U.K. singer-songwriter Dua Lipa has become one of the biggest names in pop the past few years, scoring one of the most viral Top 40 hits of the late ’10s with “New Rules,” singing on dance hits by star producers Calvin Harris and Silk City (Mark Ronson and Diplo), even winning the Grammy for best new artist in 2019. Yet she ended the decade still with just one Top 10 hit on the Hot 100 to her name: “Rules,” which peaked at No. 6 in early 2018.
She didn’t take long to get back to the chart’s top tier in the 2020s, though. “Don’t Start Now,” lead single off her upcoming sophomore album Future Nostalgia, had debuted on the Hot 100 at No. 31 in late November of 2019 — and after an initial dip, began to scale the chart once again, finally climbing to a new peak of No. 9 on this week’s listing.
What does the second smash mean for Lipa’s stateside stardom? And is it even the most promising song she’s released off her pending second LP? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. “Don’t Start Now” has had kind of a sneaky journey to the top 10 since debuting just outside the Top 30 back in November and initially sliding from there. On a scale from 1 to 10, how surprised are you to see it become a top 10 hit this February?
Katie Atkinson: I’ve been obsessed with this song from the start and felt confident it would do big things, so I’m at a 1 on the surprise scale. My confidence in the song only grew when my two-year-old became fixated on it, quoting the lyrics at me and getting frustrated when his visiting grandma didn’t comprehend his cries to “play Dua Lipa!” You always know a song will be a hit when children and older people come around to it.
Tatiana Cirisano: A solid four, as in, not crazy surprised. “Don’t Start Now” slowly grew on me in a way I would imagine it did for other people, too. When I first heard it, I found it pleasant though not super memorable, but the more I’m reminded of it — in part thanks to a flurry of recent live performances from Dua, including on The Tonight Show and Ellen — the more I can’t get its funky chorus out of my head. Her vocals are stronger than ever here, and the Eurodance-y disco vibe suits her. It probably helps that the song follows the same tried-and-true, banish-the-f–kboys brand of her breakthrough “New Rules” and similar hit “IDGAF.”
Eric Frankenberg: Very surprised – maybe an 8? As contemporary as Dua is, her brand of throwback dance-pop might have been more at home on the Hot 100 five or six years ago next to hits from 1989 and My Everything. And after the song’s mid-chart debut and slow slide, I figured that was it and that any momentum would wash away with the holidays and new year. But here we are! Long live Pop!
Jason Lipshutz: A solid 8! “Don’t Start Now” represents an outlier in modern popular music, a disco/house track with zero trace of hip-hop’s all-encompassing influence, and while Dua Lipa has found success with her danceable sound — especially outside of the United States — the song simply didn’t have the texture of an apparent hit. Then again, nobody thought “New Rules” was going to be Lipa’s breakthrough, and after months of climbing it reached the top 10 of the Hot 100 chart. Maybe the lesson here is to stop dismissing the possibility of a Dua Lipa slow-growing smash.
Andrew Unterberger: I’ll go with a 7.5. “Dont’t Start Now” is one of those songs where once you start hearing it on the radio with some regularity, it seems inconceivable that it could ever have not ended up a smash. But my first impression of it was a good-not-great single which, after a strong debut and some unexceptional live TV performances, we probably wouldn’t hear a ton from again. The fact that this song is connecting is very good news for those who’ve wanted a radio return to the Big Pop of a decade ago since that sound largely fell out of favor in the mid-’10s.
2. Despite being one of the bigger names in pop since her 2017 stateside breakthrough, this is actually only Dua Lipa’s second top 10 hit on the Hot 100. Does this help cement her as an A-lister for you, or do you think she still has something to prove there?
Katie Atkinson: She 100% still has a lot to prove. While she’s making undeniably interesting pop music, I don’t think she’s reached the point yet where you hear a song and know instantly it’s her. Also, when you look at her current pop-star competition — Ariana, Selena, Demi — they all started with a childhood fanbase obsessed with their every move since their Disney or Nickelodeon days. One song at a time, Dua Lipa is making sure people remember her name, but it’s hard to compete with that sort of head-start.
