Crooning pop bangers

She's the one

I’m on cloud nine!” Dua Lipa said. “I’m having the best time!” Lipa, an English songwriter, had just performed ‘Scared to Be Lonely’, her single with the electronic dance music producer Martin Garrix, on The Tonight Show, and she was still buzzing on the adrenaline during an interview over a cup of chamomile tea at a New York restaurant. The talk-show performance was one more methodical step in the internet-accelerated career of Lipa, 21, who is releasing her debut album, ‘Dua Lipa’.

She has already tabulated hundreds of millions of online and radio plays for her singles ‘Hotter Than Hell’, ‘Blow Your Mind (Mwah)’ and ‘Be the One’, while ‘Scared to Be Lonely’ has garnered more than 250 million streams.

Lipa is a big-voiced, broad-stroke songwriter and performer who was raised on pop bangers and is now writing her own. Her idols are songwriters like Pink and Nelly Furtado who sling giant riffs and choruses and heart-on-sleeve verses, along with hip-hop storytellers like Kendrick Lamar and J Cole. She often describes her music as “dark pop” or “dance-crying.”

A personal touch

“All the sad things that happen are the things that linger in my mind the longest, the things that I feel like I want to write about,” she said. “But then at the same time, I like dancing to it. So, it’s finding that mixture between lyrically it being very personal and inspired by events, and then being able to also listen to it and dance along and not think about what the lyrics can mean.”

Her voice has a husky power and pungency akin to Adele, Rihanna and Pink; her songs can be vows of attraction or counterattacks in a lovers’ quarrel. “Heartbreak makes good stories, so sometimes, as much as heartbreak sucks, it makes for good writing,” she said.

In ‘Hotter Than Hell’, she taunts a lover who can’t resist her. ‘We’re hot like hell/Does it burn when I’m not there?’ she sings over a thumping beat that swells into big-room electronic dance music. Lipa wrote ‘Hotter Than Hell’ to be “everything that somebody made me feel I wasn’t,” she said. “This guy just made me feel like I wasn’t good enough, always kicking me down in a way emotionally. And I was in the mood to write a really sad song. But when I started writing lyrics I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to let him hear how he made me feel.’ I didn’t want to show weakness — that’s not what I wanted to portray. And I was like: ‘OK, I’m going to flip the script. I’m going to make it seem as if he couldn’t get enough of me’.”

She goes on, “And instantly, the second I started writing, I started feeling better about the situation because I went into this imaginative world where everything had changed.”

The release of Lipa’s album comes after two years of nearly constant touring and six years of determined groundwork. She was born in London to an ethnic Albanian family that had emigrated from Kosovo before its civil war in the 1990s; her father, Dukagjin Lipa, is a rock musician, and she speaks Albanian.

When she auditioned for the choir in elementary school, her voice was too low to reach the high notes, and the director told her she couldn’t sing. But she persevered, attending the Sylvia Young Theater School on weekends.

When she was 11, Lipa and her family moved to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.

But Lipa wanted to be a pop singer, and at 15, she persuaded her parents to let her return to London. There she started uploading performances to YouTube, starting with cover versions of songs by Christina Aguilera, Joss Stone and others. “You should check out my covers,” she would tell anyone with music connections, resulting in local gigs and demo sessions. By 2012, the 17-year-old Lipa was also posting songs she had written on her SoundCloud page. She is still a busy, constant presence on social media, often responding directly to fans. “I’m a bit obsessed with social media because I’ve always been involved with it,” she said. “I just do it all on my own.”

Popular all over

Eventually, her music reached Lana Del Rey’s manager Ben Mawson, and in 2015, Lipa was signed to Warner Bros. Records. A synth-pop song she quietly released online in 2015, ‘Be the One’, was unexpectedly picked up by radio stations in Germany and then across Europe; it now has 125 million Spotify streams. Lipa, meanwhile, was assembling the rest of an album, collaborating in studios across continents with musicians including Chris Martin of Coldplay, with whom she wrote a ballad called ‘Homesick’.

Her immediate future is mapped out: touring for the rest of the year followed by a break for songwriting in early 2018. “I’m ready to write about the next chapter,” she said. “By shielding myself through music, I’ve been able to create this overly confident persona that can say anything and is not afraid of it. It’s made me feel empowered, and from the songs I’ve released, the fans have come back and told me that they feel empowered by it. If I’m able to use music as a shield, I’ll just keep doing that.”

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