Dua Lipa: From Breakout Artist to Global Sensation

image: tyrone lebon

You all know that one video of Dua Lipa dancing. Lipa herself calls that her most famous dance move. Today, she has that leg-twist down to a T. We didn’t even know you could perfect a move like that, but she did. In a way, it’s a small symbol of her career until this moment. Any criticism she has faced, from the outside, appears to have been taken in her stride. As a young girl, after auditioning for the school choir, Lipa was told that “she could not sing”. But Lipa didn’t let this sway her as it might’ve to others, instead, she simply took up singing lessons and honed her craft. Lipa herself wonders if she thrives “on being undermined’ or thrives “on people saying that [she] can’t do things”.

“For better or for worse, I throw myself into something so heavily to get it right and to make it perfect, make it good.”

Now, she is one of the most recognised pop artist names in the industry. As well as reclaiming her controversial dance move, Lipa has put in the work to become a skilled singer, performer, model, actor, podcast host, founder, executive producer… The list goes on. This year she is set to take on the radio waves again with more of her addictive, synth-infused disco-pop hits with the release of her eagerly anticipated third album. With no release date or title as of yet, we thought we’d take a dive into Lipa’s career up until now. 

Genesis (of Dua Lipa)

While many know of her Kosovo Albanian roots, she was born and raised in London up until the age of 11. The family then made the move to Pristina in Kosovo, where her parents were originally from before they had to relocate in 1992 as fear of war was developing in the country, a war which later broke out in 1998. Their eventual move back was prompted by Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2007. However, only a few years later Lipa persuaded her family that another move, back to London, was what she needed to do for her career. So, at 15 she moved once again, but this time, she was alone. Many of us couldn’t face going to the shops alone at this age, let alone moving to another country. It stands to show the dedication she has always had when it comes to her career.

Like so many musicians from the last two decades, Dua made her first moves toward the music industry by posting covers on YouTube. And at the same time, began modelling for brands such as Topshop. She also did what many of us non-celebs do at that age, and began waiting tables, and even working as a club bouncer. However, it was likely not the latter that would have helped land a pretty big gig for her; a singer on an ITV advert for the, now mourned iconic British show, The X Factor. She did an impressive cover of Lost In Music by Sister Sledge and soon after, she was offered her first management deal with Ben Mawson in 2013 of TaP management. She might just be the only star to become successful from a talent show without actually auditioning for the show. Nonetheless, a year later, she signed a record deal with Warner Bros. Records. 

New Rules (or best new artist)

The first court of order when signing a record deal? To put out some music. Her first single introduced itself to the world in August 2015, titled New Love. Over the following two years she released more singles with tracks such as Be The One and Hotter Than Hell gaining notable traction. At the same time, Lipa was jetting off around the world with the likes of Bruno Mars and Coldplay, supporting them on their respective tours. This slow process to the release of her debut album meant she not only furthered her musical abilities and live performance, but built up her fanbase. 

Lipa’s self-titled debut album was eventually set for release in September 2016, but then pushed back to February 2017 and pushed back again to June 2017, when it was finally let loose. Lipa explained that these delays were necessary as she “felt like something was missing” and “wanted to write a bit more”. Again, her relentless work ethic shines through. But all this work and waiting paid off on a major scale as at the 2018 BRIT Awards she was awarded with British Breakthrough Artist and a year later was recognised at the prestigious Grammys, winning Best New Artist.

The latter is a particularly coveted award and recipients have gone on to huge international success. Some early winners include The Beatles, Tom Jones and The Carpenters. More recently, this side of the millennium, John Legend, Adele, Sam Smith and Chance the Rapper have taken home the trophy. You can see how the recipients of this award seem to follow a certain upward trajectory. It is a path that Lipa has similarly followed. 

Future Nostalgia is the name (of the pandemic)

Then came 2020, and it hit us all like a ton of bricks. But while the pandemic put a halt on many industries and events in our lives, it did not stop Lipa from releasing her album, and we are so thankful for that. Future Nostalgia dropped on 27 March 2020, not even a full 48 hours into the UK lockdown (restrictions came into legal force on 26th March). Originally, it was set for 3 April, however, the album was unfortunately leaked online, a key reason for bringing the release forward. While the circumstances of the album’s release date are less than ideal, we can certainly say that Future Nostalgia took us through the pandemic, right from the very start. It’s an odd period of history for your music to be so heavily associated with and was certainly a concern of Lipa’s when she made an emotional announcement on her Instagram.

“I’ve been a little bit conflicted about putting music out and, you know, whether it’s the right thing to do, during this time, because lots of people are suffering.”

“I think… the most important thing, and the thing we need the most at the moment, is music and we need joy and we need to be trying to see the light in all these kind of situations.”

And it certainly did bring us a new joy to our new lives. Whether our new normal included working from home, working with maks on or isolating from loved ones, we could all come together and enjoy music in a way we never had before. When no one could go out dancing in bars and clubs, her disco melodies, spliced with throwbacks to hits like Need You Tonight by INXS, allowed us that freedom in our own homes. It was this nostalgia that really helped it become an instant favourite with not just Gen Z but older generations too, who recognised and appreciated the samples. 

Levitating (to international stardom)

Following the success of Future Nostalgia, Lipa was secured as an international pop sensation. She announced more legs to her world tour, took home Best Pop Vocal Album at the Grammys in 2021 and broke numerous streaming records. Perhaps in an effort to secure her success as her own, in 2022 Lipa split from her TaP management team and not long after, in 2023, it was confirmed she had come to a deal which allowed her to buy back the publishing rights to her music. 

In any case, it seems she is planning to continue her reign as disco pop queen as she released the epic groovy track, Dance The Night, as part of the soundtrack for Barbie, the film of 2023. She even had a small role in the film as Mermaid Barbie, dipping her toe into the acting world. Her official acting debut, however, comes with the newly released, Argylle, playing what Lipa describes as her “alter ego”, the nemesis of the titular character. 

Acting is just one of the many new ventures Lipa has recently embarked on, having also launched Service95, a platform with a weekly newsletter, book club and her highly popular podcast Dua Lipa: At Your Service. She also founded her own production and management company, Radical22. The first project for this being a Disney+ documentary, executive produced by Lipa herself, all about Camden.

Just before we said goodbye to 2023, she dropped Houdini, the first single from her upcoming third album, which is supposedly, and hopefully, due in late 2024. The song charted at number two upon its release. And most recently, the second single from this hotly anticipated album, Training Season, dropped on 15 February.

It is interesting, however, despite all her success, that not one of her tracks has debuted at number one. She has had four UK Number 1 singles in total (New Rules, One Kiss with Calvin Harris, Cold Heart with Elton John and Dance The Night from Barbie The Movie), each of them taking their time to get to that spot. 

“They take so long and never get to Number One, but they stay around for a long time,” Lipa says. It is the longevity of her music being in the charts and our playlists that indicates that Lipa herself is going to be here for the long stretch. “As long as the songs stick around and people are listening to them, I’m cool with that,” she says.

Trust us, we are still listening to, dancing to and absolutely loving them and will continue to do so. This era of Dua Lipa’s pop reign will be our future nostalgia, that we’ll long to relive.

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