For all the screw-you lyrics and empowering break-up anthems that have helped propel Dua Lipa to a new level of pop stardom, the 22-year-old Kosovan-British singer admits that, when it comes down to it, she’s a hopeless romantic: ‘I’m such a firm believer in love. I blame my parents for that, because they have a really good relationship and I think they’ve set my standards high,’ she tells me over rocket-fuel green tea after her ELLE shoot in London.
It’s Easter Monday and she can’t wait to get home to cook for herself – something she hasn’t been able to do for the past month while travelling around Australia, supporting Bruno Mars on tour (she’s then heading to Paris to hang out with Karl Lagerfeld and Simon Porte Jacquemus for a television appearance). But for the singer, who was spotted as a teenager covering pop stars’ hits on You-Tube and has now sold 16 million singles, there might also be a bigger cosmic reason at play for her unashamed romanticism: her name, Dua, which was given to her by her grandmother, means ‘love’ in Albanian.
Since releasing her debut eponymous album in June 2017, Dua has become known as a warrior of love for a new generation of women. Her raw, honest lyrics hinge on female empowerment, relationships and heartbreak, and are backed by a unique strain of dark pop, which Dua describes as ‘dance crying’.
‘It’s all quite fun to dance to, but if you listen to just the lyrics, or strip it down and just do a piano version of it, it’s quite sad,’ she explains. Her voice is warm and husky, a personal trademark once singled out for being too low when she auditioned for the school choir. Now, though, her mature, soulful tone is the reason she’s become the most-streamed female artist in the UK.
Like many pop icons before her, Dua focused on the drama and messiness of love right from the start, with singles Be The One and Hotter Than Hell, the latter of which was inspired by a break-up (‘I wrote it because my first-ever boyfriend made me feel like I constantly wasn’t good enough. I didn’t want him to know I was that sad, so I made it seem like he couldn’t get enough of me’). Then everything changed with her Number 1 hit New Rules. It’s an anthemic, three-step toolkit for getting over an ex (‘If you’re under him, you ain’t getting over him’), and its video, featuring a fiercely protective girl gang, has been streamed more than a billion times.
The song even inspired a placard carried by gun-control activists during the March For Our Lives (‘1. Just pick up the phone... For your local congressman. 2. Don’t let them win...’). When I ask how it feels to see the reach of her song lyrics, she admits to feeling the power of change right now. ‘I so badly wanted to be apart of that march; everything that’s happening in the world feels so revolutionary and I think it’s important to be a part of history. It’s cool that, even though I wasn’t there, there was a tiny little mark.’
'I PUT A LOT OF MY LIFE OUT THERE THROUGH MY MUSIC FOR EVERYONE TO KNOW AND SEE AND FEEL'
Dua’s made even bigger waves in the music industry. She recently became the first woman to be nominated for five Brit Awards in one year (she won two), and with New Rules she became the first female soloist to get a UK Number 1 since Adele’s Hello in 2015. But while her personal lyrics have helped Dua connect with fans and carve out a place for herself in the pop-icon pantheon, she sometimes feels conflicted about opening up too much: ‘I put a lot of my life out there through my music for everyone to know and see and feel. It makes it difficult to allow myself to have privacy, because being so open is what’s given me this amazing relationship with my fans.’
But she doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. She gives me a hint of what her next album will have in store: ‘I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m not afraid to do so. There’s strength in vulnerability and strength in sadness. I enjoy the empowerment and the performance when I’m singing stuff that’s about not backing down.’ So, who better to turn to for life and love advice than the queen of empowered pop?
WHAT WOULD DUA DO?
I'M A SERIAL MONOGAMIST, BUT FRIENDS SAY I SHOULD TRY BEING SINGLE AND ENJOY MY TWENTIES. AM I MISSING OUT?
- Scared of Singledoom, 26
There’s so much fun in being single. When I’m single, I end up having so much more time to do a lot of other stuff. When you’re in a relationship, the time you do have off, you tend to dedicate to that one person. While that can be fun, it’s also good to go out and do everything on your own terms. I am totally into monogamy, but I think it’s also important to experience life on your own, at least for a little bit. I think you learn so much about yourself when you’re completely alone and you have no one to go to for help for certain things. You learn to rely on yourself in a different way
WHEN FEMINIST POLITICS COME UP AT HOME, OLDER MEMBERS OF MY FAMILY DISAGREE WITH ME, AND WE END UP FIGHTING. HOW CAN I MAKE THEM LISTEN TO MY PERSPECTIVE?
- Gloria Steinem Wannabe, 27
I think it’s a lot about collaboration, where you’re like, ‘I totally understand your point of view, but this is my opinion and I feel this way because of this, this and this.’ Getting heated about it can egg people on the wrong way. Sometimes, I back my argument up with facts I’ve read in books, or I give people feminist books I’ve really enjoyed. My three go-to reads are Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (one of my all-time favourites); The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (a classic feminist read – you could just show your family the last chapter and it would make sense); and Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit (it’s pretty hard-hitting, but an important read).
I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO HAVE A CAREER IN MUSIC, BUT IT’S SUCH A COMPETITIVE INDUSTRY, I CAN’T IMAGINE IT EVER HAPPENING. WHAT ADVICE HELPED YOU MOST?
