When 19-year-old Dua Lipa released her debut single, “New Love”, in 2015, her rise to global pop stardom was anything but inevitable.
Sure, she already had a few key factors working in her favor. Her deep, sultry voice differentiated her from many popular female artists who favor airier, higher-pitched vocals. The year prior, she had signed with Warner Bros and put together a team committed to her work. It also certainly didn’t hurt that she was beautiful. But in a sea of beautiful, talented, young artists trying to break into the same scene, all of that still wouldn’t be enough on its own.
Over the past seven years, however, Lipa has proven that she has more to bring to the table. A combination of successful risk-taking, resilience, and work ethic has pushed her through early mishaps and sent her career on a skyward trajectory. Her political outspokenness has inspired admiration in many Gen Z fans while her high-power collaborations with the likes of Elton John and Kylie Minogue have cemented her as more than a passing sensation.
Although many decisions have led Lipa to this point, there are a few clear moments that have defined her career thus far. As she was starting out, Lipa received a good deal of criticism from those that thought she was better suited for her previous job: modeling. Though she was pretty, detractors said, she didn’t have the stage presence or performance skills for a career in pop music. In 2018, this criticism culminated in a viral meme making fun of Lipa’s weak dance skills in a performance of her song, “One Kiss.”
Lipa was hurt by these comments. But not for long. During a recent appearance on The Tonight Show, Lipa told host Jimmy Fallon, “I can look at [the meme] from a different perspective [now]. I look back on it with such fondness ’cause it helped me grow into the artist I wanted to become. It made me work harder. I went in, I did more rehearsal. I just wanted to become a real performer.”
Four years after Lipa was made the butt of an internet joke for her dancing, she’s now being praised for the hard-won performance skills she’s exhibited during her Future Nostalgia tour. She’s even brought back the infamous “One Kiss” dance for a laugh during her concerts. This display of resilience and willingness to learn from criticism has helped Lipa win over those who doubted her in the beginning.
Another quality that serves Lipa well as a modern pop star is her ability to balance the fun and serious aspects of life. In interviews and on social media, she manages to be entertaining and charming without losing sight of events happening in the world around her. She is passionate about social justice and often uses her platform as a public figure to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, racial justice, anti-gun legislation, and other human rights causes.
As a Kosovar Albanian, issues of oppression and human rights are especially close to her heart. In the 1990s, Kosovar Albanians were targeted by the Serbian government in an ethnic cleansing campaign. Lipa’s parents, and many others, fled Kosovo for their safety. Lipa was then born in London in 1995, but returned with her family to Kosovo after the country declared its independence in 2008.
Although she has spent most of her life in the U.K., her connection to Kosovo still affects the way she moves through the world. “I’m always on the side of the oppressed,” Lipa told Vogue in a 2022 interview. In a time when fans expect their idols to speak up about social issues, Lipa’s passion for social justice is respected and appreciated by her admirers.
Her balanced nature is also reflected in her music, which she describes as “dance crying.” While the beats are danceable and poppy, the lyrics are often vulnerable and sentimental. “Am I falling in love with the one that could break my heart?” Lipa questions over a beat designed for nightclubs and radio stations in “Break My Heart.” Both joyful and uncertain, Lipa is as fun as a best friend and as relatable as your reflection.
This duality won fans over in 2020, when Lipa released her most recent album, Future Nostalgia. As COVID-19 began to spread across the globe, many artists held back on releasing albums. Lipa went in a different direction, deciding to release Future Nostaglia sooner than planned.
It was a risky move. The album is an energetic collection of eleven dance-pop tracks. Releasing such an upbeat record during a global crisis could easily have made Lipa appear out of touch. She took the chance, releasing Future Nostalgia on March 27, 2020, just days after the UK had gone into nationwide lockdown.
It paid off. As Lipa had suspected, upbeat dance tracks were just what people wanted to get them through the boredom and uncertainty of those first few months of quarantine. Several songs from Future Nostalgia, including “Levitating,” “Physical,” and “Don’t Start Now” went viral on TikTok and inspired dance challenges.
In an interview with Jimmy Fallon in 2020, she described Future Nostalgia as “a celebration of vulnerability, that part of falling in love where you just never know. It’s kind of that excitement. The unsurety. The what-ifs.” With both the beats to get fans moving, and lyrics that felt relatable, Future Nostalgia was a perfect match for its time.
As the title reflects, the album draws on influences from the past and visions of the future to create a record that works brilliantly in the present. Lipa makes her intentions clear from the first lyrics of the album: “You want a timeless song, I wanna change the game.”
If “the game” is pop music, Lipa accomplished what she set out to do with Future Nostalgia. After Lipa released the album’s disco-inspired hit single “Don’t Start Now,” artists like Doja Cat, Lady Gaga, and The Weeknd all began experimenting with disco influences. Some credit Future Nostalgia as the beginning of a 2020s disco revival.
2020 also brought “Real Groove,” a collaboration between Lipa and Kylie Minogue, Australia’s “Pop Princess,” who has also drawn heavily on disco inspirations in her career. It was “Cold Heart,” Lipa’s 2021 collaboration with pop-rock legend Elton John, though, that left the most impact on listeners, topping the Adult Contemporary chart in May of 2022. In March of the same year, the song hit 700 million streams on Spotify, making it the 8th of Lipa’s songs and the first of John’s to achieve this feat.
Drawing on various songs from John’s discography, “Cold Heart” is both a tribute to the legend’s career and a harmonious marriage of old and new musical talents. Lipa’s vocals mix with lyrics from “Rocketman” and “Kiss the Bride,” renewing the classics with fresh energy.
As of 2022, Lipa has teased a third album, which she says has a different sound than Future Nostalgia. “In all honesty, it’s probably not what my fans want to hear,” she told the Wall Street Journal in January. If the past is any indication, Lipa’s risks have a good chance of paying off. “But I’m in no rush to release a new album,” she added.
In the meantime, fans have plenty of chances to engage with Lipa through her weekly lifestyle newsletter, Service95, and her interview podcast, Dua Lipa: At Your Service. Both are united by Lipa’s desire to “be of service” to others outside of her music.
It is, perhaps, this internal drive that has been most crucial to Lipa’s success. Although her fame is no doubt stressful, Lipa rises to the challenge of stardom at every occasion. As long as there are fans, it seems, Lipa will be ready to put on a show they love.