Dua Lipa on cracking the charts, imminent stardom and forming her own identity

Fewer and fewer new artists get close to the Top 40. But through her honest, confident hits, this 21-year-old, alongside artists including Stormzy and Rag‘n’Bone Man, seems to be an exception to the rule 

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Some things never change: the way seasons pass; Trump's war against the media – and depending on who you ask, the singles chart. The past year has seen the UK Top 40 subject to accusations of being a stale, unforgiving shambles, a hotbed of tropical house and songs that made the BBC Radio 1 a-list several months ago, a permanent residence for Drake. And with very few exceptions, a no-go zone for new artists. Especially new artists from the UK. 

But sod the rules, because Dua Lipa is here to change things. One year after appearing in the BBC Music Sound of 2016 – she made the long list – the English singer had three different songs in last month's Top 40. Two are collaborations – with baby-faced producer du jour Martin Garrix and dancehall legend Sean Paul – and the other, still in the Top 40, is ‘Be The One’, the second song she ever released, back in 2015. Proof if it was ever needed that new acts take time to achieve commercial success. “Oh god. It’s insane,” she admits, en route to the NME Awards where she’ll later pick up the prize for Best New Artist. 

Dua Lipa is one of a select few pop talents to find chart stardom before releasing a full-length album. Stormzy performed a similar feat – with a freestyle, no less. Rag‘n’Bone Man’s stardom in Europe quickly transferred to the UK, and he’s now breaking records. But that’s about it. It’s a hard nut to crack, unless you happen to write a lifetime supply of bangers. “Slowly, with time, people are gonna make more sense of the streaming world,” she says, suggesting the supposedly stale charts don’t need fixing. “Everything’s changing so much and so quickly.”

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The English singer has found chart success despite the fact her debut album isn't released until June

The 21-year-old has hardly had a moment to take stock. Ever since debut track ‘New Love’ turned tastemaker heads, she’s racked up more air miles than the average flight crew: jetting between the UK, the States (‘Blow Your Mind (Mwah)’ entered the Billboard Hot 100) and Europe. Last year, she returned to her Kosovo roots, performing to 20,000 fans for a charity show. Not only is she conquering the UK – she’s achieving the same feat all over the world. Again, before the release of her first album. 

This debut album has been a long time coming. First dubbed for a September 2016 release, it was pushed back to February 2017. “That September date… I think we were being very adventurous,” she laughs. “That was never gonna happen.” As the year continued, the album was pushed back again, this time to June. “A few really exciting things came up for me to do while I was in LA. So I could do those and potentially have them on the album,” she explains, without revealing specific details. “The second it’s ready, then I can shout from the rooftops.”

Despite her lack of material, Dua Lipa has managed to build a loyal, unwavering fanbase. “I get lots of messages from girls telling me that I empower them,” she says. “It means a lot, it really does. We become friends and if they have issues, they direct message me on Twitter. I tell them that I’ve been through the same thing. And I’ll talk to them as if I would my little sister, or my younger brother.” 

It’s through the first-foot-forward ‘Hotter Than Hell’ and the supremely confident ‘Blow Your Mind (Mwah)’ that many have come to see Dua Lipa as their ultimate role model. She’s honest without hesitation, both in conversation and on record. As a result, she’s picked up an army of followers who hang on her every word. “There’s strength in being vulnerable,” she states. “So I feel like if you have the opportunity to show that you have the power, then do that anytime you can.” 

These days, it’s easier to see superstars as real people with feelings and their own problems. If anything, big names are encouraged to ‘be more real’, as evidenced in one of Taylor Swift’s handwritten notes and letters, or through Cher’s heroically unedited tweets. “I used to think, ‘Damn, I wish I had an artist I could look up to that has gone through the same thing as I did’,” she admits. “Everyone has their issues and sometimes it’s nice to know that you’re not alone. That’s been my main goal, to talk about things and not be afraid of it.”

Even within a fit-to-burst schedule of studio sessions, tours and promo, she says it’s easy to end up feeling lonely, to give time to everyone but yourself. She admits to having moments of self-doubt. “Anxiety’s a weird one. It hits you when you never really expect it,” she says. But she spends a lot of time on the road with her parents. “They’ve always been my role models, throughout my whole life,” she says. “Everything else in my life goes with the flow, but my friends and family really remain. They hold me down and remind me that I’m alive.” 

With June’s release date absolutely set in stone, she’s seeing 2017 as a chance to truly make her mark – not just through Top 40 accolades. It’s a year for fewer feats and more control, she claims. “To begin with, my goal was to get my own music out there. I never wanted it to get jaded. I want people to hear a song and still know it’s me, rather than just the girl that features on that song… Two years is a good time to get to know yourself and what the music you want to do is. It took me a while to figure everything out, but now I feel like I’m on the right track.”

Dua Lipa’s debut self-titled album is out on 2 June via Warner Bros.

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