- Chasing Dreams, 23
I never thought that I would be doing what I’m doing now. It’s always been a massive dream of mine to be a singer and write songs, but I never knew how I would actually get there. My dad would always say, ‘You need to work really, really hard to get a little bit of luck’. And although sometimes being in the right place at the right time does happen, it always tends to happen to the people who are already on their way. So don’t give up on your dream, always work towards it and figure out what the next step is. For me, being on the ground was really important: getting out there and trying to get as much work as possible, putting out covers and being proactive. You just have to keep working towards it and believe in your art.
I WAS BIG INTO SHAVING MY LEGS AND WAXING MY BIKINI LINE WHEN I FIRST STARTED DATING MY BOYFRIEND, BUT NOW I CAN’T BE BOTHERED. I CAN TELL IT FRUSTRATES HIM. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
- Stubble Trouble, 31
Your body hair should be your personal preference; it’s all about what you feel comfortable with. I guess there’s definitely compromise in a relationship – I’m sure there’s an ugly shirt you don’t really want him to wear. It’s about finding the middle ground with someone. I know a lot of women who have decided to grow their pubic hair because it makes them feel more womanly. Plus, upkeep is so boring.
I’M DATING A LOT AT THE MOMENT AND I’VE STARTED TO IGNORE MESSAGES FROM GUYS I DON’T LIKE. I FEEL LIKE IT’S A BAD HABIT TO GET INTO – CAN I GET AWAY WITH IT?
- No Reply, 34
I think you have to remember what it feels like when someone ghosts you. It’s something I try not to do. I prefer to be upfront and honest about situations. I know what it’s like to be ghosted, so I’ll probably tell someone, ‘You’re so lovely but I prefer you as a friend.’ Whether or not they want to carry on that friendship is totally up to them. Being honest, rather than leading someone on or ghosting them, is much easier. It’s so awkward when you bump into them and they say, ‘I’ve texted you so many times...’ and you’re like, ‘Yeah... my phone’s been broken for so long’. Honesty is the best policy for sure.
I’VE GOT A FEW FRIENDS WHO RELY ON ME FOR EVERYTHING AND ARE CONSTANTLY ASKING ME FOR ADVICE. HOW DO YOU TELL A FRIEND THAT THEY’RE BEING OVERLY NEEDY WITHOUT HURTING THEIR FEELINGS?
- The (Tired) Rock, 33
Sometimes you just have to be a friend and allow them to let it all out. Again, I think it’s really important to be honest and be like, ‘Mate, you’ve spoken about this half a dozen times now and I’ve given you a solution every time.’ Eventually, they’ll have to admit you’re right and you can kind of make a joke out of it. I think it’s important just to let your friends rant, because that’s probably going to be you at some point, and you’ll need them there to listen.
I’M CONSTANTLY PLAGUED BY THE FEELING OF NOT BEING GOOD ENOUGH, IN BOTH MY RELATIONSHIP AND AT WORK. I ALWAYS LOOK AT OTHER WOMEN AND THINK THEY’RE NAILING IT. DOES EVERYONE EXPERIENCE THESE THOUGHTS AT SOME POINT IN THEIR LIVES, OR IS IT JUST ME?
- Never Enough, 37
It’s happened to me in both my first-ever relationship and my most recent relationship. I felt like I wasn’t enough, or I wasn’t good enough. When those relationships ended, I would say to myself, ‘Maybe it’s my fault.’ But then you play back certain things and moments from your time together and realise it wasn’t all in your head. Sometimes people can be emotionally manipulative without wanting to, and sometimes people in relationships can bring out the worst in each other. But it has been proven to me that not everyone makes you feel that way. The one thing I want you to get from this is: don’t blame yourself. I think that’s really important.
I RECENTLY SLIPPED UP AND DRUNK-TEXTED MY EX-BOYFRIEND AND NOW WE’RE BACKIN TOUCH. CAN YOU EVER BE FRIENDS WITH AN EX OR IS IT A TOTAL NO-GO?
- Still In Love, 29
It depends on the break-up and what happened in the relationship, but I think you can be friends with your ex. I’m really good friends with mine in fact, but we’re in a tricky situation because I think we still love each other. I think it’s tough because your first love will always be your first love, no matter the circumstances. I’ve spoken to multiple people about this, and even though they didn’t end up with their first love, they say they’ll always love that person. If you care about someone so much, keep them in your life, even if you know you’re not meant to be together in a romantic sense.
I’VE FALLEN TOO HARD, TOO FAST FOR A GIRL I MET BEFORE CHRISTMAS. THIS IS MY FIRST RELATIONSHIP WITH ANOTHER WOMAN AND WE’RE ALREADY TELLING EACH OTHER WE’RE IN LOVE. I’M WORRIED THINGS ARE MOVING SO QUICKLY AND THAT IT’S TOO SOON. HOW CAN I PUT THE BRAKES ON THINGS?
- Moving Too Fast, 26
There is a danger in saying ‘I love you’ too soon, but sometimes you’ll meet someone who makes you feel a certain way, and it seems like the most natural thing to say. You shouldn’t be afraid of it. If it’s meant to be, there’s no such thing as ‘going too fast’. It will feel right. And if it doesn’t work out, that’s OK, too. As much as I tell myself not to rush into something, or be careful not to say ‘I love you’ too fast without knowing if there’s any substance in the relationship, it’s important to go with your gut. Life is too short not to say 'I love you'.
This story first appeared on ELLEUK.com.
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