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Dua Lipa’s New Rules To Success: 10 Steps She Took to Become a Star

Dua Lipa
Kwaku Alston

Dua Lipa photographed at Clive Davis' Pre-Grammy Gala at The Beverly Hilton on Feb. 9, 2019 in Beverly Hills.

Dua Lipa’s second album, Future Nostalgia, was one of the most anticipated pop releases of 2020 prior to its release on Friday (Mar. 27); now that it’s out, the album is earning glowing reviews and eyeing an impressive commercial debut. None of this should be shocking, though. After all, Lipa’s entire pop ascent has been practically foolproof.

That’s not to say that the U.K. singer-songwriter’s fame was instantaneous, or that every song she’s released has been a smash. Yet when you look back at her career trajectory, from her debut in 2015 to today, you see a lot of smart decisions. There have been crossover hits like “New Rules” that have widened her fan base, and a memorable Grammy victory increased her visibility, yet far more has gone into Lipa’s rise than a couple moments of mass exposure. What she has accomplished in just a few years is fairly staggering, considering every box she has ticked as a mainstream artist. This moment -- the tidal wave of support behind Future Nostalgia -- took years of preparation, but Lipa made each step look easy.

So here are Lipa’s new rules to modern pop success -- or, the plot that she followed to become one of music’s most in-demand performers from the start of her career.

1. Don’t pick up the phone, you know h-

Wait, sorry. Force of habit.

1. Find your sound.

Lipa’s first few singles did not crack the Hot 100 chart, but grounded the singer (then 20 years old) in the world of confident synth-pop. “Be the One,” “Last Dance” and “Hotter Than Hell” achieved varying levels of overseas success for the U.K. native -- more importantly, however, the songs established the playful tone and uptempo drive of Lipa’s early work, and showcased her deep, distinct voice. These singles immediately connected with the pop blogosphere and helped place Lipa, newly signed to Warner, on the radar of a lot of mainstream purveyors.

2. Keep taking swings until you hit a home run.

Leading up to her 2017 self-titled debut album, Lipa issued single after single in hopes of making a dent at U.S. radio. The cheeky electro-pop single “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” have Lipa her first Hot 100 debut, but stalled out at No. 72 on the chart. “Scared to Be Lonely” teamed the singer up with red-hot producer Martin Garrix, and became a dance hit, but not a major crossover success. Dua Lipa was then preceded by “Lost in Your Light,” an old-school R&B-pop duet with Miguel that never found a wider audience.

All of these singles were released in relatively short succession to give Lipa more bites of the apple -- and while her debut album peaked at No. 27 upon its June 2017 release, she selected one of its highlights, “New Rules,” as her next single one month later.

3. Come armed with a killer music video.

Even in a post-MTV era, in which music videos are largely consumed on personal computers and smartphones via YouTube, a truly unique visual can still catch fire on social media and help bring a song to the masses. Such was the case for Lipa’s “New Rules,” which used a nifty, all-women, choreo-heavy video as a springboard to wider success for the song and its creator. “New Rules” became an unexpected breakthrough for Lipa, peaking at No. 6 on the Hot 100 chart, topping the singles chart in her native U.K. and introducing the singer to top 40 radio. 

Likewise, the song’s video crossed the 1 billion view mark a few months after its premiere, making Lipa the youngest female artist to join the billion-view club. Would “New Rules,” a cleverly constructed trop-pop anthem that doubles as advice for boy problems, have been a hit without a memorable video? Maybe. In retrospect, however, it’s clear that that video lit its fuse.

4. Showcase your personality.

Seems obvious enough, right? In our modern pop era, the difference between “consistent hit maker” and “actual star” often resides within how engaging an artist’s public persona is outside of their tunes. As “New Rules” started taking off for Lipa, she introduced her endearingly sardonic online presence to millions of followers: there were self-deprecating tweets about her dance moves, spin-off memes to “New Rules,” and frequent acts of fan service -- like the photo of Lipa nonchalantly shaving her armpit, which became the single artwork to “New Rules” follow-up “IDGAF” when enough people demanded it be so.

5. Hone your stage show.

From late 2016 through the end of 2018, Lipa toured relentlessly, both as a headlining act and as support to artists like Bruno Mars and Coldplay. Those opportunities gave the singer ample time to become a smoother dancer, live vocalist and overall performer in both theater and arena settings as her career began skyrocketing. Back in winter 2017, when Lipa was first playing U.S. gigs with just a handful of singles, her raw talent was on display, as her stage persona was still outgrowing any clunkiness. Now, she performs with an effortlessness that has been imbued in her through dozens of shows.

6. Stay active between projects -- with the right collaborators.

Following the success of “New Rules,” Lipa linked up with Calvin Harris for “One Kiss,” a sunny house throwback that cracked the top 40 in the U.S. and was even bigger everywhere outside of the States. Seriously: the song hit No. 1 in over a dozen countries, from Slovenia to Australia to Ecuador, and became one of the longest-running No. 1 hits in the history of the U.K. singles chart. “Electricity,” Lipa’s following one-off with the Mark Ronson/Diplo project Silk City, didn’t shoot quite as high, but the similarly house-indebted track still managed to top the Dance Club Songs chart while gracing the Hot 100 in the U.S.

More importantly, both songs paired Lipa with ace producers who knew how to maximize her dance-pop potential, and hint at the throwback sound she would pursue on her sophomore effort.

7. Storm an awards show.

In 2019, the first year that the Grammy Awards expanded its general categories from five nominees to eight, Lipa emerged victorious and took home the best new artist award. (The 2019 ceremony was also the first since former president and CEO Neil Portnow’s infamous “step up” comment about women artists, and Lipa delivered one of the more memorable moments of the night when she said in her acceptance speech, “I guess this year we’ve really stepped up.”) In addition, she performed a downright righteous mash-up of “One Kiss” and “Masseduction” with the latter’s guitar-hero creator, St. Vincent. Earning indie cred and a highly coveted trophy in front of a primetime audience? Not a bad night.

8. Predict a trend with your comeback single.

When Lipa released the sleek, effervescent “Don’t Start Now” as the lead single to her second album last November, the song’s potential as a momentum-building smash was more than a little dubious. Was a nu-disco track really going to explode in the way that Lipa needed to reach a new level of stardom? In short: yes, albeit slowly.

“Don’t Start Now” has climbed the Hot 100 for over four months, all while watching the shape of modern pop morph around it. Disco-adjacent tracks like Doja Cat’s “Say So,” SZA and Justin Timberlake’s “The Other Side” and Lady Gaga’s “Stupid Love” have all made waves in the months since “Don’t Start Now” began its ascent to a No. 2 Hot 100 peak -- the best of Lipa’s career thus far -- and become a pop radio staple. Sometimes, a song that’s out of step is actually just ahead of the pack.

9. Feed the pop obsessives.

If “Don’t Start Now” was the right single to return Lipa to the masses, its follow-up, “Physical,” shored up her base of diehards. The frenetic synth-pop workout gives Lipa an absolute banger in her arsenal, and the Olivia Newton-John-recalling track has been lauded all across Pop Twitter since its release in late January. Will “Physical” join its predecessor as another hit for Lipa? Probably not -- the song has only peaked at No. 60 on the Hot 100, and is not her next official radio single. Yet “Physical” undoubtedly conjured more excitement about Lipa’s sophomore LP from her fiercest defenders than any other pre-release track.

10. Nail the landing, and release a great sophomore album.

In the same way that Lipa has seemingly blown through every measure of pop success since her career began, Future Nostalgia, out today (Mar. 27), is everything you’d want to hear from her second full-length. Compared to her self-titled debut, the hooks on Future Nostalgia are bigger, the production is more seamless, the sonic blueprint -- forward-looking pop by way of well-worn dance arrangements, hence the album title -- is more coherent, and Lipa is more adept at displaying her personal growth. Lipa is funny, vulnerable, sexy and unflappable on the LP, a siren ready to start the party and a friend you want to share your gossip with.

This album will receive rave reviews, spin off more hits, and end with Lipa getting even bigger -- which isn’t too surprising, since that’s all she’s done since the get-go.

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