Dua Lipa is a really good pop entity. ‘New Love’ — great song. ‘Be The One’ — great song. ‘Last Dance’ — great song.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago we enjoyed a semi-longwinded chat with Dua during the course of which various topics were discussed. Some questions, some answers, a bit of light chortling. Classic interview scenes.
We decided to start things off with a hard-hitting question.
What’s your favourite service station on any United Kingdom motorway?
Tebay. It’s really close to Glasgow. Apparently it’s the only five-star service station in the UK. When I walked in last night I couldn’t believe it. It was the fanciest thing I’ve ever seen. A little deli, a hotel on top. People went all out on Tebay. Bus drivers won’t stop off at any other service stations because they want to go to Tebay. 1
What did you do when you were there?
I had some olives and some grapes. Fresh grapes? Alright! Olives? Go on then! And the toilets were REALLY good. They just smelt nice. From what I could tell, people from the local village were just hanging out there for a day out. At a service station, having dinner.
— DUA LIPA (@DUALIPA) January 27, 2016
How good actually are you live?
Because you know how it is. You like an artist. You enjoy their audio on SoundCloud. You enjoy their video on YouTube. Their Twitter feed is engaging. Next thing you know you’re seeing them live, it’s a load of old shit, there’s a real drummer ruining everything, you’ve got a session bassist spagging out in an unwelcome fashion and you wish the whole thing had stayed inside your computer.
YOU’RE KILLING ME.
You know what I mean though right?
Well. You’re putting a lot of pressure on me now. Well it’s all so far so good but now I’m worried everything’s going to turn to shit. I’ll tell you what, Paris was a really tough crowd. There was a bit of space near the stage. I said, “come closer!”. Not a single person moved. It was as if everyone was going, “do you know what Dua, FUCK OFF. Sing your songs and FUCK OFF“.
The first time I saw a band live in Paris, and they were quite a teen friendly act, I was surprised that after each song there was no noise from audience mouths. Just clapping. It was very strange.
Maybe that’s just Paris.
Re your ultimate vision for what you’re doing, what size stage do you think you really need to be on?
I want to perform in arena, but I also feel you need a body of work to be performing in really big venues. Maybe first album isn’t really the time. I think you need a lot of songs to do a long set in a massive arena.
So you can’t do an arena tour on one album? 2
No. You’ve got to have two or three, at least.
So you’re predicting that the Years & Years arena tour will be terrible.
I HATE YOU. I didn’t know they were doing an arena tour. Is it an arena tour or just one show? Well I think it would work if you do something crazy like having a little DJ set, bringing some people out…
Stand-up! Questions from the audience! 3
Yes. You could make it spectacular. I’m picturing a lot of neon lights and loads of glitter. But I also really want to make it look like a forest, or a magical garden. Fairy princess shit.
‘Fairy princess shit’.
I suppose when you’re selling a tour you can’t really say ‘shit’ and ‘tour’ in the same sentence, can you? That wouldn’t work. Never mind, we’ll figure that out later on.
How did you feel when you found out you weren’t on the BBC Sound Of 2016 shortlist?
It was… I never really thought of it to start with — I felt I was too new. I got in so late that I just felt privileged to get on the longlist. Some of the other artists were already on their tours, some of them had more than one song that had been on the radio. It made sense that I wouldn’t be in the Top 5. Being on the longlist gave me the kickstart I needed and it put me on the map so I wasn’t too upset about not being on the shortlist. So yes, I think I was very okay.
So the plan is: ‘Last Dance’ is the new single.
But as you know—
Yes, you prefer ‘Hotter Than Hell’.
We’ve discussed this in the past. I just kind of want to get to the banger, know what I mean?
Yes, I know what you mean. I get that. I love Last Dance a lot and I’m excited to get that out. And then we’ll get to the banger.
People are scared of bangers sometimes aren’t they?
Do you think?
You know. The cool people. The tastemakers. The media. They don’t like to feel that something is too likely to be a hit. So you have to pretend.
Pretend that I’m still cool for a little while longer?
I’m sure you’ve sat in these meetings. You know what’s going on. Get the tastemakers on board, then unleash the banger.
Well I’m excited about that. I can’t wait.
Is the scary part of this trying to make sure you don’t become the type of artist with a decent media profile but no real connection with actual people? Lots of acts are big in the online world we all live in, but the public at large haven’t got to grips with them and perhaps they never will.
I mean you’ve just got to hope that it escalates to that point, haven’t you?
