Dua Lipa

She has been compared to Amy Winehouse, is starting to heat up the Fashion Week front row.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

She has been compared to Amy Winehouse, is starting to heat up the Fashion Week front row, and – even before launching her debut album – has already hit the one-million-followers mark on Instagram. Dua Lipa: millennial pop star, or a powerhouse diva who will stand the test of time? Imran Jalal gets up close.

My Reading Room

Dua Lipa is fixated with a pair of denim Givenchy booties, and not in a good way. Here we are, at the NCO Club of JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach on an early May morning. Just a day before, the 21-year-old had held a private showcase for her fans in the same building. Today, it’s become the HQ for our exclusive shoot, and she’s getting into a pair of strappy pumps (also Givenchy), but those boots – resting atop a huge wooden table nearby – are bothering her big time.

“Could we take them off the table, please? It’s bad luck,” she blurts out. “I’m really superstitious. I’m into that whole seven-years-of-bad-luck-with-broken-mirrors or no-black-cat-crossing-me kind of stuff.”

It’s possibly the last thing you’d expect coming from a celebrity right on the cusp of Gen Y and Z (to think I was more worried about diva tantrums over wardrobe, which didn’t quite happen, but more on this later). This is in light of her rebel-cool persona and brazen music.

The London-born and -based performer often describes her songs as “dark pop” – catchy, dancey, progressive pop tunes turbocharged with raw, tell-it- like-it-is lyrics big on attitude. One just needs to listen to her hit singles Hotter Than Hell (I’m the realest it gets/You’d probably still adore me/With my hands around your neck), and that up-yours rouser Blow Your Mind (Mwah) (If we don’t f*** this whole thing up/Guaranteed I can blow your mind) to get the drift.

She’s ebulliently youthful with a propensity for playfully sticking her tongue out in photos (something that she does a lot during our shoot). In fact, the “look” has become a cheeky trademark on her Instagram account, which – as of press time – boasted 1.2 million followers, a figure that’s been rising steadily. At some point today, she’ll sneak a ’gram of herself, freshly fitted in a black Chanel tuxedo for our shoot. The accompanying caption: “Singapore you can have me back any time”. (Surprisingly, she keeps her tongue in.)

Then there’s her voice: deep, smoky, and soulful like that of jazz singers from another time. (It’s hard not to be impressed by her cover of Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind on Youtube.) Another late great that she’s often compared to: Amy Winehouse. It’s these obverse traits that make Lipa an intriguing one to watch and follow close.

On the surface, what sticks out most about this industry newcomer is how she couldn’t have come from any other generation, but now. Like many trendy women her age, her cultural tastes bear strong influences from the ’90s, the decade she was born.

The likes of Kate Moss and Chloe Sevigny are her style icons for their “grungy-prissy juxtaposition”. She declines to divulge her favourite brands, but is most commonly seen in of-the-moment street wear in the vein of Off-white and Palace (think tough, sporty chic-meets-ironically trashy). Post-shoot, she changes into a white tee, track pants from Alexander Wang’s recent tie-up with Adidas Originals, and studded slides (also by Wang). To complete the look: a leather choker that looks right out of Hot Topic – go-to fashion chain for all things punk/gothic in the ’90s – and has turned up in several of her IG portraits, as well as the video for her latest single Lost in Your Light.

“As long as I can remember, I’ve been wearing chokers. Ever since primary school, in fact,” she says. “I’d get them from Claire’s or Accessorize, or make them out of tiny ribbons or things you find out of a party bag.”

My Reading Room

Even the cover for her 12-track namesake debut album that launched last month (Chris Martin and Miguel guest sing on it) seems like an ode to alternative ’90s pop culture. A close-up of her dressed in a leather jacket, hair slicked back with a slight pout staring coolly, almost defiantly, was lensed by the revered British photographer Rankin – he co-founded Dazed & Confused magazine in 1992 – and reminiscent of his work from over two decades ago. “There was just something cool and effortless about it,” she says of ’90s style.

Of course, the other most typically late millennial thing about her is how significant a role social media’s played in her career. Present-day Instagram royalty status aside, her trajectory’s been largely Bieberan: if not for Youtube, she might have never gotten her big break. Her millennial fairy tale in brief: Record company execs (hers are from Warner Bros.) stumble upon self-produced demos (Nelly Furtado and Alicia Keys covers), keep watch and sign her years later (2015). Next, she’s hitting the charts (most singles have), earning music award nominations (MTV, NME etc), and collaborating with big shots (including one Martin Garrix) – and yes, all in less than two years.

Fashion – fan of the Insta-fame game – has quickly caught on to her fast-rising influence. She was part of the front row – alongside the likes of Alice Dellal and the Jenner/Hadid clan – at Alexander Wang, Versus Versace and Topshop Unique during Fall/Winter 2017 Fashion Week. (We predict more appearances to come.) More recently, M.A.C roped her in to create a lip gloss for its Future Forward makeup collection.

To sum Lipa up as part of that fleeting fame- and image-obsessed generation so often associated with those her age, however, would be an unjust generalisation. Her smooth, emotive vocals were honed at the prestigious Sylvia Young Theatre School in London’s West End, where she was enrolled in classes with students twice her age. She co-wrote all but one of the songs on her new album. Her father is the Kosovar-Albanian rocker Dukagjin Lipa, which might partly explain her diversity as an artist.

“I’d be listening to Destiny’s Child, loads of hip-hop, Tupac and Biggie, while my dad would be nurturing me with Dylan and Bowie,” she says of her childhood.

Her three-day visit to Singapore was part of a whirlwind promotional tour in the region that also included stops in Beijing and Manila. (If you missed her here, she’ll be at the Good Vibes festival in Genting Highlands next month.) Before that, she had her first headlining tour in North America (including a performance on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show – always a good indicator of the next big thing), and checked Coachella off her list (a surprise appearance during Martin Garrix’s set). If press images and her own Instagram are anything to go by, her fervid following carries over into real life.

During our shoot, the closest she came to acting diva was requesting to change out of an oversized white shirt/ black pants combo from Celine (the silhouette and austerity deviated too far from her personal style), and this only after attempting a few shots in it. When being interviewed, she’s relaxed to the point of being overly casual, legs raised onto the coffee table, and speaks as if we’ve known each other for ages. It’s all surprisingly candid for a young pop star on the rise, but all that authenticity could just be what gives her longevity beyond the “Likes”.

“I try not to have a filter and want to be comfortable with the way I am,” she says with an unassuming air. “I mean, people are always telling me to stop sticking my tongue out. The more people tell me to stop, the more I’m going to do it.”

Photography Stefan Khoo

Creative Direction Noelle Loh Styling Imran Jalal

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