Tatiana Cirisano: I don’t feel totally comfortable calling Dua an A-lister yet, but this definitely helps build her case for future pop stardom. Dua is already a remarkably consistent pop artist: She has yet to release a dud single, and always delivers the confidence-boosting club vibe that we’ve come to expect. The missing link, for me, is that I still don’t have a sense of who she is, both as an artist and as a person. But with Future Nostalgia, and the cohesiveness of its singles so far, I think she’s poised to change that.
Eric Frankenberg: I’ll start by saying that the A-list is a spectrum and that Beyoncé is not Demi Lovato is not Halsey. The release of Future Nostalgia will perhaps be more telling — but I’ll say yes, for now, especially if we’re considering the A-list to be a global measure. Depending on the success of forthcoming singles and this album cycle at large, Dua could easily swing toward Ariana’s chart-topping dominance or a more internet-y/cult status, reminiscent of Carly Rae Jepsen or Charli XCX. But the slow-burning success of “Don’t Start Now” and very positive initial reaction to her new single “Physical” are great signs.
Jason Lipshutz: “New Rules” and now “Don’t Start Now” may be Lipa’s only two top 10 hits, but her profile has grown to such a degree — thanks to the best new artist Grammy win, live shows, festival dates, magazine covers, modeling work and other singles that burned a little brighter overseas — that, if she’s not a household name by this point, she’s darn close to it. If she keeps collecting hit singles, that’s a huge boost to her potential album sales and selling power as a live performer, but Lipa is established enough at this point that she can thrive even without them.
Andrew Unterberger: The musical resumé is getting close, but the connecting tissue is still a little lacking; she’s a reliable hitmaker, but not quite an inherently compelling one at the moment, able to inspire fascination with even a middling song. We demand both messiness and transcendence from our greatest pop stars, on and off record — and with the possible exception of the undeniably great “New Rules” and its classic music video, I’m not sure Dua has given us a ton of either just yet.
3. Of course, “Don’t Start Now” hitting the top 10 also coincides with Dua debuting her latest song, the already acclaimed “Physical.” Which song do you hope ends up the bigger hit, and which do you expect actually will?
Katie Atkinson: “Physical” is a very cool song (and it pairs well with The Weeknd also releasing A-ha-esque ’80s-inspired tunes at the same moment), but the chorus doesn’t stick with me the way the “Don’t Start Now” hook instantly did. So I hope and expect that “Don’t Start Now” will be the bigger deal in the end.
Tatiana Cirisano: I’m on team “Physical.” I’m a sucker for its brand of neon-lit, simmering electro-pop, and it’s cool to see Dua branch out a little from her usual “moving on from a break-up” lyrical formula. That said, I have a feeling that “Don’t Start Now” — a great title, by the way — will be the bigger hit. It’s fun and effortless to sing along to, and has an inner exuberance that’s hard to ignore.
Eric Frankenberg: I’m torn. I’ve had plenty of time to digest “Don’t Start Now” so I’m leaning that way, if only for the best pre-chorus of 2019 (but also for the verses and chorus). But the music video for “Physical” might help establish it as more of a signature moment in this album cycle and perhaps in her career. The gif-friendly, intricately choreographed clip sits well next to “IDGAF” and “New Rules” and helps cement her as one of contemporary pop’s best music video artists.
Jason Lipshutz: “Physical” is a monster of a pop single, frenetic in its energy and unabashed in its Olivia Newton-John worship; by the time the bridge ramps up into an explosive crescendo, the song has earned its place among Lipa’s best singles to date. Yet if “Don’t Start Now” doesn’t sound like contemporary pop at all, “Physical” really doesn’t — it’s most akin to the electro-pop of the early 2010s, shimmying in an alternate universe in which LMFAO and Taio Cruz are still atop the charts. “Physical” won’t be a top 10 hit, most likely, but it’s already a cult classic.
