“It was all so confusing!” says an excited Dua Lipa. “I was in London yesterday during the day, then got on a flight and arrived in New York and I couldn’t figure out whether my album had come out yesterday or the day that I landed.
“But it was only yesterday!”
The 21-year-old English-Albanian artist is buzzing. She has just performed in New York at the Governors Ball festival, just a day, it turns out, after releasing her self-titled debut album. As many roads to debut records are, Dua Lipa’s path to the album’s unveiling was filled with stops and starts. Originally slated for release in September 2016, the album was pushed back twice more until finally dropping on June 2nd this year.
Lipa’s patience though has paid dividends, with singles like ‘Be the One’, ‘Hotter than Hell’ and ‘Scared to Be Lonely’ having garnered millions of streams in the meantime, her fans clamouring to hear more from the young, big-voiced pop star. By the time she took to the Gov Ball stage, they were already singing her words back to her.
“It felt good to be able to perform so many of the new songs from the album,” Lipa tells Music Feeds after the performance. “What was surreal was seeing people sing the new songs and I’m like, ‘they just fucking came out yesterday’. That was cool.”
Dua Lipa is ambitious, undeniably talented and thoughtful about her role in the world. Having grown up in London to Albanian parents who emigrated from Kosovo in the 1990s, her early musical diet varied from Britpop to R’n’B, from pop to the rock music of her father Dukagjin Lipa. All those influences have found their way into her debut record, an album abounding with pop bangers sporting a darker, R’n’B inspired underbelly.
In 2008, an 11-year-old Dua Lipa moved with her family back to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. She stayed for four years before convincing her parents to let her return to London in pursuit of her musical ambitions. Just over half a decade on, those ambitions are being realised tenfold, but Lipa is not about to forget her roots.
Last year, Lipa founded the Sunny Hill Foundation, a charity organisation working towards social equality and forging creative outlets for people in Kosovo. She also played a concert in Pristina for nearly 20,000 people – her father, at one point, joining her on stage – and donated all ticket sales to Sunny Hill.
Music Feeds sat down with Dua Lipa in New York recently to chat about the road to her debut, the light and dark in her music and using her voice to give back.
Music Feeds: Congratulations! The album only just came out and fans here seemed to really take to the new songs. Do you feel like it’s gearing up to something?
Dua Lipa: Hopefully something big. It feels good, it feels good. Everything has grown in such a nice and natural way, I’m just really excited about it.
MF: I think I’ve heard you refer to your music it as “dark pop” – there’s a mix of pop and R’n’B sounds and a lot of different genres. What draws you to that juxtaposition?
DL: I guess just the different types of music I’ve been brought up on. My parents listened to a lot of Oasis, Radiohead, Sting and The Police and I listened to Nelly Furtado and Pink and Christina Aguilera. When I moved to Kosovo I listened to hip hop. Now I’m obsessed with Kendrick Lamar and J Cole. There are so many amazing artists, I think it’s just my love for so many different artists and genres that it all really inspires me. When it came to writing my own stuff it was like, how to get all of those things into something I identify with.
MF: Did that come naturally? Did it bleed through the songwriting?
DL: It did. It was, really, more lyrically where I found myself and the production really came later.
MF: When you say lyrically, a lot of the album is quite emotional but then the songs turn into something euphoric. ‘No Goodbyes’ is an example. You think you’re in for a slow ballad and then it just hits you.
DL: Yeah! Song and dance! You know, I want to get a lot of personal things out there and I want the fans to really get to know me but I feel like a lot of what I do is being able to dance to sad songs. It’s also a lot of fun to be able to find a cool mix between a ballad which breaks into, I don’t know, something a bit more dancey.
MF: Banger time, we call it.
DL: [laughs] I like it.
MF: Let’s talk a bit about the Sunny Hill Foundation – an organisation you started in Kosovo. These two parts of your world, social equality and music, do they inform each other?
DL: I think as an artist and when you have a voice on social media, you should use it for things you really believe in. I decided to open this foundation because I did a show in Kosovo, where my parents are from, and I lived there for four years. And, as a place that’s been really supportive of everything I’ve done and has really helped me as well, I wanted to give something back. As much as we like to think of [Kosovo] as really progressing and every day there’s something better – there’s a hunger for creativity – it’s also still affected by what had happened in the war. I feel like I need to do my part and be able to give back to my community, in a way.
