There are about 10 different compliments I want to give Dua Lipa immediately upon meeting her, but I start with one that I know will resonate with her the most. It concerns her debut album, Dua Lipa, parts of which she just performed on the main stage at Governors Ball. It's great. The 12-track album has been in the works for years, and Lipa couldn't be more ecstatic about its release on June 2. "There is no feeling quite like it," she says. "Just that feeling of relief — but also pride and excitement and adrenaline and nervousness— all these feelings all in one. I am so fucking excited."
We're sitting on two fold-out chairs in the media area of Governors Ball, sitting face-to-face in the glaring mid-afternoon sunshine with wafts of Rae Sremmurd's viral hit "Black Beatles" being performed in the background.
I'm ready to drop my second compliment: "I love your toe nail polish." Her toes are painted with this insane holographic colour that makes each toe look like a tiny mirror, and they keep catching the light. She wiggles them in response and smiles. With over one million followers on Instagram, Lipa knows how to combine great visual content (like this Insta-worthy polish) with her impressive audio tracks, which are part-revenge ballads, part-dance party bops. This winning combination of A+ aesthetics and a soothing electric sound could explain why she's on fire right now.
The New York Times recently credited the 21-year-old London singer with writing this year's "pop bangers," and possessing a "big, new voice." New York Magazine has labeled her the "anti-pop star." Lipa is happy to claim all of those titles if it means that she is writing, releasing, and performing her own music. After starting her career on YouTube, uploading covers at 14 years old, the singer has steadily released hit single after hit single, from 2015's "Be The One" to 2017's "Scared To Be Lonely." On top of that, her collaboration with Sean Paul, "No Lie," serves as the mood-setting opening track for the big ticket summer remake of Baywatch.
With a glowing resume (including being the subject of a short documentary with Fader), Lipa also stands out in the oversaturated world of pop music because of her instantly distinguishable low voice (which is sometimes raspy, but always alluring) and for those undeniably catchy "fuck you" break-up lyrics. But those extremely intimate lyrics do come at a cost. Lipa says it's worth it in the end, and she is comfortable pushing herself to the limit because, as with most things in life, "the songs that you are scared to write about and the feelings you are scared to express lead to the best ones."
She credits P!nk, Nelly Furtado, and Destiny's Child for influencing her the most after listening to their albums on repeat for ages, and acknowledges their distinct sound and ability to be radio-charting, but also honest in the stories they tell with their songs. Right now, Lipa is only interested in writing songs she can identify with, full of personal anecdotes. "Throughout the whole writing process, the only thing I knew to write about was my own experiences," she says, "so I had to write about things I know and those were heartbreak, love, and loss. Putting this album out really exposed but it was really important to me to put my life out into the world and have people know me on a more personal level."
I ask about her favourite song on the album, "Blow Your Mind (Mwah)," a flirtatious single featuring an onomatopoeia element with literal lip-smacking kissing noises incorporated into the chorus, and she gets giddy. "It is definitely one of the most pop ones [on the album]. That whole 'mwah' thing happened spontaneously and it is just a bit of fun. Everyone just went wild for it and it is just so fun it was a whole new high for me performing that."
Speaking of highs, there are a few times in the album that Lipa uses religious metaphors to examine a blissful time in a relationship, or a state of contentment. The subtle religious undertones (one track is called "Genesis" and another "Garden," referring to the Garden of Eden, and a third, "Hotter Than Hell") make me ask if this is her take on religion, modelled after the Justin Biebers (just look at the album cover of Purpose) and Chance The Rappers (who had performed the evening before on the same stage as Lipa, and whose sound has been called "gospel rap") of the world. "It is more of a metaphor," she explains. "It is a nice way to describe things and I think there is something special to describing something as "heavenly" or to describe a situation as "genesis" when talking about something being at the beginning. I am a bit of a sucker for that."
Don't let anyone dull your sparkle.
And with that, it's clear why she is being classified as a new age pop artist, who deviates from the cookie-cutter mould used to establish many of her contemporaries. The only real influence in her music today is her own life experience, with its peaks and pits. We finish the conversation with some real-talk about body issues and confidence, because it's easy to look at someone like Lipa (young, tall, thin, with KILLER style), and think her life is perfect. But, like the stories she tells on her album, things aren't always what they seem. "I think comparing yourself to someone else happens so often but it is one of the worst things that you can do because it is so important to realise that we are not all meant to look the same, we are made to look differently," she says. "I have struggled a lot with body confidence during my life and like I said it is something I am learning to do — to not compare myself to other people. I think it is important to wake up every morning and to be nice to yourself."
I ask if that is what her album is inherently about: putting yourself first — in relationships, in day-to-day life, and in love. "It is a lot about empowerment and being proud of who you are," she says. "Don't let anyone dull your sparkle."
Holographic nail polish and all.