She has been com­pared to Amy Wine­house, is start­ing to heat up the Fash­ion Week front row, and – even be­fore launch­ing her de­but al­bum – has al­ready hit the one-mil­lion-fol­low­ers mark on In­sta­gram. Dua Lipa: mil­len­nial pop star, or a pow­er­house diva who w

Female (Singapore) - - ON THE COVER - Pho­to­p­ra­phy Ste­fan Khoo Cre­ative Di­rec­tion Noelle Loh Styling Im­ran Jalal

Could the Bri­tish star be the mil­len­nial singer of the mo­ment or the next big pop diva?

Dua Lipa is fix­ated with a pair of denim Givenchy booties, and not in a good way. Here we are, at the NCO Club of JW Mar­riott Ho­tel Sin­ga­pore South Beach on an early May morn­ing. Just a day be­fore, the 21-year-old had held a pri­vate show­case for her fans in the same build­ing. To­day, it’s be­come the HQ for our exclusive shoot, and she’s get­ting into a pair of strappy pumps (also Givenchy), but those boots – rest­ing atop a huge wooden ta­ble nearby – are both­er­ing her big time.

“Could we take them off the ta­ble, please? It’s bad luck,” she blurts out. “I’m re­ally su­per­sti­tious. I’m into that whole seven-years-of-bad-luck-with-bro­ken­mir­rors or no-black-cat-cross­ing-me kind of stuff.”

It’s pos­si­bly the last thing you’d ex­pect com­ing from a celebrity right on the cusp of Gen Y and Z (to think I was more wor­ried about diva tantrums over wardrobe, which didn’t quite hap­pen, but more on this later). This is in light of her rebel-cool per­sona and brazen mu­sic.

The Lon­don-born and -based per­former of­ten de­scribes her songs as “dark pop” – catchy, dancey, pro­gres­sive pop tunes tur­bocharged with raw, tell-it­like-it-is lyrics big on at­ti­tude. One just needs to lis­ten to her hit sin­gles Hot­ter Than Hell (I’m the realest it gets/You’d prob­a­bly still adore me/With my hands around your neck), and that up-yours rouser Blow Your Mind (Mwah) (If we don’t f *** this whole thing up/Guar­an­teed I can blow your mind) to get the drift.

She’s ebul­liently youth­ful with a propen­sity for play­fully stick­ing her tongue out in pho­tos (some­thing that she does a lot dur­ing our shoot). In fact, the “look” has be­come a cheeky trade­mark on her In­sta­gram ac­count, which – as of press time – boasted 1.2 mil­lion fol­low­ers, a fig­ure that’s been ris­ing steadily. At some point to­day, she’ll sneak a ’gram of her­self, freshly fit­ted in a black Chanel tuxedo for our shoot. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing cap­tion: “Sin­ga­pore you can have me back any time”. (Sur­pris­ingly, she keeps her tongue in.)

Then there’s her voice: deep, smoky, and soul­ful like that of jazz singers from an­other time. (It’s hard not to be im­pressed by her cover of Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind on Youtube.) An­other late great that she’s of­ten com­pared to: Amy Wine­house. It’s these ob­verse traits that make Lipa an in­trigu­ing one to watch and fol­low close.

On the sur­face, what sticks out most about this in­dus­try new­comer is how she couldn’t have come from any other gen­er­a­tion, but now. Like many trendy women her age, her cul­tural tastes bear strong in­flu­ences from the ’90s, the decade she was born.

The likes of Kate Moss and Chloe Se­vi­gny are her style icons for their “grungy-prissy jux­ta­po­si­tion”. She de­clines to di­vulge her favourite brands, but is most com­monly seen in of-the­mo­ment street wear in the vein of Off-white and Palace (think tough, sporty chic-meets-iron­i­cally trashy). Post-shoot, she changes into a white tee, track pants from Alexan­der Wang’s re­cent tie-up with Adi­das Orig­i­nals, and stud­ded slides (also by Wang). To com­plete the look: a leather choker that looks right out of Hot Topic – go-to fash­ion chain for all things punk/gothic in the ’90s – and has turned up in sev­eral of her IG por­traits, as well as the video for her lat­est sin­gle Lost in Your Light.

“As long as I can re­mem­ber, I’ve been wear­ing chok­ers. Ever since pri­mary school, in fact,” she says. “I’d get them from Claire’s or Accessorize, or make them out of tiny rib­bons or things you find out of a party bag.”

