Every few years, there is a girl that arises who turns the pop world on its head. In 1998, Britney Spears wowed us with a simple private school outfit and a backflip. In 2007, Rihanna gave us a glimpse of the Good Girl Gone Bad she was becoming. Now it's Dua Lipa's turn, whose self-titled debut album (out June 2) has all the makings to spin 2017 into gold.
The London-bred singer made waves last August with her first single, the sparkling "New Love." Since then, Dua Lipa has captured mainstream attention beyond her native country with songs like "Be The One," "Hotter Than Hell," "Last Dance" and this summer's "Blow Your Mind (Mwah)." She's doing it all with a twinkle in her eye, and it's not from the sequined jacket she was rocking when we met, but from a rumbling confidence. As she muses in "Blow Your Mind," you can't tame her.
"It’s something I feel like I really stuck to and it’s part of my personality to never really back down," Dua tells me in her velvet-draped voice after we escape the freezing temperatures in New York's Hudson Square into the backseat of her driver's car. "If anyone tried to tame me, then they’re not the right person to keep around. And being crazy is fun sometimes."
The singer has a natural sexuality that exudes from every inch of her persona. While it's never been forced, it's something she says happened over time.
"Body confidence issues have definitely played a big role in my life and having that has made me change my mindset," Dua says about being self-assured. "It now makes me see things in a different light. Being true to who you are is so important and being able to use your voice to empower that is great."
That confidence reflects in her performances, where she puts the audience under her charming spell. You wouldn't believe she's only been putting on shows in the U.S. for just under a year. Dua's recollection of one of her first showcases at SXSW's Fader Fort? "Abso-fucking-lutely terrified!" She continued, "But it was really scary because I kind of didn’t know what was going to happen and I felt like people didn’t know who I was. I had that worry in the back of my head like, 'I wonder if anybody is gonna show up.'”
After that March performance, the artist shook off that stage fright and embarked on October's Hotter Than Hell European tour and supported Troye Sivan on last month's Suburbia Tour. "It was quite an easy transition, but it was definitely a scary one," she says about making a major footing in the U.S. "I just came off tour with Troye and his fans have just been so welcoming and it felt so easy to perform in front of them on the East Coast. I feel like I’ve been spoiled because not all tours go that way. It’s been amazing and it’s exciting to see that I have fans so far away from home.
When I asked her if there are any fears of releasing her debut album next year, she was quick to point out a shift that often hinders artists: "The music industry is changing where music is based more on singles than albums, but it’s so important for me to get who I am as an artist out there through this album. I just can’t wait for everyone to hear it."
Dua explains the record blossomed from personal experiences, where she dives into relationships, hopes, sickness, being proud of who you are and being confident in your own skin. She's already an open book, but is prepping to dig a little deeper on a song called “No Goodbyes" that was written two months ago. Taking a deep sigh, she reveals "it’s about being scared of losing that person who you love and being like 'Let’s try to make it work for tonight but maybe one day we’ll still be friends.'"
Dua worked with a handful of producers for the album, but Stephen "Koz" Kozmeniuk (who previously helmed "Last Dance" and "Hotter Than Hell") did most of the production. The singer is known for shelling out up-tempo tracks, yet there will be ballads on the project including "No Goodbyes," “Garden” and “Genesis" that she refers to as "singer-songwritery moments." As of now, there aren't any features and she may keep it that way. Dua teamed up with Sean Paul for his dancefloor anthem "No Lie" last month and recently shot the video ("We’ve been hanging out loads!").
"The thing about features is it’s something that’s always really scared me," the 21-year-old says, "because I feel like artists can lose their identity by doing a song that really doesn’t reflect who they are. So if I ever get an offer I’m very careful with what I pick." But she does tell me she's down to explore dancehall further and work with Major Lazer in the future.
“The music industry is changing where music is based more on singles than albums”
That independent mindset flows through Dua's artistry, most notably in the "Blow Your Mind (Mwah)" video, in which her friends hold up "No means no" and "I'm not your babe" signs. With the unsettling U.S. presidential election results reveal, feminism is more important than ever. The singer called the video "a campaign for niceness that everyone could be a part of":
"I guess it’s just my feminist beliefs where I try to put it out there that we need to show who’s boss. We’ve been dominated by men for so long and it’s time for us to take over," she explains. "I hate getting too political and too serious but I like singing about subjects that mean a lot to me. I try to make them aware by either talking to my fans about them or putting messages in my videos. It’s really important to use your voice for the things you believe in."
Dua is among a rising group of young pop singers who are creating their own musical lane—but it's clear that she's her on a different path. "From the start, I hated the idea of being compared to someone. Initially I would get comparisons to Lana Del Rey because we have the same manager," she recalls. "But slowly people would start to realize how very different we were. That’s an amazing comparison to get, I don’t mind that at all! [laughs]. I’ve always wanted to have my own thing."
The singer's music is pure pop, but also honest and truthful. Yet her inspiration doesn't stem from the genre."I’m such a fan of hip-hop and when I moved to Kosovo at 11, everyone there listened to it. The first concert I went to was Method Man and Red Man. Then I went to 50 Cent, and then Snoop Dogg, Chamillionaire," Dua tells me.
"I wanted to add that flowiness that hip-hop has in their music. Now even listening to J. Cole’s album today, you just hear so much storytelling where you want to stop and listen to his poetry. That’s something I inspired to do. I want to really open up. And Koz really helped me find my sound."
Once the album drops, Dua's 2017 goals include a headlining tour in the States, another supporting tour and winning GQ's Man of the Year, a feat that more women should be honored with. While her brooding features and modelesque stature could easily lend itself to acting, that's not something she's set her heart on.
"I feel like I wouldn’t be a singer anymore. Music is my first and only love, and I really just want to stick to that. Right now enjoying being creative with photo shoots and stuff but I just want to be myself," she says. "And with acting, you have to embody being a character. I’m happy where I am at the moment. Next year I want to do this, but on a large scale. I definitely want to come back for festivals and I want to go to Japan [to perform.]"
Dua then reflected on 2016, which was a massive breakout year for her. "This year I’ve never done the same thing two days in a row, or every day I’ve done something for the first time. And it’s exciting," she tells me. "Being nominated for a BRIT Award, that was surreal. It was exciting to be recognized as part of the new wave of British artists doing their thing."
"I see in blue, I see in blue, I see in blue / Oh, when you see everything in red," Dua Lipa sings on "Be The One." When I ask what color best describes her mood and dreams at the moment, her eyes shine bright as she says "In my head, all I can see is gold and glitter! Maybe it’s the Christmas spirit and I’m really excited for it. It’s been a really great year and sometimes I forget to take a step back and look at all the things that happened. It’s such a nice time to reflect and get ready for the new year."
"You know I don’t dream?" she continues. "It’s fucking weird! It happens very rarely, or maybe I just don’t remember them. But for my goals, my head’s all sparkly at the moment. If glitter was a color, I’d go for that."
Below, listen to an episode of Fuse's Pop Chat podcast where Bianca and Emilee dive into the new wave of 2016's alt-pop girls: