Odds are, you’ve heard the edgy pop sound of U.K. upstart Dua Lipa. But it’s even more likely that you’ve seen it.
Lipa’s burgeoning star status in the U.S. stems largely from two brilliant music videos, a rare phenomenon for new acts heading into 2018. First came the Miami-set visual for hair-flipping ex takedown “New Rules” over the summer, an expertly choreographed testament to female friendship and self-care that has earned 900 million views to date, dozens of memes and a shout-out from Lorde. Now, with the equally intricate new visual for sassy independence anthem “IDGAF,” which features dozens of Lipa clones battling an alter-ego (and some fantastic pantsuits), Lipa is likely on her way to another smash hit, logging 47 million views roughly two weeks into the video’s release.
Those clicks matter, especially for a voice like Lipa, who while being a top 40 mainstay overseas — even tapping into the U.S. club scene with EDM-leaning singles “Be The One” and “Blow Your Mind [Mwah]” — had, until recently, struggled to conquer mainstream pop stateside. Released in June, “New Rules” quickly dethroned Calvin Harris for the No. 1 spot the U.K. songs chart — but it wasn’t until the music video’s release in July that Lipa began gaining traction across the Atlantic.
Three months after it hit YouTube, “New Rules” became Lipa’s first top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100; this week, it reaches the top 10 at No. 8. Pushed by its similarly addictive video, “IDGAF” enters the Hot 100 this week at No. 92, with Lipa’s self-titled debut album rocketing to No. 32 on the Billboard 200 albums chart (which it has spent 28 weeks climbing) and earning the 22-year-old a coveted Saturday Night Live gig, on the upcoming Feb. 3 episode.
It’s been a minute since we’ve seen an on-the-cusp artist reap this level of breakout success off music videos. There’s Sia, whose collection of choreography-focused visuals featuring dance prodigy Maddie Ziegler helped bring recognition to tracks like “Elastic Heart” and “Chandelier” — but didn’t picture the singer at all. Several videos in the past decade or so brought lesser-known acts one-off fame (PSY’s “Gangnam Style” or, further back, OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again”), but most eventually lost momentum. Still others went viral, but not necesarily for good reasons — think Rebecca Black’s cringeworthy “Friday” from 2011.
ONE, DON’T PICK UP THE PHONE YOU KNOW HE’S ONLY CALLING CAUSE HE’S DRUNK AND ALONE. TWO, DONT LET HIM IN YOU’LL HAVE TO KICK HIM OUT AGAIN pic.twitter.com/JSmsG3e8vj
— mary —- (@thepeakyshelby) July 29, 2017
These days, it’s more often established stars who expend energy on visuals meant to break the internet — Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Rihanna — and even then, a music video acts as the final round of ammo to push a proven hit to its chart peak; more a reminder than an introduction. Even the big vids at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards lacked their expected iconic touch: aside from Kendrick Lamar, who took home video of the year for “HUMBLE.,” nominees like Bruno Mars (“24K Magic”) or The Weeknd (“Reminder”) weren’t particularly unforgettable for their visuals.
So what makes Lipa’s videos work? Gif-able imagery and a girl-power theme seem to be key. While “New Rules” finds Lipa laying out commandments for avoiding relationship limbo (“if you’re under him, you ain’t getting over him”) as a squad of fabulously dressed girlfriends offer support through a dreamy hotel sleepover, “IDGAF” pictures an army of Lipa clones locked in a face-to-face battle of interpretive dance moves (a nearly perfect photo opp for Evil Kermit meme-ers), culminating with a message of self-love.
Both clips — directed by Henry Scholfield (Stromae, AlunaGeorge) — are empowering, visually striking and even funny, in a cheeky way. And with each scene, we get to know Lipa a little bit better. “That was really when I got to show another side of the story to the song, and focus on what it really meant to me,” Lipa told Billboard recently about shooting the “New Rules” video. “I think the video definitely propelled it to where it is.”
In an increasingly cutthroat streaming market where loyalties can be fickle and success fleeting, Lipa’s newfound niche in the music video world could be a new path to pop stardom. Already, others are following her lead: take Hayley Kiyoko, a fellow emerging pop singer whose short film-style videos have become inextricable from her music. Kiyoko’s steamy clip for “Feelings” earned applause in October for featuring a same-sex relationship, logging nearly 2.5 million views in its first two weeks, and colorful recent release “Curious” (3.2 million views and counting) builds on her growing reputation for both boundary-pushing visuals and seriously impressive dance moves.
Lipa has proven that a killer music video can still mean the difference between an emerging artist and a breakout star. The question is whether that strategy will prove sustainable, in a music climate where personal brands fall out of fashion as quickly as they emerge. Yes, there’s an ever-changing list of “New Rules” governing what makes a successful career in 2018 — but at least for now, it’s Dua Lipa behind the pen, and in front of the camera.