For a newly 20-year-old, Dua Lipa seems like she has her life together. The singer-songwriter has been living on her own since she was 15 years old and pursuing her career in music full time for the past four years. In 2012, she quietly released her first demo on SoundCloud. At the time, she was only 17, but her voice sounded incredibly mature. Fast-forward to this summer when her debut single, “New Love” was released. The song was produced by Andrew Wyatt and Emile Hayne, who has collaborated with breakout artists like FKA twigs and Lana Del Rey.
Lipa describes her music as dark pop. When I met up with the singer at the Nomad Hotel, she was decked out appropriately in a black mesh dress underneath a black leather jacket with a black ribbon tied around her neck. She has five tattoos on her body by Sean From Texas, including Keith Haring drawings on her thumbs that she got while filming the “New Love” music video. (She later tells me that she really likes art—Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Jeff Koons are her favorites.) Fifteen minutes into a conversation with Lipa, and you’ll realize that while she may have a bad-girl image on the outside, she’s a total sweetheart on the inside. She’s not afraid to be a pop singer, and she thinks that right now is a good time for women in music to take charge in the industry.
Despite the comparisons that have been made between her and singers like Del Rey—they actually happen to be under the same management—Lipa’s heart beats for hip-hop. It’s one of her biggest musical influences, and some of her favorite rappers right now are Schoolboy Q, A$AP Rocky, and Chance The Rapper (listen to her cover “Cocoa Butter Kisses”). Get to know Dua Lipa more in the interview, below. For the record, her name really is Dua Lipa—it’s not a stage name, it was given to her at birth and it means “love” in Albanian.
Could you tell me how you first got involved with singing and songwriting? What’s your whole musical background?
I’ve been singing my whole life. My dad was a musician. I’m originally from Kosovo, but born and raised in London. I guess I kind of listened to my dad sing his owns songs and other people’s songs. I was brought up on a lot of music that—I mean, it’s great music, I love Bob Dylan and Bowie and stuff, but it was never something that I was really obsessed with. And then, when I [was] given my first album it was Nelly Furtado, that album kind of changed my life. I was so fucking obsessed, like, “How the fuck do I become that?” It was always a thing that I just loved—to sing—and I just kind of felt at home doing music.
In primary school, I was told I couldn’t sing because my teacher was like, “Oh, you can’t reach the high notes, you can’t be in the choir,” and all this bullshit. I was like, “This is shit.” And I always had this whole thing where I “couldn’t sing,” and then I went to theater school and [that] kind of boosted my confidence more. That’s kind of what pushed me to what I was doing and why I wanted to sing.
You said you listened to Bowie?
Well, that’s the kind of shit that my dad [listened to]—he listened to Bob Dylan and Bowie and Sting and the Police. They were the kind of tunes that I would listen to on the way to school, because my dad would love it so much. But for me, I liked my girls. I liked Nelly Furtado and Pink. They’re my favorite, I love them so much. I’d like to think that kind of sound helped me mold mine, or helped me understand what I like and how I like it to sound, and the whole “badass bitch” thing—which, to me, is so much fucking fun just to do. Then Destiny’s Child came out and that fucking changed my life.
I heard you moved out when you were 15... Could you tell me about that, because I know I could not even take care of myself at 19. How did you do it?
It’s fucking nuts. I was born and raised in London, and then I moved to Kosovo—my dad was working there—and then when I was 15, I was like, “Yo, there’s nothing here for me I want to move back”. And I was like, “I want to do music.” And my mom was like, “Okay sweet, as long as you stay in school.” Once it happened—the move—and I started living with friends, my mom would be calling me the second I woke up, the second I left home, the second I got to school, when I left school, when I got home—everything! I was a 16-year-old when I wanted to go out, but I had to be home by like, nine.
It was great, I feel like I went really independent really early. But the whole cooking-and-cleaning thing was a fucking nightmare. It came to the point where I wouldn’t wash my clothes, I would just put them in this massive cupboard and buy new ones—my mom would come over and surprise me and see how I was doing. She would open this cupboard and there’d be a bunch of dirty laundry and she’d be like, “You need to sort your life out.” Now I’m really good at it all, because I’ve had enough time trying to learn.
What have you been working on for your debut record?
We dropped “New Love,” we just whacked it online. It did kind of well, which is good. We’re dropping another one at the end of this month called “Be the One,” which is just another thing for online. And then in January, we’ll do a proper video with a full concept and we’ll actually go full throttle on it. It’s something exciting to look forward to in the new year. And then the album comes next year, hopefully, if everything goes to plan. But yeah, it’s been exciting. It’s been a year now that I’ve been writing for the album. It’s been constant, like five days a week writing songs.