“I try not to have a fil­ter... The more peo­ple tell me to stop, the more I’m go­ing to do it.”

Even the cover for her 12-track name­sake de­but al­bum that launched last month (Chris Martin and Miguel guest sing on it) seems like an ode to al­ter­na­tive ’90s pop cul­ture. A close-up of her dressed in a leather jacket, hair slicked back with a slight pout star­ing coolly, al­most de­fi­antly, was lensed by the revered Bri­tish pho­tog­ra­pher Rankin – he co-founded Dazed & Con­fused mag­a­zine in 1992 – and rem­i­nis­cent of his work from over two decades ago. “There was just some­thing cool and ef­fort­less about it,” she says of ’90s style.

Of course, the other most typ­i­cally late mil­len­nial thing about her is how sig­nif­i­cant a role so­cial me­dia’s played in her ca­reer. Present-day In­sta­gram roy­alty sta­tus aside, her tra­jec­tory’s been largely Bieberan: if not for Youtube, she might have never got­ten her big break. Her mil­len­nial fairy tale in brief: Record com­pany ex­ecs (hers are from Warner Bros.) stum­ble upon self-pro­duced demos (Nelly Fur­tado and Ali­cia Keys cov­ers), keep watch and sign her years later (2015). Next, she’s hit­ting the charts (most sin­gles have), earn­ing mu­sic award nom­i­na­tions (MTV, NME etc), and col­lab­o­rat­ing with big shots (in­clud­ing one Martin Gar­rix) – and yes, all in less than two years.

Fash­ion – fan of the In­sta-fame game – has quickly caught on to her fast-ris­ing in­flu­ence. She was part of the front row – along­side the likes of Alice Del­lal and the Jen­ner/Ha­did clan – at Alexan­der Wang, Ver­sus Ver­sace and Top­shop Unique dur­ing Fall/Win­ter 2017 Fash­ion Week. (We pre­dict more ap­pear­ances to come.) More re­cently, M.A.C roped her in to cre­ate a lip gloss for its Fu­ture For­ward makeup col­lec­tion.

To sum Lipa up as part of that fleet­ing fame- and im­age-ob­sessed gen­er­a­tion so of­ten as­so­ci­ated with those her age, how­ever, would be an un­just gen­er­al­i­sa­tion. Her smooth, emo­tive vo­cals were honed at the pres­ti­gious Sylvia Young Theatre School in Lon­don’s West End, where she was en­rolled in classes with stu­dents twice her age. She co-wrote all but one of the songs on her new al­bum. Her fa­ther is the Koso­var-Al­ba­nian rocker Dukag jin Lipa, which might partly ex­plain her di­ver­sity as an artist.

“I’d be lis­ten­ing to Des­tiny’s Child, loads of hip-hop, Tu­pac and Big­gie, while my dad would be nur­tur­ing me with Dy­lan and Bowie,” she says of her child­hood.

Her three-day visit to Sin­ga­pore was part of a whirl­wind pro­mo­tional tour in the re­gion that also in­cluded stops in Bei­jing and Manila. (If you missed her here, she’ll be at the Good Vibes fes­ti­val in Gent­ing Highlands next month.) Be­fore that, she had her first head­lin­ing tour in North Amer­ica (in­clud­ing a per­for­mance on Jimmy Fal­lon’s The Tonight Show – al­ways a good in­di­ca­tor of the next big thing), and checked Coachella off her list (a sur­prise ap­pear­ance dur­ing Martin Gar­rix’s set). If press im­ages and her own In­sta­gram are any­thing to go by, her fer­vid fol­low­ing car­ries over into real life.

Dur­ing our shoot, the clos­est she came to act­ing diva was re­quest­ing to change out of an over­sized white shirt/ black pants combo from Ce­line (the sil­hou­ette and aus­ter­ity de­vi­ated too far from her per­sonal style), and this only af­ter at­tempt­ing a few shots in it. When be­ing in­ter­viewed, she’s re­laxed to the point of be­ing overly ca­sual, legs raised onto the cof­fee ta­ble, and speaks as if we’ve known each other for ages. It’s all sur­pris­ingly can­did for a young pop star on the rise, but all that au­then­tic­ity could just be what gives her longevity be­yond the “Likes”.

“I try not to have a fil­ter and want to be com­fort­able with the way I am,” she says with an unas­sum­ing air. “I mean, peo­ple are al­ways telling me to stop stick­ing my tongue out. The more peo­ple tell me to stop, the more I’m go­ing to do it.”

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