Have you ever been arrested?
No. I’ve never been arrested.
Fine. What’s the closest you’ve been to arrest?
(Laughs) Well. I was at my friend’s house in Marble Arch. 4 We threw foam from our bubble bath out of the balcony down onto the street. Then the police came knocking on the door. We got a telling off. The thing is that apparently it hit him.
You see that presumably counts as assault.
Well, yes, he was like, “oh, it’s assault, we need to take your details”. And were like, “well we’re only fifteen”. And he said he’d send a warning to the house but we never really got one.
It’s a good job they didn’t ask to see your parents because at this point weren’t they in a different country?
Yes. I was staying with friends. 5 This was the worry, that they’d call my mum, give her a heart attack and that she’d be like “for fuck’s sake, we’ve let her live on her own and here’s what happens”. I was talking to my parents about this the other day actually, about how scary it was that they let me do it. My mum was like, “we can laugh about it now but it was such a hard time”.
Being pretty much by yourself as a fifteen-year-old in London: how did that change your personality?
I became more independent and more confident. That plays a massive role in who I am and what I do today. If it wasn’t for me having to go out and meet people and talk to people, I don’t think I’d be like I am now, always thinking that the only person who’s going to get me what I want is me. Relying on myself. Obviously I have my team, who’ve done the most amazing job, but if I didn’t go out to meet them I wouldn’t be where I am. I felt like they didn’t find me, I found them. My management fight for everything to come from me and for it to be 100% my thing, rather than dictated by a record label. They make sure it’s 100% authentic to what I’d want it to be, rather than what they’d want it to be.
The last time we met was at your management’s office, in the boardroom. And while you sat there all I could see was the wall behind you, absolutely covered in Lana Del Rey gold and platinum discs. I think there were even so many that there were others just propped up against the wall. Do you feel an expectation that you’ll achieve a similar level of success?
I don’t know if pressure’s the right word. I feel like they believe in me to the point where they believe I can reach that point, which is the most amazing thing. They worked hard, I worked hard and together we’ll get there. It’s more reassuring, in a way: it makes me feel good about what I’m doing, and like what I’m doing is the right thing.
Did any of your writing sessions prove to be a turning point by not working out?
There were loads of studio sessions where I went in and we didn’t really vibe in the room — in the beginning it’s hard to go into a room with someone you’ve never met before and just open up, but at the beginning of a session I try to get to know people before I start. You make yourself comfortable, you make them comfortable. I don’t want to just talk about my life, I want to talk about theirs. Sometimes they’ll have said, ‘tell me what’s going on’. But actually, it’s like, tell me what’s going on. It’s easier to open up to someone if you know them. There was a point after we came up with ‘Hotter Than Hell’ where I thought: I need more songs like this. So I was constantly going into sessions with the idea that I needed to write a song the same as ‘Hotter Than Hell’. But trying to create that just wasn’t working, and when I got my head around that and moved on and realised I didn’t need to be doing it, that’s when we came up with ‘New Love’ in New York, then ‘Last Dance’ in Toronto two weeks later. 6 And ‘Last Dance’ particularly was a turning point, because I felt it was the sound I wanted my album to have.
So is the album done?
Well yes, but I’m still going to sessions when I have a day off, just in case we get something else. But I think we’re done.
What would you do if, at this point, Kanye West starting going bonkers about you on Twitter — “greatest artist of all time”, all that business — and called you and said: “Stop everything! Let me exec produce this album!”
When I’m so far down the line?
I’d say no.
I mean this would be the launchpad. Immediate global attention.
Maybe but you can’t be sure of that. Like with Pharrell, for instance, if you he goes “I’m going to executive produce this” then it becomes what HE wants, rather than what the artist wants. Not always a bad thing, but being so far down the line I’d like to continue the way we’ve been doing it so far. Then if Kanye wants to exec produce the second album, we can talk about that at the time.
The tattoos on your thumbs are pretty good. What’s the worst you’ve ever seen?
I suppose it’s when people get Tupac drawn on their legs. I haven’t seen it myself but apparently one of my friends’ girlfriend has HER PARENTS drawn on her thighs. Their faces.
Can you send over a photo of your thumbs so everyone knows what we’re talking about?
Yes I can.
Were the tattoos your idea or did you steal them from someone else?
It was my idea — I had them done for the ‘New Love’ video. I always wanted to get something done on my fingers, and I knew I wanted the two Keith Haring figures, so I thought fuck it.
