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Our March Guide to Dublin City magazine had two covers, one was meteoric rapper Rejjie Snow and the other was one of the most listened to artists in the world right now. Tara Stewart caught up with Dua Lipa to discuss keeping control and misconceptions about female artists in pop music.
“I think people have misconceptions about female artists in the industry full stop. Especially the female artists that don’t present themselves with a guitar or piano…”
On the other end of the phone line is the cool, husky-voiced popstar we’ve needed for a long time.
She was raised on hip hop between London and Kosovo and was the most-streamed artist in Ireland and the UK in 2017. Dua’s parents are Albanian immigrants who left Kosovo for London during politically tumultuous times in the 90s.
When she was 11 her parents moved back but she struggled to settle there. At 15 she returned to London alone, enrolled in Sylvia Young Theatre School, started posting videos of her singing on YouTube and got into modelling. But it was her vocal ability that she felt was special, and as such that’s what she focused on.
Eventually Lana Del Rey’s manager discovered her and started to help develop her into a true artist.
It’s been a pretty hectic start to the year for Dua Lipa. All of January she was at a writing camp in Jamaica, the weekend before our interview she performed on Saturday Night Live which was hosted by Natalie Portman, she was in the studio recording with Mark Ronson and Diplo the week before, Katy Perry was at her most recent gig, she performed on the Ellen show and she broke a record with her video ‘New Rules’, becoming the youngest female artist to have a video reach one billion views on YouTube.
I’m surprised she had the time to talk to be honest. It seems inevitable that she is going to be the biggest popstar in the world by the end of this year. She’s 23 in August but before then she will have achieved more than some of the most revered stars could dream of in a lifetime.
She’s changing the rules of what it means to be a ‘popstar’. On this day in February, Dua and I talk about break ups, being in control of her life, love, confidence, her brief modelling career, growing up in Kosovo and more.
Before we got on the phone today I was on Instagram, and I saw a story you put up literally five minutes ago. It said ‘current mood, to mean boys, especially to those that are demonising women’, so tell me what pissed you off today?
Regardless of any situation, I think going through a breakup is tough, going through a break up in the public eye is even harder, going through a break up when people have already made up their mind about you, without even knowing the story behind it… Like they just demonise women because the woman is always wrong, but they have no idea why the break up even happened in the first place. And then I feel like boys can get away with a lot of shit… So that’s kind of what pissed me off!
Congratulations on your two number one singles in Ireland and your two nights in The Olympia Theatre that sold out in minutes…
Thank you so much, honestly the Irish audience has been so lovely and so supportive from the very beginning, I feel really, really lucky. It was crazy when those shows sold out so fast. It’s crazy and exciting.
So you just performed and co-hosted Saturday Night Live with Natalie Portman, how are you feeling after that?
Oh my god, it was amazing but terrifying. But yeah I guess it’s such a milestone, it’s definitely one of those big TV shows in the US that as an artist you always kind of dream about, and yeah it was just really, really exciting to do. I was shaking like a leaf, I was super nervous but it was good fun.
I saw you posted a picture of yourself, Mark Ronson and Diplo in the studio together. Are you guys working on music together or just hanging out?
We did something together, but that’s pretty much as much as I can tell you about it [laughs]… It was a really fun session and I’m excited for everyone to hear it.
I want to rewind back to your album. Fromthat record, what is the song that was your favourite to write, and possibly most emotional to make?
It’s tough because they all have special meanings in their own way. But I think maybe my favourite song I wrote on the album would be ‘Genesis’, it’s the one I’m closest to, and ‘No Goodbyes’ is the most emotional one, actually ‘Homesick’ as well, but ‘No Goodbyes’ [is the most emotional].
I saw you were asked before about what you’d be if you weren’t a musician and you said nothing, but you did have a brief stint as a model when you were a teen. What did you learn from that and would you do it again?
From that experience what I learnt was to really be happy in my own skin and be comfortable knowing when something isn’t right for you. Which is kind of what modelling was for me. I guess I discovered how much trying to change who I am, or change my body shape, or whatever, in order to get work is just not who I am. It was never my goal, all I wanted to do was sing.
But in a way in my head I thought [modelling] could be a stepping stone to music, but it never worked out for me. But that’s where I got my song ‘Blow Your Mind’ from, which is just about being confident with who you are and just being proud of yourself and not letting anybody put you in a box or make you fit a certain criteria. I think when you try to be something that you’re not, that’s where true unhappiness lies.
Do you feel like people have misconceptions about you?
I think people have misconceptions about female artists in the industry full stop. Especially the female artists that don’t present themselves with a guitar or piano to begin with, you know? I think a lot of the time, male artists instantly get a lot of credibility and they’re like, ‘oh well he’s a male artist so he definitely writes all of his own music’. People support male artists much differently. Whereas for women, I feel like you really have to fight to be taken seriously, because people instantly think that you’re manufactured. I think people are slowly starting to give us all a chance.
There are so many amazing female artists that are thriving in this industry for being who they are, and I think that is such a wonderful thing. There are so many great female artists from the UK and internationally and they’re all just being themselves and that’s the most important thing and it’s so wonderful to see.
You’ve said in the past that hip hop has been a big influence on you. What is your relationship with the genre?
Well, I really got introduced to hip hop when I moved to Kosovo for the first when I was 11 years old. Everybody there only listened to hip hop, I don’t quite know what it was, but they were so heavily influenced by it. So I guess it was all I really listened to for about four years of my life when I was living there. What I loved really, and I guess fell in love with more and more over time, was the story-telling behind it and the flow.
So when I went into the studio and started writing my own songs, I was trying to figure out to mix pop and hip hop into something I could identify with where I was able to tell a story and have a bit more of a flow in the verses but make essentially a pop chorus.
My inspiration really derived from heartbreak and sadness, but it was at the same time writing a sad story to a dance beat song, which made me call it ‘dance crying’.
You know, it’s been a whole whirlwind process of figuring out what my sound was but there are still artists like Kendrick Lamar and J Cole that inspire me every single day. I love the orchestration and the honesty and what I want to be is a good story teller more than anything.
Describe to me what the last 12 months feels like, looking back on your consistent rise?
It’s been crazy, I guess everything has exploded in a completely different way and it’s been really exiting and so interesting to see. It’s given me the most wonderful opportunities, like honestly I have the opportunity to travel the world and to see places I’ve never been to before. It’s actually been magical and 2018 has already been crazy and I think it’s going to be a really, really fun year.
I’m writing new music and there’s just gonna be a lot of fun stuff coming up this year that I’m really looking forward to.
Your stock is rising every single day, do you still feel in control?
Yeah absolutely, at the end of the day, my music is kind of what got me here, and me having control of it and telling my story is the most important part. I do really care about what goes out there and what I decide to do, I feel like it’s another extension of who I am as an artist. So I’m pretty much in control in that for sure.
Dua Lipa plays two sold out shows in The Olympia Theatre, Dublin on April 9 & 10.