Timing, as they say, is everything. It’s something British pop singer Dua Lipa has been reminded of several times during the last three months. After her much-anticipated second album Future Nostalgia was leaked on the internet, its release was brought forward by a week, right at the onset of a worldwide lockdown. As a result, the London-based star found herself having to promote the new record while in quarantine. She and her team were quick to figure things out: she followed an emotional Instagram live stream in which she announced the release with a series of performances staged from her makeshift Airbnb home and even did one of the world’s first socially-distanced photo shoots. Consequently, she acquired the somewhat dubious title of Quarantine Queen.
Lipa has been counted among pop music royalty ever since her 2017 breakthrough hit “New Rules” broke streaming records. She’s smashed some more with Future Nostalgia, and its lead single “Don’t Start Now”, which just finished a six-month long stay inside the UK top 10. The purely coincidental lyrics of the song’s chorus, which goes “Don’t show up, don’t come out…Walk away, you know how”, have provided material for a multitude of memes in these times of self-isolation.
In a way, Future Nostalgia, a collection of contemporary updates of the dance music that dominated the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, is the perfect album for right now. It feeds our need to seek comfort from music that reminds us of an earlier, simpler time and allows us to imagine we’re partying in that club that we know we’re not going to be visiting any month soon. For lack of a better term, it’s somewhat of a nostalgia trip. “Physical” is a sort of tribute to Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 classic of the same name, “Break Your Heart” incorporates the bass riff from INXS’s 1987 chart-topper “Need You Tonight”, “Love Again” samples White Town’s 1997 No.1 “Your Woman”. Every track transports you to a disco or a rave.
In this exclusive interview, Lipa, who has cited such aughties singer-songwriters as P!nk, Nelly Furtado and Gwen Stefani, as her influences, spoke to us about the making of Future Nostalgia, her concert in Mumbai this past November, and her advice for fans on how to handle this prolonged lockdown. Edited excerpts:
What about the music of the 1980s and ’90s appealed to you so much to inspire the songs on this album? You’ve said you heard some of these artists thanks to your parents.
It was really that nostalgia, the feeling it gave me, the energy of the music, the way my parents felt about it, the dancing at home, which is where my memories are from. Every time that my parents play those songs again, it just transports me back to that time. I love those memories and I wanted to embellish them. What was important to me was trying to recreate that feeling that I felt but in a new and modern way I suppose.
You featured on a couple of big nostalgia-infused singles, Calvin Harris’ “One Kiss” and Silk City’s “Electricity”, in 2018. Did they influence the direction of the album?
Yeah, it was those two songs and “Genesis”, a song from my first album, that really helped me find the direction for the next record. Because I felt so at home when I was performing those songs and I loved the feeling that it gave me.
I feel with every album I make there will be parts from the previous album that will leak into the next one. There will always be something from the previous one that will inspire me.
You’ve had a couple of No.1 hits in the UK but did you know you were born the week of a historic chart battle for the top spot between Blur’s “Country House” and Oasis’ “Roll With It” (in August 1995)?
(Laughs) That’s quite interesting. I had no idea that I was born during that time. To be honest, I do love both Blur and Oasis but I’m going to side with Oasis a bit more. That was my favourite. (Note: Blur won that battle but some might say Oasis won the war.)
Speaking of No.1s, you just had another one as part of the BBC Live Lounge All Stars. What was the experience of recording “Times Like These” at home like?
It was a super-interesting process. It was fun to get to cover such a brilliant and beautiful song especially for right now. Everybody had to record individually at home. Then, to see this video with all the artists that have come together, it really does make me feel proud. I feel grateful to have been asked to do it. I hope it helps support some people on the frontline who have been making the big sacrifices and spending time away from their families and really working hard to protect other people. For me, it’s important to try and help in any way I can. I hope also it will give people at home some comfort and light during this time.
Was there any pressure from having to sing the opening lines?
You don’t know what part you get because you sing the song the whole way through and I guess it depends on maybe (music producer) Fraser T. Smith. I guess when I performed it, I didn’t have any pressure.
What are your strongest memories of your concert in Mumbai?
Everybody just coming together, the energy, the people, the excitement. For me, travelling all the way to India and having people sing back my songs — and I know that sounds so clichéd but it is really amazing to me to be able to do that. And being stuck in four hours of traffic on my way to the show and literally running from the car to the stage. I guess it kind of came with all the adrenaline and the excitement. It was all part of the experience. It was a brilliant show and alongside that, I also got to hang out afterwards and watch Katy Perry perform. I loved seeing all the fans sing her songs too. It was special.
You’ve spoken about the gender imbalance in the music industry such as at award shows like the Brits and the Grammys. Despite the gender skew, frequently a woman is looked upon to “save the music industry” through a new release, whether it’s Adele in years past, Taylor Swift last year, and you this year. What do you think it’s going to take to bring about real change?
I feel like especially on streaming services for me having been a new artist…pretty much until you put out your second record, you’re kind of considered a new artist… it’s a lot of hard work to be heard and be seen. Especially when the people that do get championed on streaming services are artists that are a lot better known. I think we should be championing a lot of new artists, men and women.
I [also] feel like festival bills should have a 50:50 ratio. I think festivals are definitely a place where people always find out about new talent.
At awards shows, for the young people watching from home, representation is really important. To be able to look at the telly and be like, “If they can do it, then maybe I can”. We all set out on a dream to be able to do this so we have to support other people that also want to do the same and show them that it is possible.
You’ve been called the Quarantine Queen, which is an odd title to have.
It is an odd title to have, for sure. I’m at home just like everyone else. We’re trying to get creative and make it fun with little things that we have. I do feel very fortunate that I still get to work and promote my album remotely from home. For me, it’s like “Let’s inspire each other, let’s give each other ideas”. Because I’m definitely running out of ideas on how to stay creative.
What’s your message to your fans who are going to school and work from home?
Have patience. Be patient with yourself. You don’t need to acquire a new skill. There’s a lot of pressure during this time. We’re all going through collectively what is quite a traumatic experience and you’re already doing enough by staying at home so don’t forget that. Try and make those phone calls that maybe you’ve been putting off. Speak to your friends, speak to your family as much as you can, send lots of love. Be kind to yourself. I’m just sending everybody so much love and good health. And hopefully we’re seeing the finish line soon and we don’t have to be indoors for much longer. But everybody’s hard work and everybody staying inside really is enough. Everybody’s already doing the absolute most to keep other people safe. And we should just be proud of that.
Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who has been writing about music, specifically the country’s independent scene, for nearly two decades. He tweets @TheGroovebox
Updated Date: May 16, 2020 09:52:58 IST
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