Despite being just 20 years of age, "dark pop" princess Dua Lipa appears to have her life fully together—facilitated, perhaps, by the fact that she's been living on her own since she was 15 and has pretty much pursued music as a career ever since. Cue BBC Sound Of 2016 nod, latest single "Hotter Than Hell" reaching sixty million views on YouTube and sessions with the likes of Andrew Wyatt and Emile Hayne, who have worked with breakout acts such as FKA twigs and Lana Del Rey (the latter with whom Lipa shares management). With her debut album out later this summer, Complex had a chat with Dua Lipa about the impact social media has on musicians, hip-hop influences, and what it was like working with the man behind powerhouse hits like Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" and Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine". Water hoses at the ready.
Did you always know you wanted to get into music?
My father's a musician, and I grew up around music, so it was always something I was very inspired by and the thing that made me the happiest... It just didn't seem like something that was possible or could actually happen.
When did it shift to becoming something you actually thought you could do professionally?
When I moved away from home in Kosovo at the age of 15, that's when I took it seriously and really pushed for it. I started putting covers up online and getting a lot of interest; that's when I started to think that it could actually really happen.
What was it like moving out and heading to a different country [England] at such a young age?
I was actually speaking to my mum about it a few days ago and she was like: "I'd never do it again!" But I'm really glad she did because it's made me who I am, and I think it's definitely helped me build my confidence. A lot of things that have happened in my life come across in my music, even if I don't necessarily talk about it explicitly.
I feel like people aren't really telling the truth in pop music anymore.
You went to Sylvia Young part-time when you were younger, right? What did you take away from that experience?
The teacher there was kind of the first person to really tell me to go for this. Theatre school is a bit scary: they'd make you get up and perform in front of everyone and tell you to not be shy and just be yourself, and really go for it. Spending time with like-minded people was also a really good part of growing up for me—it teaches you about team work, support, and always helping someone up.
Do you think there's such a thing as being too honest in your music?
No, that's the whole point. I feel like the more honest I get in my music, the more I get out of it. It's kind of nice when I perform as well, because I instantly go back to where I was and how I felt when I wrote the song.
Are there any of your songs in particular that you've found resonate with others?
For me, personally, I love my current single. "Hotter Than Hell" was one of the first songs I wrote when I'd just started writing for the album and I was trying to figure out my sound. Now, I describe my sound as "dark pop" and it was all because of that song; it was the song that dictated what the rest of the album was going to sound like. Loads of people relate to different songs, and it's cool to see that people are able to take my songs and have a meaning that wasn't necessarily the same meaning as mine or how I felt—they're able to make it their own.
How long into writing and recording did that eureka moment of "this is my sound" come?
I guess it was about four months into writing. After that, instead of going into studios with like weird references where I was trying to figure out what I identified with as an artist, that was the song I took in. "Hotter Than Hell" has the descriptive kind of hip-hop-influenced verses, but then also the pop choruses, which is exactly what I was trying to get to.
Your music seems to have quite a bit of hip-hop influence. Would you ever try rapping?
Only at home! [Laughs] It would be cool to one day collaborate with a rapper, though. That would be really cool.
Any rappers in particular you'd want to collaborate with?
I'm a big fan of J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, so if I could get one of them then I'd be happy.
You worked with Darkchild, who's responsible for hits like Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" and Monica and Brandy's "The Boy Is Mine". What was that like?
That was pretty surreal. He's super nice and really, really cool and fun to work with. It was quite an experience to go in and see how someone like that works. He told me the story behind how no one wanted to release Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" and how he had to keep on pushing; he told me never to give up on something I believed in. It was just inspiring to hear about the leap of faith he took and his words of wisdom before I had ever even released any music.
Social media has played a pretty important role in your come-up. What kind of impact do you think it has on artists these days?
In my experience, social media has been there the whole way. Sometimes I think about it and I'm like... I don't know how I would have gotten my music out there or how this all would have started without social media, really.
If you could only choose one social media platform to be active on, which one would it be and why?
Oh, that's a tough one! Maybe Twitter, because I feel like I could post everything up there: pictures and videos and chat to my fans—it's kind of everything in one.
Your self-titled debut album is coming out soon—what are you most excited for?
The whole album is basically a lucky dip in my memory box, kind of picking things out that have happened in my life. It's scary because I just want it to be the best it can be—at least in my eyes—so when it's out there I know there's nothing else I could have possibly changed or thought parts of it could be different.
If people could absorb one message or feeling after listening to the album, what would you want it to be?
That we all go through the same things in one way or another. The album is basically just, like, life—not sugarcoated whatsoever. I feel like people aren't really telling the truth in pop music anymore but, hopefully, this will change that.