“Is it okay if I lick your mirror?” Posing for her Interview photo shoot and grinning in a leather Dior frock, Dua Lipa shows some of her propensity to play with boundaries. The singer-songwriter is in New York for a whirlwind weekend that will whisk her from Alexander Wang’s romp of a fall fashion show in Harlem out to Los Angeles for the Grammy Awards. We connect again a few days later as she’s about to board a flight headed back to her home city of London. “I don’t even know where I am,” she laughs over the phone.
Born and raised in London, Lipa, now 21, moved to Kosovo, where her parents are from, at age 11. “My father was a musician so I feel like falling into this career was a bit inevitable,” she says. At 15, with her parents’ blessing, she returned to London on her own, staying with a friend in a flat in Camden, and started posting covers of pop hits on YouTube suited to her throaty voice, by singers like Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys. “I just really used social media to my advantage,” Lipa says. Her early independence and determination paid off: Lipa signed to Warner at age 18. Her debut song, “New Love,” which showcases her smoky vocals, went online in 2015, followed by “Be the One,” earning her a spot on the BBC’s “Sound of 2016” list.
In February, Lipa edged out Anderson .Paak and Christine and the Queens to nab NME‘s Best New Artist award. She cites artists like Pink and Nelly Furtado for her interest in pushing pop to its limits and mining personal experiences to add emotional weight. “Everything that I do is very autobiographical,” she explains. “I’m trying to be as much of an open book as possible and give the audience every single piece of me.” Lipa’s frank confidence comes through in her songs “Hotter Than Hell,” about a relationship gone bad, and “Blow Your Mind (Mwah),” her first U.S. single, both of which will appear on her self-titled debut album, which is slated for June. “It’s all pop, but progressive pop, and there’s darkness in the lyrics and the stories,” she says.
In the time leading up to the album’s release, the whirlwind of press and live shows will only intensify. Lipa takes this moment to take stock of the here and now. “Everything is at 200 miles an hour,” she says. “Sometimes I just have to step back and take a moment. I have to pinch myself quite often.”