Andrew Unterberger: “Don’t Start Now” is the easier fit on Top 40, sure, but “Physical” feels a little… extra, maybe like 10% beyond tasteful, in the sense that we haven’t really gotten a ton of from Dua Lipa yet. That’s a good thing for Lipa’s long-term prospects — particularly on Pop Twitter, where the song (and video) has already essentially been crowned as one of the year’s best — but whether streaming and radio will be as amenable remains to be seen. Nonetheless, I imagine it’s the one I’ll be returning to more.
4. There’ve only been a couple notable “Don’t Start” songs over the years, but there have been countless “Don’t Stop”-related jams. Which is your favorite?
Katie Atkinson: This is actually one of the things that sort of works against the song: As an editor, I’ve fixed multiple writers calling the song “Don’t Stop Now” in their copy, and I’ve heard a lot of people sing the lyrics as “Don’t Stop Now” too. It’s a hard thing to shake.
But to address the actual question, the first song that came into my head was Brazilian Girls’ “Don’t Stop,” the effervescent second track from their 2005 self-titled debut album. And now I won’t stop listening to it for days. And this album. God, it’s good.
Tatiana Cirisano: There are so many choices, but I have to go with Rihanna, the first person who came to mind (and always a good answer). Similar to the Dua track, “Don’t Stop The Music” is a pure dose of disco-pop elation — and don’t even get me started on its perfectly 2000s music video, where Rih sneaks into a secret club in the back of a bodega and dances the night away.
Eric Frankenberg: I’ll go with “Don’t Stop The Music” by Rihanna. Throughout the many phases of her career, the different hair colors and genre-hopping, this song has its own kind of timeless charm, existing outside of whatever narrative was following her at the time.
Jason Lipshutz: Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”? Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”? Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough”? All rightly considered classics, sure. Yet I shall use my allotted time to shout out 5 Seconds of Summer’s “Don’t Stop,” a delectable pop-rock track that follows “She Looks So Perfect” on the group’s self-titled debut and should have been just as ubiquitous.
Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, let me go completely off the board here and select the “Don’t Stop” that graces the self-titled debut album of ’80s U.K. rock greats The Stone Roses. It’s basically just a backwards-running version of the LP’s previous track, the lightly funky jangle-pop jam “Waterfall,” with some semi-incomprehensible lyrics laid over it. Arrogant as all hell, but something about that confidence and the band’s commitment to it is intoxicating — and that groove just sounds great backwards, forwards, or any direction in between.
5. Dua Lipa spent time in between her first two albums working with a number of high-profile producers. Who would you most like to hear her work with on her upcoming Future Nostalgia set?
Katie Atkinson: I’m obsessed with her Grammy-winning team-up with Silk City “Electricity,” but I would really love to see what Dua would do with just half of that dance production duo: Mark Ronson. I think they could make a really explosive pair and maybe take her to a yet-explored pop realm.
Tatiana Cirisano: The title Future Nostalgia alone screams Kevin Parker, and I’d love to hear Dua’s sugar-coated vocal laced with a little psychedelic funk. She’s voiced an interest in working with him before, and he says he wants to write pop songs for pop stars…universe, do your thing.
Eric Frankenberg: The first name that came to mind was MNEK but then I googled their names together and saw he has a credit on Dua Lipa. So on the back of a couple unexpected and low-profile collaborations last year, I’d love to see Empress Of get a pop glow-up via Future Nostalgia. Her excellent self-produced first album had some incredible hooks mixed with pretty out-there electronic production.
Jason Lipshutz: Maybe a Dua Lipa album executive produced by Jack Antonoff wouldn’t be the right move, but I’d be intrigued by hearing his approach to her sound for a track or two. Would Antonoff supply the candy-colored template of Taylor Swift’s Lover? Or the sun-kissed moodiness of Lana Del Rey’s Norman F–king Rockwell? Or something totally unexpected from both? Let’s get them both in a studio and let them loose!
Andrew Unterberger: Does Dua Lipa really want to be an A-list star? If so, why not get together with the guy who’s produced — and in many cases, helped establish — more of those than any other collaborator of the last 25 years? Max Martin hasn’t been so busy the past 12 months, and Lipa has likely more than passed her audition by now to prove herself worthy of getting in the booth with him. Let’s make some true pop magic happen, folks.