I’m literally so jaded right now. I go into a session and I’m like, “I don’t even know what to write about.” I don’t have time for life to happen because I’m literally working on this, but I’m really excited. It’s been the best year ever. For the first time, I got to come here and then L.A. I’ve now been to L.A. four times this year, which is fucking insane. It’s just been really fun. I’m really looking forward to what else is going to coming.
What was it like working with Emile?
He’s amazing. He’s super, super talented. It’s not even that, his talent just comes naturally. He just sits down on the fucking piano and he comes up with crazy shit. And Andrew Wire is fucking sick. He’s like a wordsmith. But I think the most important thing when I worked with him was that we had such a great vibe. It was so chill. There was no rush to try and get a song. We would chat about what was going on in our lives and how we felt—sitting, ordering food. It was all a very organic process, I’d like to say. And every time I’ve worked with him, it’s kind of been the same. No rush, and all three times we got three good songs.
I think vibes are super important.
It’s so important. I mean, writing a song is pretty personal, especially if you want to write about everything that’s going on in your life. ’Cause I feel like now, after writing about so much that’s happened to me, now toward the end I’ve kind of become a good storyteller. I can make up situations that have either happened to me before or are really relevant to my friends, you know? You have to really open up to someone, so going in you don’t really want to open up to everyone and you don’t really feel that way, so the vibe is super, super important.
What are some of the experiences that you wrote about for the upcoming record?
“Last Dance” comes out in January, I wrote that when I first went to Toronto. I had already been away for such a long time, and it just came to the point where I was literally so fucking homesick and so upset. I was like, “Ugh, this sucks. I just want to go back to London, I’m so over this!” I was doing two or three sessions a day. That day, “Last Dance” was my third song of the day that I was writing—we were literally just writing and writing. When I left I was like, “Oh, this is going to be shit!” because I was just so tired but when it came through, I was like, “Wow I really felt that. That was shit that came from my heart.”
“Hotter Than Hell”—which is one of my favorite songs—is also one of the first songs I wrote. It was about an old relationship I was in. This was before I [signed with my manager] and I was in a really shit and toxic relationship. It was like, in every relationship as a girl, you want to be wanted. And that guy, he would make me feel like I wasn’t good enough for him and it was just really shit. In “Hotter Than Hell,” I twisted it. It helped me get over the relationship. The whole wanting to be wanted, I made it seem in the song that he really wanted me, that he could have, like, died for me. That’s the story behind it, and it was really therapeutic for me to be able to write about something like that.
There’s just so many now that I’ve written that I can’t even think of. What else? “Bad Together,” that’s just about great sex. We’re still in the process of what the singles are going to be, so as they come out, it’s still very new and very exciting.
The “New Love” music video looked like so much fun to film. Was it based on a day in the life of you? It seemed very authentic.
It was loads of fun. I wrote the treatment for it. It happened really accidentally, because I was supposed to shoot a video for a completely different song and then it got postponed because we decided it wasn’t the right thing to go with. I was having dinner with my friend Nicole, who’s a photographer, and I was like, “Oh, I’m so pissed off about this, I was really looking forward to it!” She was like, “Yo, why don’t we just do something together? A sick, free video, so down.” So, I texted my manager like, “Hey, me and Nicole are going to do this video,” and he was like “Cool, cool, come up with a treatment.” This was around the time when I could do whatever I wanted because there wasn’t a massive budget involved where I need everyone’s approval—I can literally do whatever the fuck I want because it’s just fun.
So all these things are just stuff I love doing, like eating food. The whole milk and popcorn thing is a really big thing I do. It’s really weird. I drink milk with everything—popcorn and milk, crisps and milk—so that was like a weird thing. What was crazy with the slide—we were driving around in a car and there was a slide in Melrose and we were like, “Fuck it.” I was like, “Nicole, bring your camera.” And I put this blue outfit on and said, “Let’s just film this before someone starts charging us.” And I slide down the slide, and I didn’t know there was water at the fucking bottom of it—I was just so glad I didn’t have my phone in my pocket, I would’ve been so pissed. And then when we went up in the hills—those guys in the white suits were really up there taking pictures and I was like, “Would you guys dance for my video?” And they were like, “Sweet!” It was so embarrassing.
It was all like renegade shit that we just came up with and had fun. I’d like to think it’s like a life in the day of Dua Lipa, I’d love to think that. That’d be great. But, it’s not. That’s not every day. It’s studios every day.