It started off as an idea to be able to give back to the arts but then I also realised that as much as I want to give back to that, there’s a lot more need for so many other things. So it’s being able to figure out a way for the foundation to help out so many other different charities and different situations. And be able to also give to refugee camps, because that’s also something that’s really close to my heart.
It became really close to my heart when I moved back to Kosovo, to see how much the war affected the people and the families. Seeing that it’s still happening to this day, it’s really heartbreaking. Nobody really leaves their country out of choice, so to think that to this day a lot of people struggle with the whole refugee situation, it’s heartbreaking. Being able to give back and try and help in a way, I just feel like I need to do that.
MF: The lives of your fans in Kosovo and those here in the USA or the UK or Australia, are likely very different. Is it important to you to inform your fans of each other? Of how their lives differ?
DL: Yeah, absolutely, it is very different. And that’s not to say they don’t enjoy their life every day but I think every little bit helps. So many people don’t know where Kosovo is and I think it’s nice to, kind of, put it on the map. I know how important it is for Kosovo to be a part of the young Europeans and there’s so much talent and so much creativity, there are so many things that are happening over there, that could match things that are happening in London and all over the world really, but there’s not enough opportunity for people to really find out about it. So, slowly but surely.
MF: You performed in Kosovo last year, with your dad is that right?
DL: I did. Well, I went and did my own show and then I surprised my dad by singing one of his songs because he was in a band in Kosovo and me and my band thought it would be fun to sing one of his songs. He was backstage and I asked him to join me for the second verse and it was a really magical moment. I really, really enjoyed it.
MF: I imagine it would have been quite emotional for him.
DL: It was emotional for both of us! I don’t think either of us knew quite what hit us. As much as I’ve grown up around listening to music and having music be really present at home, me and my dad and I never really performed together. It was a first, and definitely something I’ll never forget.
MF: You are coming back to Australia next March to tour with Bruno Mars. They’re going to be some huge shows. How are you feeling about it?
DL: I’m really excited. I can’t wait to share the stage with Bruno. I’m excited to watch him work. You know, I was on tour with Troye Sivan and I love him and it was exciting to get to watch him work and I learnt so much from him and his performance. I learn a lot from just going to shows but it was exciting to get to experience that. And I’m really looking forward to get to experience that with an artist like Bruno who’s so established. I saw him perform at the BRIT Awards and I saw him perform in London at Koko which was with his first ever album and he always just had that star quality. It’s exciting to get to watch him now just do massive arenas and stadiums. There’s a lot to aspire to.
MF: Do you have your own plans for an Australian solo tour?
DL: I’d quite like to so some of my own shows while I’m out there, I haven’t been there in a while. The last ones I did were just Sydney and Melbourne. So it would be exciting to come back and do an album tour. But I need to some and just chill for a week, acclimatise and then perform! Because I remember the last time I was there, I had to perform and it was quite late at night and it felt like 5am in London and I was like “I just need a cup of tea”. I was onstage, drinking tea. It was fun though, the crowd was so special.
MF: Speaking of concert crowds, does the horrific attack in Manchester weigh on you as a young artist and touring musician?
DL: It’s really upsetting that music fans were targeted. It’s upsetting that young fans were targeted, especially at an Ariana Grande concert. It’s really heartbreaking. But what’s really special is being able to still see people come back and be able to enjoy music and go to concerts and show that we are stronger than any form of hate that’s happening – that’s really important.
As an artist, you can’t but somewhat help feel responsible, because in a way that could have happened at anybody’s show. It’s just really heartbreaking. I took it very personally. It’s very close to home. It’s really, really upsetting. It’s nice to see that on the weekend after, people were going to festivals – I did Birmingham Pride and I did Radio One Weekend, and it’s things like that that show our faith really is stronger than our fear. We carry on. Those are the things that keep this world going. We can’t live our lives in fear.
Dua Lipa’s self-titled debut album is out now. She’ll return to Australia to tour with Bruno Mars in March 2018.