When she was 15 years old, Dua Lipa decided to leave Kosovo - where she had been living with her family for four years - and return to London, alone, to pursue a career in music. It was a decision not many of her peers would have been confident enough to make - and it paid off.
Within a few years, she had honed her brand of expansive, truthful pop well enough to sign a deal with Warner Bros. Records. Now, at 20, she's poised to release her self-titled debut album. Ahead of its release at the end of the summer, she spoke to Gigwise about her fierce independence, her relationship with her fans, and finding the darkness in pop.
Are you in London at the moment?
Yeah, yeah. It's nice to be home for longer than a week - and in one place for longer than a week.
You moved from Kosovo back to London alone when you were 15. Do you think that early independence gave you an advantage in the music industry?
Yeah definitely. It definitely helped me become the person I am today, and I feel like I portray that a lot in my music as well. I mean if it wasn't for me living on my own I don't think I'd be the person I am today. I feel like I got a lot of confidence from such a young age because of it.
You've talk a lot about how you like to find the darkness in pop. For me the best pop songs, like 'Dancing On My Own', have that juxtaposition of upbeat and infectious, and dark and melancholy.
What I mean by the darkness is just kind of the truthfulness. I feel like there's so many pop songs where people aren't really talking about real life. And as well as having a big pop chorus I still want to be very honest and truthful. People that I've looked up to that have done stuff like that is someone like Nelly Furtado and Pink. From such a young age I've always really loved their work. I feel like I've based mine a lot around what they've done.
Speaking of truthfulness - how much of yourself are you willing to put into your lyrics?
I feel like I've been very open with my music and my lyrics, and a lot of it does really represent me, and sometimes when I go into a session and make something up, it still really relates to me - I just don't realise it until I've actually put it down. I feel like I'm an open person so there's nothing to hide really in my music either.
People say they look back on songs that they wrote five years ago and understand what they were saying more than when they wrote it.
Yeah it also happens to me sometimes, you write about something and only later when I perform it, you actually really see how much that song means to you.
Do you ever worry that being a singer might ruin your enjoyment of other music, because you compare your own songwriting to other people’s?
There's so many songs that I grew up listening to that now I go, 'Oh I wish I'd written them', but they were like old classics, whereas now I feel like I'm very comfortable in the work I've made. For my first album, this is my best work and I've chosen from all the songs I've written to try and make this the best part of what I've worked on for these past two years. I'm just trying to follow my path and just go down that without trying to compare myself to others.
Then you get music writers comparing you to other people.
I mean it started off with comparisons when people didn't really know who I was. It was like obviously comparisons to Lana [Del Rey]. The only comparison to that was that we had the same manager, apart from that we haven't really had any kind of comparisons. Maybe I haven't read any recently.
Do you read reviews or do you try and avoid it?
I read show reviews. I like to see what people liked and what they didn't like and what I could fix, because it's a massive learning curve for me. Whether it's good or bad, at least I know for next time what I've done wrong.
You said it's a great time to not be ashamed of being a popstar. It seems like genres being blurred a lot lately.
Drake is pop and Diplo is pop and there's so many different artists that are now dominating the charts that would probably have been in a completely different genre, but it's kind of all merged into one and no such thing as genre actually exists anymore. So yeah, it's a really good time to be a pop artist and not be ashamed of it. When people ask what kind of music I make I say pop, and I'm very, very comfortable in saying so, because it doesn't identify with being bubblegum pop anymore. Pop is cool.
And then there's people like Halsey and Years & Years who are pop and talk about sexuality and gender and they're not afraid to.
Yeah it's amazing to be able to speak your mind, to be free about who you are and what you believe in is absolutely amazing.
I wonder whether the increase in social media has led to that.
It's crazy sometimes people don't realise the amount of fans that go to the artist for advice and want to know how they dealt with something. I guess the main thing that goes through my album is that we all go through the same things at one point or another. I mean, if you feel like you can give advice to someone, whether it's through your music, in person, through a message, it's possibly the most amazing thing you could do for someone, because you don't understand how much people appreciate that.
It's probably reassuring for fans who put you on a pedestal to learn that you struggle with things too.
Exactly, and you're just showing that you're human too and that you completely relate with your listeners and with your fans. That's why I feel like I've got such a good relationship with my fans, because we speak every day and we just chat about loads of different things, that aren't necessarily just about music.
Do they direct message you and stuff?
Yeah, so I follow them and then I'm in loads of groups, so they just talk all day and then I just jump in and read what's happening and just reply and catch some jokes and talk about life. Yeah it's nice.
Does it ever get overwhelming, either in terms of quantity, or the pressure of people wanting you to give advice and not necessarily knowing what to say to them?
Yeah I mean, there's some pressure in it, but I just try and give advice like I would to my little sister if she was to ask me something. Some of the fans are younger than me, some of the fans are my age, some are even older. I just tell them what I would tell my really good friend, and I feel like now I've never had more friends than I do now!
I was reading an interview with you that said, 'While she may have a bad girl image on the outside, she's a total sweetheart on the inside...' Do you think you have a bad girl image?
I dunno about bad girl but there's definitely a no fucks given attitude to a lot of the things I do. I'm not a bad girl... in the nicest way possible! Sometimes I can be outspoken but it's not, like... I don't know how to explain it, it's not a rebellious thing, it's just me being me.
Dua Lipa's new single, 'Hotter Than Hell', is out now, and you can buy it here.
See Dua Lipa’s UK and Ireland tour dates below. She also plays London's Wireless Festival this weekend. Get tickets and more information here.
Wed October 5th 2016 - DUBLIN Academy 2
Fri October 7th 2016 - MANCHESTER Gorilla
Sun October 9th 2016 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute2