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In Dua Lipa's ever-expanding world, 'there's no time limit and there's no what-ifs'

Dua Lipa
Hugo Comte
Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa has been waiting a long time to perform for fans. After putting out her second studio album Future Nostalgia in the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic in a moment when most artists chose to postpone their releases, the English pop star is finally in the midst of a long-delayed world tour. And she's only now getting to perform her Grammy Award-winning record as it's meant to be experienced: on the dance floor.

Now, Lipa is also looking to connect more intimately with fans and collaborators beyond the arena stage, with media ventures that expand on her desire for being "of service" to her fanbase. Earlier this year Lipa launched Service95, a personal newsletter that offers curated lists of everything from her favorite books to restaurants, born out of her own passion for making recommendations to friends and family. She also hosts and records "At Your Service," an interview podcast that finds Lipa tackling weighty issues including politics and identity in conversations with authors, artists, designers and more.

The 26-year-old artist recently spoke with Morning Edition's Rachel Martin from her tour stop in Glasgow about how she chooses interview subjects for her podcast, creates her newsletter and shuts down self-doubt.

The following interview has been condensed and edited. To listen to the broadcast version of this story, use the audio player at the top of the page.

Rachel Martin, Morning Edition: I went to your show in Washington, D.C. and it was this collective experience that we had all been missing for so long. You had to have been feeling that too — you waited two years to perform these songs in these kinds of venues.

Dua Lipa: I've been dying to get out on the road, to finally perform these songs. When we finally got the chance to go out on the road in the U.S., there was this whole surge of excitement and adrenaline. It's like, wow, we finally get to do this.

When you were in D.C. and we met you backstage, your dad happened to have been back there. And I just asked him quickly, "What is this like to see your daughter up there in front of these thousands of people yelling her name, and in this floating stage wearing a sequined catsuit?" And he said, "I pinch myself, that this is her, that she's made this happen." Talk to me about your family and why it was important at some points to have them on the tour with you?

This whole journey has been really exciting to get to do it together. I think because of them, they've kept me really grounded. Nothing has changed in my home life and just my job is quite extraordinary.

Your family left Kosovo in the early '90s before the war?

In '92, they moved to Kosovo as the war in Bosnia was happening. My mom's half Bosnian, so her mom was in Sarajevo at the time, but they moved to London as the situation started getting really difficult in ex-Yugoslavia. Something that people forget all the time is, people don't really want to leave their country unless they really have to. It's really out of necessity.

Then I was born in '95. [My parents] had a great time in London, but they always had that idea in the back of their mind that they would always want to come back to Kosovo at some point. When I was 11, we moved back to Kosovo.

What was that like for you? When you're 11, you're old enough to protest — you have a world, you have friends and a life.

I was really excited about it. When you're in London at the age of 11, you're finishing year six and then you would go into a secondary school. All my friends were gonna go to different schools, and instead of going to a different school, I was going to a different country. Albanian was my first language, I spoke it at home, and then English was something I did in school and I spoke with my friends. It was just a very interesting and exciting period of my life. I was also really excited at the idea that people wouldn't find my name Dua as weird as they did in London.

It was different obstacles to overcome – learning chemistry and science and maths in a completely different language. Having assignments in Albanian is a lot harder than just speaking it at home. It took me a really long time to find my feet there. It's interesting going into that at 11 years old, but I think I wouldn't change it for the world because it really helped me become who I am.

When you were 15, you told your parents you wanted to leave. You told them that you wanted to move back to London with or without them.

When I think back to that, I don't quite remember the first conversation where I started the topic of, "I'm going to move to London and this is what I want to do." I do remember slowly saying to my parents that if I want to go to university in London, I would have to do my GCSEs in London – and my GCSEs are starting soon.

You wanted to go to London because that's where you thought you could make your music career happen, but you were savvy enough to know you needed to make a different argument to your parents.

[Laughs] I think yes, that's how my argument started. When I was living in Kosovo from the age of 11 to 15 I loved doing music, but I just felt like there was no way that I could really cut through all the noise without being in a place where everything was happening. I felt like I needed to be in London to make my dream a reality. That's what I felt like I needed to do and where I needed to be.

Where did that sense of confidence come from? Had someone come to you who you respected and said, you've got what it takes and you need to figure out how to make it happen, or was it internal?

People would tell me that I could sing, but it wasn't to the point of, you could make it or this could be something. It was a playground dream. It was something that I felt like I knew I wanted to do.

We call it imposter syndrome now, but it's basically suffering from crippling self-doubt, and all of us get it from time to time. Has that happened to you? Or maybe that's part of your success, that you just didn't ever let that creep in?

I have self doubt, I'm only human. [Laughs] Although I have a passion for what I do, because I really love music, when things start to get bigger and people start to have an opinion on something you love so much, then you start to listen to the background noise. In the beginning, when I first started, the response was like, "Oh, this is so good." Then, all of a sudden, there was like a turning point, and it just completely shifted and changed. Social media just kind of took over. There was this one little dance routine that I did when I was performing, and people took that one little snippet and decided to base my whole stage presence and who I was as a performer on stage.

