Dua Lipa on How She Became the World’s Quarantine Queen

  • Words: Nathan Taylor Pemberton
  • Photography: Hugo Comte

For the latest edition of FRONTPAGE, we chit chat with Dua Lipa as she hunkers down at home to ride out quarantine. Fresh from the release of ‘Future Nostalgia’ – her sophomore album which topped the charts in her native UK – she’s more than earned some downtime.

Nostalgia, at its very worst, is the sensation of being stuck in time. And more often than we’d like, we find ourselves confined to the past by the tools of the present — manic sprints through your iPhone camera roll, pulling up ancient Google Chats, accidentally surfacing page-long Facebook messages from before the Obama-era. Popping in and out of your personal history, that’s the future of nostalgia.

When singer Dua Lipa settled on naming her second album Future Nostalgia after a long walk down the Las Vegas Strip almost two years ago, she didn’t know that she was putting words to our current moment. It’s what it feels like to be alive all the time now — particularly, but not only, in times of quarantine — dreaming up the future while the present is paused.

In late March, the 24-year-old singer released Future Nostalgia while the US and Europe went about pausing daily life. Like the unplanned resonance of the album title, Lipa’s decision to release the follow-up to her 2018 self-titled debut was a coordinated effort between fate and randomness. The album was leaked by her fans. And while other pop stars on the stadium circuit quietly pushed back their summer plans (see: Lady Gaga and Sam Smith), Lipa has come to command our attention during the crisis from a 6-foot-plus distance. She spoke with Highsnobiety from an Airbnb in London, where, as she explains it, she’s doing grown-up things with her boyfriend Anwar Hadid, such as reading, listening to podcasts, and chatting about tupperware.

In lieu of an 85-date world tour, Lipa celebrated her album release with fans on Instagram Live and YouTube (which the singer has intentionally avoided until now), performed with her band on James Corden’s late-night talk show via Zoom, and participated in some of the first socially-distant photoshoots of the era. She just might be, as Vulture declared, our “Quarantine Queen.”

Dua Lipa

Of course, it’s easy to see this as a dubious title. After all, as the world pipes Future Nostalgia into its ears, Lipa’s songs, which are defiantly upbeat and pétillant, are competing against the sonic overload of sirens, FaceTime calls, utter silence — and the retreat of culture at large. There is a void of available references here to make sense of things. Instead, there are some ideas in the songs themselves, the Nile Rodgers-like rhythms that propel “Don’t Start Now.” Or the way Lipa’s voice chases a rapid guitar line on “Break My Heart” — the way Michael Jackson did on “Smooth Criminal.” Throughout Future Nostalgia, you can hear the references to her teenage years spun like a high-vis spider web between tracks. For Lipa, it’s a reminder of when her parents would play British rock in the house, along with Prince, Blondie, Jamiroquai, and Madonna.

Lipa remains mum on who, if any, of these artists served as a model for her own career. But the answer to this might be found within the first 30 seconds of Future Nostalgia, when she sings: “You want a timeless song / I want to change the game.”

The idea might sound familiar, but it’s clear she has changed some of the rules of the game. The Grammy-winning singer is the rare pop star with a songwriting credit for each of her songs and an ear for production. Last year, she in fact discarded a series of recording sessions with Rodgers himself for sounding, well, just a bit too nostalgic. Her self-titled debut was the most streamed album in Spotify history. Now, she’s currently breaking daily records for plays and streams around the world.

New York Magazine crowned you the “Quarantine Queen.” What’s your response to that?

I mean, it’s interesting. When I first wanted to put the music out, I imagined it being played in pubs and bars and for going out. Being called “Quarantine Queen,” I don’t know — it’s funny, I guess [laughs]. I hope that it brings back happy memories of the time we’re spending indoors.

The name of your new album seems to encapsulate what we’re collectively experiencing right now, but do you think we’ll ever be nostalgic for these surreal and yet totally mundane days?

There are days that have been a lot harder than others — where you’re just, like, “What is happening?” I’ve realized it’s a learning experience, too. This is a time to do things I don’t normally get to do. I think we all live a life where it’s always like, “What’s next? What am I doing tomorrow? Where am I going?”

Dua Lipa

What are you doing? Hopefully, it’s not refreshing Twitter and stress-reading the news.

I have to get away from all of that. Instead, it’s been a lot of cooking, using healthy recipes, watching TV, playing around. We’ve been watching Ozark. Me and my boyfriend, we normally are traveling so much, so now we’re enjoying the time, being with each other. We were thinking that April would be the month where I was going to be on the road, having to figure out what dates we can make work to see each other. And now, well, we’ve just got time to spend at home together.

What kind of links are you sending, and what kind of links are you receiving right now?

With my friends, there’s a constant dialogue we have going. Group chats, email. We’re sending each other either movies and TV shows, fun books, or little podcasts. Recipes. Some of my friends are like, “I’m going to try to be a vegetarian while I’m doing this,” and then everybody starts chipping in and sending them ideas and meals. It’s strengthening our friendships, in a strange sort of way, because we’re all sharing this experience. When we start talking about Tupperware and the importance of leftovers, I feel, like, very adult.

Having gone forward with your album release under these circumstances, has your thinking about what you do as a singer changed or evolved in any way?

I was really happy about the music coming out now. If it brings people a little bit of happiness or a moment of joy, that’s kind of all I can ever hope for. That one fact makes me really happy, even if I’m not really able to promote it. I’m so happy that it can serve as a fun moment in a day of monotony.

It just shows the importance of that connection that you have with the people around you. I really like the closeness that I think we all feel collectively as humans together. How that impacts us and will impact us once this is done. We will appreciate that contact even more in the moments that we speak to each other and open up to each other. This showed me the importance of how you share yourself and wanting to be open.

You see celebrities using the word “vulnerable” a lot when describing their work, to the point of it feeling like a cliché. But being vulnerable is something you discuss frequently and in a way that brings some meaning and real emotion back to the idea.

Its importance is more and more certain for me. Even on my past record, I thought vulnerability was such a weakness. But opening up about how I really feel has given me so much strength.

Dua Lipa

You’re also that rare singer with a platform who doesn’t seem to give a fuck about expressing your raw thoughts on politics, gender equality — any hot button topics that tend to blow up replies and distract from the “brand.” Most artists in America don’t want to deal with that headache. Why is it different for you?

People are always like, “Don’t talk about American politics because you’re British! It has nothing to do with you!” Or they’re like, “I can’t believe you would support abortion rights!” I find it crazy that people don’t think the same way that I do, but I really stand by my beliefs. I don’t shy away from the things that I’m very passionate about. I only ever talk about these things if I feel that it’s about a much bigger picture — if it’s about people’s actual lives, or about people that are less fortunate than me.

Have you ever felt any pressure to tone down your voice for the sake of marketability or sales?

No. And I’ve never had anybody on my team, or anybody close to me, who’s told me not to speak my mind or be out there talking about these topics. No one’s really thought to speak up about stuff, probably because I can be stubborn and I tend to do whatever I want to do — whether anybody likes it or not. So when people online tell me that I should just stick to music, that’s not how I see my role in this industry.

  • Words: Nathan Taylor Pemberton
  • Photography: Hugo Comte
Words by Nathan Taylor Pemberton