The Wylde Interview: Dua Lipa
WILL SHE BE THE ONE? DUA LIPA IS PREPARING TO LAUNCH INTO THE POP STRATOSPHERE WITH HER INSANELY CATCHY NEO-SOUL MUSIC. IN HER FIRST MAJOR INTERVIEW AND COVER SHOOT, THIS DOWN-TO-EARTH SONGSTRESS TELLS PHILIP GOODFELLOW ABOUT HIP-HOP, OPTIMISM AND STARTING YOUNG.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREW WOFFINDEN / FASHION DIRECTION BY THEA LEWIS-YATES
Whenever a new musician arrives seemingly fully formed, it can be natural nowadays to assume we’re being presented with less of an artist, more of a product. Such cynicism would be misplaced with Dua Lipa, however. The young singer-songwriter has paid her dues and is deservedly poised to reap the rewards.
Born in London to Albanian parents, Dua came to love music through her father, himself a musician. “I grew up listening to my dad singing his own songs and listening to songs that he liked,” she explains. “That’s kind of where my love for music stems from.” When it came to developing her own musical tastes, it is perhaps unsurprising to hear that Dua found herself drawn towards strong, distinctive female artists. “The first album given to me was Nelly Furtado’s Whoa, Nelly! and it’s still one of my favourite albums. Then Pink’s Missundaztood album. Those two were my favourite artists, growing up. Then I started getting into hip-hop. I’m a super-obsessive hip-hop fan – Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, A$AP Rocky, Action Bronson – and I like to try and mix hip-hop into my own music.”
Dua attended secondary school in Camden, but it was Saturdays spent at the Sylvia Young Theatre School that helped her blossom as a singer. “It was great fun and really helped me with my confidence. In primary school, a teacher told me I couldn’t sing and would never let me in the choir. When I started at Sylvia Young, my teacher there told me, ‘You can sing, and don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do.’ That really helped me; it opened my eyes. I was really young and didn’t have to listen to anyone else if I believed in myself. I might have given up but my parents believed I could sing and said I should try theatre school. I’m glad they did.”
Dua’s route into music is a lesson to anyone with similar aspirations – put yourself out there and never give up. “When I was younger, I was networking and sending stuff to people, saying: ‘If you want to work with me, listen to my covers on YouTube’ – really low-key covers where I was like: ‘Hi, I’m Dua, I’m 15 years old, here’s my cover of…’, really casual. Then I started getting into commercial and modelling work, which I thought might help me meet people in music, and I got a commercial working with a producer who offered me a publishing deal. I had to get a lawyer to go through the contract – I had no idea what that even meant – and he was like: ‘Let me help you find a manager before you sign anything’.”
Dua was subsequently snapped up by Lana Del Rey’s management team. Whereas Lana revels – to great effect – in the dark beauty of despair, Dua’s music offers us a reminder that there is beauty to be found in hope and optimism. “Everything should have a happy ending,” she suggests, “and sometimes, if it doesn’t, you’ve still got to keep going. It’s not the end. I try to get across that there’s always an upside to a downside, not all problems are bad, that crying and being upset and showing your emotions doesn’t show weakness.” It would be missing the point, however, to simply label Dua’s music as “upbeat”; there is a genuine depth to the music, to the lyrics and – perhaps most notably – to Dua’s utterly gorgeous voice.
Being labelled the Next Big Thing inevitably brings with it a weight of expectation. Dua seems prepared for that, though, as long as she can keep her own expectations in check. “I feel like the most pressure anyone gives me comes from myself. It’s a lot about making sure I put out what I feel is right and that I’m happy and proud of it. I guess there’s always pressure, regardless of what you put out – it’s like a constant battle. But so far, so good. In music, you always want to keep momentum going. It’s difficult, you know? Making the right decisions, choosing the right next song. I have a plan, though.”
A key part of that plan is Dua’s debut album, due for release this autumn. The list of producers who worked on it with her serves as testament to how seriously she is being taken, including as it does Emile Haynie, who’s worked with the likes of FKA twigs and the aforementioned Lana Del Rey; Andrew Wyatt, perhaps best known as lead singer with Miike Snow; and Nick Gale, aka Digital Farm Animals, co-writer – along with Lucy ‘Pawws’ Taylor – of Dua’s recent single Be The One.
“I feel like I’ve done the rounds. I haven’t just worked with one particular person for the whole album because it’s been so much nicer and way more fun to work with loads of different people. You also get to know people and you become good friends; they get to find out things about you that other people don’t really know, because it’s basically like a therapy session. You have to tell them your deepest secrets.”
So what advice would Dua bestow on young artists looking to follow in her footsteps? “Never have a Plan B. Just keep going and be very, very confident in everything you do. If you believe in yourself and you’re proud of what you do, never let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong. The second you feel like you’ve got something to lean on, that’s when you can lose your focus. I never had a Plan B because, if I had, I would always have had it in the back of my mind that I had a backup. There’s still a lot to come and we’ll see if it’s worked but I’m really hoping I can stick to this, because I love it so much.’
Hair: Anna Cofone using Oribe / Make-up: Francesca Brazzo using Nars / Stylist’s assistant: Kate Sinclair