I think at that point, there [were] moments of self-doubt, even though it was kind of unfair because a lot of the people that had sent in those messages or were saying things online actually hadn't been to a show. Social media is kind of run on this toxic currency of 'who can make people laugh at the expense of others.'

But it got to you, clearly.

Of course it got to me. I was at a point where I was so happy, I was doing everything that I wanted to, but then there were people who made me feel like maybe I wasn't good enough or I didn't deserve to be there, I wasn't cut out to be a musician. I realized that what anyone says doesn't actually matter. It was something that I learned during the period of writing Future Nostalgia — I was able to shut people out. Now, if anybody says anything, it doesn't even bother me. Nothing even cuts through, because I realized that if you're passionate about something and you're good at your job and you write from the heart, no one can take that away from you. I had to take myself off Twitter, but if that's going to help me and my mental health and allow me to thrive in whatever way I choose to, that has been a saving grace.

You are a busy woman. You are on tour for a massive hit album, you're going to have your first starring role in a movie this year and you are a podcast host. You have acknowledged that the guests you're talking to are these very super famous people who have done a whole lot of talking. You have said that you want to go deeper with them. Everyone can intuit what that means, but what does that mean to you?

The podcast journey has been interesting, and it's been something that I've been quite nervous about, but I've also made a pact with myself that I wanted to be outside of my comfort zone. We're all going through this very human experience, whether you're in the public eye or not. I have this belief that everyone can be of service to somebody else just by talking honestly about your experiences. I set out as it being just of service to other people, and I found that this has also been such a service to myself as well. It's been interesting in this season, there's been this common theme of duality with so many of my guests.

A lot of them have come from the children of immigrants, or having this kind of dual-nationality and [are] coming to terms with what that experience is — conversations making people feel less alone.

Dua Lipa, in a selfie taken while recording her interview with <em>Morning Edition</em> in April, 2022.
Dua Lipa / Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Dua Lipa, in a selfie taken while recording her interview with Morning Edition in April, 2022.

You interviewed a Yazidi woman, Nobel laureate Nadia [Murad], who survived being sexually assaulted by ISIS, and Amal Clooney, in her capacity as a human rights lawyer. These are heavy, sober conversations that do stand in contrast to your music in a lot of ways. These kinds of conversations, is it satisfying your curiosity in a different way than music does?

I want to say yes to your question, but I also feel like both the music and the podcast, they're different parts of who I am — they just make up me. As for scratching the itch of curiosity in terms of the podcast, these are things that just interest me. These are conversations that I want to have with people. I feel like social media, there's such an influx of information, and sometimes it's really hard to grasp things that interest you. Things that you should be supporting. That was kind of where I started getting a bit foggy in terms of the activism side. If you claim to be an activist, or somebody who will speak up about any injustices, then you have to speak up about everything and you have to do it imminently and immediately and if you don't, you're not supporting, and you're not doing it.

Did you feel that pressure?

I feel like that's just the air of social media at the moment. I think it's not allowing people the opportunity to really learn about every cause and understand what's going on and then really speak from the heart. It's just like: immediate response has to happen, use your social media.

Could you imagine writing songs that are more reflective of the causes you care about or politics or the cultural moment that we're in?

I think if it makes sense in the moment, then yes. It's not necessarily something that I'm going to get into, writing political music. I like to make music that makes people feel good. I like to tell stories about things that have happened to me in order to make people feel less alone. With [the song] "Boys Will Be Boys," that was something in the moment I felt like I needed to write. I felt like I was talking about what it's like to be a woman and something that maybe people don't really understand in certain aspects. I was able to put that in a song and that felt right to me. But music, when I write it really depends on what I'm going through in the moment — and if the song is good enough to make the album.

Service95, as you noted, is this so-called "concierge service" [for] everything from restaurants to what nonprofits are worth donating to. This is probably a crass question, but was this something dreamed up by a publicist who kind of knows you? Or was this something that was really a passion project for you?

That's really funny. It's definitely a big passion project of mine. It's something that I've been writing down for about two years. It's something that I do for my friends anyway, wherever they are in the world, they would message me and be like, "Okay, I'm here." Where's the best places to see? I thrive on that. I love doing it. I'm weirdly, freakishly organized with my calendar. Like, everything's down to the hour. I think so many people, you can do anything as long as you compartmentalize and you plan and you know what you want. You can write it down and you can make anything possible. There are enough hours in the day. Sometimes I wish there were a few more, but you can always do it.

How long will you do it? Are you working at a marathon pace so that you can do this for a really long time? Or are you just like, I'm going full bore now and we'll see what happens in five years?

This is everything that I do. I feel everything I do is just to set myself up to just keep doing this for as long as I can. There's no time limit and there's no what-ifs. I'm going to work hard until this turns into something really special. It took me a long time to get here, but you have to nurture the things that you love and you have to work hard. Every day I get a bit more confident in my craft and who I am as an artist.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a founding host of NPR's award-winning morning news podcast Up First. Martin's interviews take listeners behind the headlines to understand the people at the center of those stories.
Marc Rivers
[Copyright 2024 NPR]

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