‘When you’re honest, people get that’
Dua Lipa left home and country aged 15 to pursue a career in music– and that determined approach soon brought her YouTube stardom and nowa debut album. She talks to Jim Carroll
There’s a story in Dua Lipa’s back pages that tells you a lot about determination. When the London-born Kosovar-Albanian singer was 11, her family moved to Pristina. Four years later, Lipa headed back to her birthplace on her own. She wanted a career in music so off she went. She didn’t have family in London so the 15-year-old stayed with a friend, went to school during the week and attended the Sylvia Young Theatre School at the weekend.
“It was really a trust thing,” Lipa says when you ask about her parents’ reaction to this move. “I moved back to London because I wanted to do music and that was where I felt I had to be. I was lucky that my parents really trusted me and believed in me.
“But at the same time, I was still under a lot of control. I’d call my mum when I’d wake up in the morning and when I’d get to school and when I left and all through the day so they knew I was OK. When you have trust between a parent and a child, everything becomes much easier. That’s not to say that my parents weren’t worried – I know they were – but I made sure to tell them everything to ensure they were at their ease.”
Nothing, it seems, was going to stop Lipa. She started off posting YouTube videos of her singing Alicia Keys’ If I Ain’t Got You and Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful, signed to Warner Brothers in 2015, appeared on the BBC Sound of 2016 shortlist and is now releasing her self-titled debut album.
There was n oplan
It all looks easy when you list it like that, but Lipa says there was no plan. “I’d no idea what I was doing. I always knew I wanted to do music but I literally had no idea how to do it.
“I started off putting up the covers on YouTube so I could show my friends at school what I was doing. I thought that if I ever met anyone who was in the music industry that I’d have a portfolio to show them, though I wasn’t so sure how you meet someone in the music industry as a schoolgirl in London. I could say to them ‘hey, I know I don’t have any songs of my own, but here’s my voice and I can work with you on songs’. That’s how it began.”
Her debut album is awash with great giddy tunes full of infectious hooks and darker corners where Lipa gets to push some candour and honesty into the mix. That’s important to her and, she believes, her audience.
“I want people to feel something when they listen to my music. I want them to have a good time but I also want them to hear the lyrics and be able to relate to what I’m talking about. We’re not so different and we all go through the same things and that’s important for me.
“When I first started releas- ing music, people would come up to me and talk about the songs in a way that I didn’t realise would happen. People saw something in the songs and it’s really heartwarming to get that, especially after I’ve opened up about my own personal experiences and things that are going on in my life that I feel very close to. When you’re honest when you write, people do get that.”
When she was getting into pop herself, it was such qualities which attracted her to artists like Nelly Furtado and Pink. “I listened to them over and over again when I was growing up. At first, I listened to them because the songs were really fun and they were great to sing along to. But the more I listened, the more meaning I heard in the songs and the more important they became to me.”
The nature of the modern pop game means Lipa spent a lot of time walking into studios for songwriting sessions with strangers. How hard is it to be honest about your emotions in those situations?
“It’s really daunting at the start. You go into a room with a bunch of people you haven’t met before and start talking about your personal experiences. But then you realise that we’re not going to come up with an honest song unless I open up because no one else is going to be honest for you.
“You have to be yourself, you have to jump into it and take a chance, you have to open it. When you do that, it makes the process a lot easier. I worked with Miguel and he has been doing it for so long that it’s second nature for him and he made me feel really comfortable and confident so there was no tension or nervousness or any of that. It was really easy going and I think that’s how you get the best of a project like that.” Dua Lipa is out now on Warner Brothers
You realise that we’re not going to come up with an honest song unless I open up because no one else is going to be honest for you