She’s officially bigger than Ariana Grande and Rihanna, not to mention Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. The upstart British pop star Dua Lipa has just been named the most streamed woman of 2017 in the UK, according to Spotify’s year-end figures, an achievement that makes her No 1 song New Rulesseem very aptly named. Young female solo artists have struggled to break through this year but Lipa, at the age of 22, is already being seen as an authentic voice of young British womanhood: independent, cool and in command of her own sexuality.
Lipa was raised in the UK, but at 13 moved with her Albanian parents to their former home of Kosovo. Two years later, she returned to London alone to pursue music, and started posting covers online. She signed to Warner Bros and her original songs quickly made an impact. Coy debut single Be the One reached No 9 two years ago, kickstarting a string of gold and platinum hits that culminated in three simultaneous top 15 tracks this February. “It made her look like the most in-demand singer of the moment,” says chart expert James Masterton. “It’s no coincidence that her next release turned out to be her biggest.” Lipa then released New Rules this July as the fifth taste of her self-titled solo debut and, like the singer, the song had a slow climb to the top spot.
Lipa has always spoken boldly about feminism and the importance of elevating her young female fans, views that have trickled into her work. And New Rules is her anthem, offering an action plan for anyone tempted to rekindle things with a dodgy ex. It culminates in the fairly conclusive line: “If you’re under him, you ain’t getting over him.” The video furthered the idea of female solidarity: taking cues from Beyoncé’s Formation, a dressing gown-clad squad yanked phones from any girl about to text: “u up?”
The package felt elegant and uncontrived – and became a viral smash. To date, the video has had 746m views, ranking among YouTube’s top UK trending videos for 2017. Before streaming stats contributed to the charts, singles used to peak then drop. Now they largely start low and peak later, making it harder to engineer a genuine song of the summer – call it pop’s global warming. But New Rules did it. Footage of Glastonbury’s John Peel stage crowd singing every word of Be the One also went viral.
Pop albums can often feel like an afterthought, and the fact that Lipa’s debut was delayed three times seemed a bad sign. Yet sales remain consistent, reaching 1.2m worldwide, an unusually high figure today, and still going strong. Martin Talbot, head of the Official Charts Company, points out that just under half of these sales were physical purchases, “carving her out as more than just a streaming celebrity”.
Lipa’s success is a lesson in the importance of nurturing talent instead of unceremoniously dropping an act after one flop. “Labels have quickly learned how to play the long game again, in a manner that possibly hasn’t been seen since the 1980s,” says Masterton. “It’s a potential consequence of ever-tighter margins. Managers are on less of a hair-trigger to write off an investment, which is to everyone’s benefit.”
Elspeth Merry, publicist at Island for burgeoning Norwegian pop star Sigrid, says it’s important to let a campaign develop organically. “It’s an exciting time – because streaming does allow for longevity, as long as the artist is prolific and releasing music more frequently than in a traditional campaign.”
Speaking of which, 2018 will bring a seventh single from Lipa’s debut, the booming IDGAF, which is possibly even more strident than New Rules. But as the campaign squeezes out every viable drop of success, isn’t there the danger of her getting itchy feet? “It’s never been a problem motivating Dua,” insists her manager Ben Mawson. “She’s very happy with her success, but very keen to build on it in 2018.”
And the impact of the groundwork she’s laying can’t be overstated. If it’s taken two years for Lipa to get here, her female peers steaming up pop’s glass ceiling may have yet to reach their peak. Even new rules are made to be broken.