It takes a lot of work to make pop music. So, what do you think of someone like Dua Lipa, whose song “New Rules” became a hit so quickly? You watch her make Album Number Two, though.
Dua Lipa is in the middle of a sentence when Jack Antonoff, the lead singer of Bleachers and a producer for many stars, interrupts our conversation in a nearby coffee shop after a photoshoot to praise the new pop star. “I had no idea he even knew who I was,” says the 22-year-old British woman, hiding her mouth with her hands.
It hasn’t even been a year since her self-titled first album came out, but this is the kind of thing Lipa should be used to. She’s only just starting out, but she’s already reached a point in her career that veterans work for years to reach. And she deserves it: Dua Lipa is a rare first-time success story. She has an undeniably huge hit single, “New Rules,” which is the catchiest way to teach your kids how to count to three since Sesame Street was popular. She also has a small but powerful collection of songs that mean business, like the Miguel duet “Lost in Your Light” and the guitar-driven sendoff “IDGAF.”
Dua Lipa is pretty much the coolest thing out there. She has a great ear for songwriting (I dare you to name an album with as many unbeatable choruses as hers) and a rich, slightly husky voice that makes her stand out among a group of young singers who sound the same and are all on Spotify. During our conversation in late November, she told GQ all about the crazy ride that was “New Rules,” what she thought about success, and how things might be a little different when she starts working on her second album.
Do you remember the first time a radio station played one of your songs?
I do. “Be the One” was the first song they heard on the radio. I knew it would be played on the radio because Annie Mac was giving it it’s first airing. I was in the studio that day, and because I knew exactly when she was on the radio, I took a cab and asked the driver to turn on the radio. I had the radio on the whole way home and kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting, but they never played the song. I got home, ran in as fast as I could, turned on the radio, and the song started playing. I fell to the floor and started crying. I couldn’t believe what was going on. It was a lot of fun.
How do you feel now that your songs are on the radio?
I’m still very excited, but I like to joke about it. I was probably on my way to the airport the last time I heard “New Rules.” I traveled to London. I was like, “This song is so great!” “Are you kidding me?” said everyone in the car.
How about we talk about “New Rules”? Did that come up during later talks?
That came from later sessions, and it was also the last, final push when I made my last two trips to L.A. and got “I Don’t Give a Fuck,” “Lost in Your Light,” “Homesick,” and “Begging.” It was really those last few trips that helped me finish and finish off the album, which I was very thankful for.
I kept putting off making the album. I wanted to hear a lot of new songs. I didn’t just want to put “The Best Of!” on it. So I had the chance to add a lot of new songs. So I wouldn’t forget, I got the word “Patience” tattooed on my hand.
But “New Rules”…
Really, what that song has done is crazy, because…
I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
Dua, every gay person saw this coming.
[laughs] Really? But, you know, I think it was the video. The album came out, and it did really well on streaming services, but I always knew the single would be the best-selling song. I didn’t think it would do this. But I don’t think anyone, unless they’re psychic, really expects a song to go as crazy as it does when it’s first released.
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When we last talked, you told me something interesting about writing songs. You told me back then—and you may think differently about this now—that you liked the songs you helped write the most. And you didn’t with “New Rules.”
I did not.
But that song seems to be part of who you are. It feels like yours. Has your view on writing songs changed?
I think it’s changed for sure. I’m still very proud of the fact that I can write my own songs. My story is being told by me. But when I heard “New Rules,” I felt like I had written it myself. I’m so close to Emily Warren, Caroline Ailin, and Ian Kirkpatrick, who all worked on it, that I feel like they wrote it just for me. I’m as proud of it as if I were there. I just feel like I know it so well. I guess I no longer see things that way. But, as I said, I still love writing in general. And I’m going to do it anyway. But it’s a song I feel like I can relate to on a personal level, and when I sing it, I feel like it becomes mine and I take on a different part of it.
How did you hear that song, to begin with?
Emily, Caroline, and Ian, all of whom had worked together, wrote the song. I was in the studio with Ian, and we sat down. He said, “Emily, Caroline, and I wrote a song, but we’re not going to play it for anyone. We’re just putting on a show for you.” And I was like, “Okay.” When I heard it, I told them to hold the phone. I really appreciate you playing it for me. I’m crazy about it.”
When did you know that the video was going to do what it did?
It was really fast because none of my videos had ever done anything like that. So many cool women artists were trying to get in touch. Lorde said it was one of her favorite videos, and Zara Larsson was trying to get in touch with her. “Girls supporting each other” is the message of the video, so it meant a lot to me when other female artists really had my back. I think everything went by so quickly. I wasn’t ready for it. But I still didn’t think it would reach the top spot in the U.K. I didn’t!
I never really wanted to measure my success by where I was on the charts. For me, it’s about the shows and watching them get better.
How do you think success should look?
It’s really about you. For me, success is just doing things I’m proud of. I feel like I still have little wins where I think, “Oh, I’m so glad I did that,” and it doesn’t always have to do with where I am on the charts.
I know it sounds crazy, but I had this crazy euphoric feeling when I was onstage in Antwerp. I don’t know what it was, but it just hit me. It was definitely the biggest show I’d played on that tour, and I suddenly realized that nobody was there to see me as a support act. And I just started crying on stage and couldn’t breathe [laughs]. But I told myself that I would never, ever forget that moment because it meant so much to me.
What does the genre of pop mean to you now?
It’s changed for sure. I think the people who make the music are really the face of it. It’s no longer because of the genre. Artists have a lot more room to be creative, and this week’s number one won’t sound anything like next week’s. I think that’s part of what makes what’s going on so magical. No one really knows what the next big thing will be.
Then, how do you think you fit into this new pop scene?
Well, I always want to be able to change, but I want to do it in a way that feels real and that I can connect with. My idea of pop has always been artists like P!nk, Christina Aguilera, Destiny’s Child, and Nelly Furtado. Pop also has a modern twist, where you can be a bit more adventurous and talk about different experiences, like P!nk did so well. I think that in our time, you can really talk about anything and everything in the hopes that someone will understand.
Where am I? I guess I just want to be able to make music that helps people, but I don’t want to be known as someone who only makes songs that help people. I want to be able to write songs that can also make you feel sad and kind of hurt. How people take it is up to them. I only want to have fun.
I don’t want people to forget about me. I want to keep putting out music, and you can’t say, “Oh, this is the song that’s going to the radio!” about every song you put out. It’s just putting out music because you love to put out music and mess around. There are just so many artists and so many great ideas out there that I think innovation is what pop music is all about.
When you say you don’t want to be forgotten, that has something to do with how we listen to pop music these days. “More, more, more” is the way it works. It’s like when Rihanna put out a new album every year for a while. We can’t get enough content. Have you ever had to watch out for that?
When I finished my first album and was flying back to London from Los Angeles, I knew I could close that chapter of my life and start writing about something else. If I can finish the record while I’m touring and doing other things, then I’ll always be able to release new music when the time is right.
I feel lucky to have been able to put out an album because I think they’re slowly dying out. I feel like now that I’ve put out my first album, I can make a second and third and keep going through the album cycle. But you could also do what Drake does, 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 everyone has their own way. There are so many ways to make music. I always feel like I want to be on the road or… I really don’t want to stop what I’m doing.
So, does the success of “New Rules” affect how you think about Album Two, or how the label thinks about it?
No. Well, I guess it might have done that in a way. Now I can really do whatever the hell I want.