If I locked you in a room for one hour with no phone, what would you do inside your head?
Well some people would say, ‘I’d think of some lyrics’. Or they might think about a film. Or they might plan how they’d fix their back door. The point is that we don’t usually get much in the way of quiet time these days.
I’d probably just go through my calendar and figure out what I’m going to do. I do that anyway — the second I’m without my phone, I think about what I’m going to do every day. I feel like the only apps I need on my phone are texts and calendar. I plan out my entire day: I know what time I’m getting up, I know what time I’m having breakfast, I know what time I’ll have lunch. Everything. Every step of the way. Is that weird?
It seems quite intense.
I don’t know. Is it cool, that sort of thing?
I wouldn’t say diarychat is classic popstar behaviour. But this is who you are. Perhaps diaries could be your ‘thing’. A good merch idea moving forward.
I do want my own personal hot sauce actually.
Tell me this, though. You’re quite cool and credible aren’t you. You’ve been written about in all the right places, your songs get played by all the right DJs. Is it right, though, that actually you’re kind of not that cool?
(Guffaws) Wait, WHAT?
Imagine I was describing a popstar to you, and I said: they sang in an X Factor advert, they went to Sylvia Young’s stage school and they’re an ex-model.
(Further laughter) And yet I STILL SOMEHOW MANAGED to stay cool. Maybe it’s just me — maybe I’m just really fucking cool.
Bearing in mind that obviously all artists say “well I just do what I do” and so on, DO YOU keep an eye on the movements of artists you perceive to be your competitors?
Who are they?
Well I can’t tell you that.
Do you have one person in your mind?
Not just one. I do like listening to other people’s music. And it’s not necessarily girls, I check out new music by guys as well. Sometimes when I find myself in ‘artists to watch’ lists with other acts I’ll go off and look at their stuff — sometimes you’ll watch a video and you’ll think, “oh, that’s cool”. Other times it is “oh shit — I’ve got to top that. I’ve got to be better than them”.
Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in?
I’ve been the new girl a lot, in school. It’s tricky when you go in once everyone’s formed their friendships and you’re trying to figure out where you fit in. And you don’t know who to hang around with, because you don’t know who’s going to be nice or mean to you.
You make it sound like the music industry.
Yes! It’s difficult to see where you fit in — you just have to go with your gut. And that’s something I’ve had to adapt to a lot in my life.
If I were to hand you a book from the future, and it was the autobiography you wrote when you were 60, would you read it?
I feel like I’d be curious to know what’s going to happen, but I don’t think I’d read it. It would scare me. I’d rather just take everything as it comes.
You’ve talked about how ‘Be The One’ is the only one of your songs you didn’t write but how you made a connection with it and made the song yours and so on. So if that worked quite well, wasn’t there a temptation to go “this is a piece of piss, I’ll get everyone to send me songs, I’ll create a connection with them and it’s happy days”?
But that would be no fun! And I remember, I was reluctant to take that song. I was scared in a way because it’s not something that came from me, even if I could relate to it. I was tricking myself in a way.
Who convinced you that it was the right thing to do?
Well I kept on listening to it. My management were going, “we think this is a really great song, but if you don’t like it you don’t have to do it”. So I went in and sang it and once I realised how fun it was to sing, I started to have second thoughts. And I realised that it could be really great. I went in again with Digital Farm Animals and Pawws and we had so much fun together making it that it made it obvious to me that it was a song I needed to have. It was too good a song to pass up. I’m not going to be a snob about it — if something’s good I’ll take it, but I like that my album’s full of stories about things that have happened to me.
What are your thoughts on the supernatural?
Well psychics scare me. I don’t know how real they are but I don’t want to find out. I like to believe in magic. I feel like there’s magic in everything.
Has there been magic in this conversation?
Yes there is. Can you not feel how great this connection is? I’m actually secretly a witch.
At this point you might be able to tell that the interviewer already knows what his next question will be – a technique known in journalism circles as ‘being a dick’↩
This would be the absolutely ideal scenario for an Adele concert, by the way.↩
London landmark Marble Arch is quite literally a marble arch. It was designed in 1827 by John ‘Nasho’ Nash.↩
Dua was brought up in London but moved to Kosovo with her family when she was 13; after a couple of years she came back to London to pursue ‘the popstar dream’.↩
To be fair an album of ‘Hotter Than Hell’ knockoffs would still be quite good.↩