapper that I didn’t really know about, who I just got into, and he’s fun. The new Skepta album is amazing. The Dave album…”
You’ve worked with a real eclectic line-up of people from Blackpink to Wizkid to Diplo. Who have you most liked working with, who have you learnt the most from?
“It’s hard because everybody that I worked with, I ended up becoming really good friends with…”
Wait, even Sean Paul?
“He does send me little messages sometimes, yes (laughs)… We are friends, he’s lovely. That’s crazy for me because I remember listening to Baby Boy in Year 3 and now being… mates! I love working with Calvin [Harris], he’s someone I hang out with. I go to the studio and play him new music because I like to get his feedback. There’s something quite magical in the music industry at the moment where it feels like artists are really supporting each other. There’s not so much competitiveness because everyone’s unique and carving their own lane. It’s a good energy.”
You’re up there with the most streamed female artists in the world…
Your songs collectively have been streamed over 5 billion times. How do you think about your success in these terms?
“I’m just grateful that people want to listen to my songs and play them at parties or while they’re getting ready. The numbers are crazy and while I’ve been in the writing process, I haven’t thought about it for a while so it’s… amazing. It pushes me to work harder. I just want to come back and make people proud. The last show I did was in December, so it’s been eight, nine months where I’ve just been writing in my little abyss, my little cave.”
Does that add extra pressure when it comes to creating a new record?
“Of course, but at the same time there’s only so much I can do. When I make music, I listen to it over and over again and when I do videos, I watch them over and over again. But the second it’s out in the world, it belongs to somebody else. That’s the way I see it. I like for people to be able to take my songs and have it make sense for them. The music has to live by itself. I’m reluctant to explain what a song means to me because I don’t want my story to influence that.”
What’s your go-to break-up song?
“Retrograde by James Blake is a song that I always go to. It’s one of those songs that suits every moment, it’s a really special song. Sometimes when Mercury feels like it’s in retrograde – even when it’s not and it’s like what the fuck is happening (laughs) – it feels like the perfect song to accompany everything.”
Your parents seem so in love. As a young person, in the age of dating apps and DM’s, can your generation experience love like your parents did?
“I think so. My parents have set some crazy unrealistic expectations of love (laughs). They’re so tight and the way me and my siblings get to see their bond – we’re very fortunate in that aspect. It’s probably why we love so hard and why we’re very open. Sometimes that’s a blessing and a curse but mostly it’s a blessing. It’s so much nicer to be able to live life being open to love rather than constantly living in fear of it. People can get hurt but at the same time there’s a lot of good in the world. I’m a firm believer in love. You just need to find the right person to spend your life with.”
You’ve been photographed in everything from a Cross Colours bucket hat to Valentino couture. How do you describe your style?
“Messy (laughs)? Eclectic? Whatever’s not crumpled in my suitcase that day? It’s honestly about wearing whatever I feel comfortable in. When I’m on tour I like to support new, young designers on onstage whenever I have the opportunity. If it’s a gala – like when I went to Amfar [The Foundation for AIDS Reasearch], I loved wearing that big Valentino couture gown. I like playing around. I don’t really have a one-word answer for my personal style, it just is. It just lives in its own little world. One day I want to wear a cute little dress and the next day you’ll see me head-to-toe in trackies.”
Do you have one key-piece?
“A good pair of jeans are really hard to come by, ones that work for your body. When you’ve got that trusty pair of jeans that go with anything, then you’re onto a winner!”
Dua Lipa Just Pulled Off the Internet’s Most Memed Gown
Speaking of which, what inspired your new collection with Pepe Jeans?
“It was all very much 1990s London and festivals. I’m a Glasto enthusiast. I’ve gone for the last five years in a row. I love it. I love the freeness, the youthfulness, the carefreeness… All the clothes in this collection are an extension of my personal style mixed in with what I think my friends and my fans would love. It’s been so fun to do this and I’m excited to see what everyone thinks.”
So are you the next Victoria Beckham?
“(Laughs) Well, I’ve got the Posh Spice haircut, so who knows, this might be my calling! Nah, I’ll stick to music but this is a fun side project where I get to be creative, that’s what I love to do. Dressing up and raiding dressing-up boxes has always been something I’ve been into so getting to create my own line is really special.”
You’ve achieved so much as a pop star but conversely you must experience an awful lot of pressure too. How do you take care of your mental wellbeing, how do you make sure you’re ok?
“My family and my friends keep me grounded. I’ve also learnt to do social media in bite sizes. Social media has always been around for my generation, so for me it’s really fun to post pictures, tweet and update. But I’ve also received a lot of backlash for talking about political things close to my heart. I’m not one to say sorry, I like to stand by things I believe in, so sometimes I delete the app so I don’t start second-guessing myself. Trolls can very easily give you anxiety.
The thing that keeps me on social media – and this is more Twitter than Instagram – is my connection with my fans. They’re the reason why I download the app again, so I can talk to them. It’s the foundation that we’ve built everything on. My fans know me so well now that I get messages saying, ‘We know you need some time out from Twitter, we just wanted to tell you we missed you’. It’s like everything in life; it’s about finding and maintaining a healthy balance. You can’t always get it right, but you have to try.”
Pepe Jeans x Dua Lipa AW19 capsule collection is available 3 September from PepeJeans.com.
Photographer: Cameron McCool @ Serlin Associates
Stylist: Max Ortega Govela @ CLM
Hair stylist: Sami Knight @ Starworks
Make-up artist: Lilly Keys @ Exclusive Artists
Nail artist: Kimmie Kyees @ Celestine
Executive producer: Carolina Takagi
Art Director: Sandra Leko
With special thanks to Carl Fysh
Originally published by British Vogue
CreditPhotography: Cameron McCool