Dua Lipa: Inside the Mind of the New “Female Alpha”
While much of the music industry pressed pause in 2020, Dua Lipa showed no signs of slowing down. Find out how a new Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology uncovers one of the secrets to the global pop sensation’s unstoppable rise.
“You want a timeless song, I want to change the game.”
At 25 years old, Dua Lipa is Spotify’s fourth most listened-to artist in the world.
Her critically-acclaimed eponymous debut album catapulted her into stardom, yielding a whopping nine singles (including some of the decade’s most ubiquitous anthems, “IDGAF” and “Blow Your Mind”), a record-breaking music video (as the youngest female artist to hit one billion views for “New Rules”), and a 245-show world tour. It earned her a Grammy, multiple Brit Awards, and a multitude of other stunning accolades that are frankly too exhausting to type.
Three years later, Lipa was poised to capitalize on that prodigious momentum, as she set out to release her much-anticipated sophomore project, Future Nostalgia.
Then, well, 2020 happened.
The ascending star was understandably trepidatious about the optics of dropping a flashy, disco-inspired dance record in the midst of a deadly global health crisis. With the coronavirus ravaging the music industry and shutting down concert venues and dance clubs around the globe, promoting a feel-good party album could be conceivably perceived as untimely, if not tone-deaf.
Dua Lipa, however, is a force, and not even a global pandemic could slow her down.
Since its March 27th, 2020 release, Future Nostalgia has been streamed over three billion times, topping the charts in thirteen countries and reaching the top ten in thirty one. It has generated three top-ten Hot 100 singles, and became the first album ever to peak atop the UK Albums Chart for four non-consecutive weeks.
Nostalgia has also been widely lauded by critics, landing Lipa six grammy nods including Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album (for which she came away victorious), as well as Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance for her lead single, “Don't Start Now.”
“Fuck that. A song should make you dance.”
While Lipa’s debut record was, by her own admission, an “amalgamation of different genres,” the follow-up is more focused and refined, as she displays a sophisticated artistry and growing confidence in her self-proclaimed “female alpha” persona.
The aptly titled Future Nostalgia navigates between retro and fresh. At once a nostalgic ode to the funk-disco and electronica-inspired sound popularized by the ‘70s and ‘80s-era artists Lipa grew up admiring- from vintage Madonna and Donna Summer, to Olivia Newton John and Blondie- Nostalgia also manages to feel surprisingly current and relevant in today’s disco-inspired pop landscape, alongside the likes of The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights.”
Future Nostalgia evolved into the “dance party soundtrack” of the pandemic. While her contemporaries predictably released dark, trap-heavy songs to reflect the angsty, anxiety-fraught mood permeating COVID-era society, Dua Lipa and her prolific team of collaborators- including “New Rules” songwriting trio, Emily Warren, Ian Kirkpatrick, and Caroline Ailin, as well as producers Stephen “Koz” Kozmeniuk, Stuart Price, and Jeff Bhasker- went defiably against the grain, delivering eleven club bangers bursting with bold, carefree joyfulness. Future Nostalgia is a 37-minute long time-warp that allows its listeners to literally dance away the tears during self-isolation; a momentary, much-needed escape to a time and place brimming with spandex and glitter. As “Koz” eloquently put it, ‘Fuck that. A song should make you dance.”
What's the Story?
The deeper one dives into Future Nostalgia’s lyrics and implied themes, the more its unapologetic positivity becomes abundantly evident. Was this also the underlying story of her debut? We set out to explore her progression and compared Lipa’s two albums using “SongCrunch,” a new AI tool by music tech company, MyPart.
One of SongCrunch's unique capabilities is to measure the extent to which a song conveys certain themes, emotions and feelings, on a scale of zero to five. For example, if the lyrics convey strong sexually suggestive content- implicitly or explicitly- the AI will reward the track a five in the “sex” category.
This analysis revealed that despite the gloom and doom around her, Nostalgia-era Dua Lipa comes off even Sexier (thanks to songs like “Cool”), and more Fun (led by the title song) than ever before, as she remains firmly committed to her mission to make us want to dance, no matter the circumstances.
“I am happy. I deserve to be happy.”
Lipa famously spent much of the first album dedicated to bidding goodbye to past flings, including her bespoke, step-by-step guide for “how to get over an ex,” delineated In her smash hit, “New Rules.” Her sassy breakup anthems helped the debut album score “higher” on feelings like Anger and Blame, themes of Criticism towards former lovers, Protest, and Satire, as she asserted her independence and “IDGAF” attitude.
Alternatively, on Future Nostalgia, Lipa appears less concerned with the past, and more focused on the present, as she vulnerably navigates the ups-and -downs of her current relationship with boyfriend, Anwar Hadid (brother to supermodels, Gigi and Bella), with whom she has been romantically involved for the last year and a half.
According to SongCrunch, both album’s lyrics have similarly strong associations with the themes of Self Confidence, Infatuation, Love, Romance, and Happiness.
“I am happy. I deserve to be happy. I should be able to write about that without the fear of feeling like I’m compromising my authenticity because I’m not crying about something or someone,” she told British Vogue in her recent cover-story interview.
The sophomore album also receives higher “grades” in Loneliness and Separation. On "Break My Heart,” for example, Lipa anxiously wonders whether this time around, her new love is going to be the one leaving her nursing a broken heart. “I should've stayed at home / 'Cause now there ain't no letting you go / Am I falling in love with the one that could break my heart?”
Her decision to reveal those relatable feelings of self-doubt and fear of heartbreak exemplifies a strength and developed maturity to which her young fans can both connect and aspire. Deeper than your average radio-friendly pop tunes, the messages beneath Lipa’s self-described “dance-crying” music resonates with the “woke” gen z audience, who demand more authenticity and transparency.
“I hope to empower women.”
"Boys will be Boys", the most serious and expressly socio-political track on Future Nostalgia, discusses sexual harassment and gender inequality.
SongCrunch identifies that this particular song deals heavily with Realistic Observations regarding Romantic Relationships, Sex, and Self-Esteem. It has strong associations of Anger, Criticism, Satire, Protest, and Cruelness, as Lipa depicts some of the injustices and inherent anxieties and fears which women are forced to deal with, growing up in a patriarchal society.
“It’s second nature to walk home before the sun goes down / And put your keys between your knuckles when there’s boys around,” Lipa sings on the track. She laments how women get stripped of their childhood naivety much earlier than their male counterparts, with no choice but to adopt self-defence strategies from a young age.
These strong sentiments could reflect the changes that society in general, and the entertainment industry, in particular, have undergone since Lipa’s last album, with the first “#MeToo” having been tweeted just four months after the release of her debut.
Lipa, for her part, has always been vocal in her defence of women’s rights, fearlessly challenging the conventional norms.
As she sings in Future Nostalgia’s title track, “I know you ain’t used to a female alpha.”
Lipa has consistently pointed out inequities in the music industry, expressed her support of sex workers, and encouraged female solidarity. “I hope to empower women,” she told Rolling Stone.
The SongCrunch analysis reinforces the notion that Lipa’s brilliance and success appear to lie in her consistency and steady maturity, and her first single of 2021, “We’re Good,” is only further proof of that progression. Mastering her trademark fusion of no-nonsense bravado and up-beat bangers with profound, relatable storytelling, the unpretentious star doesn’t simply want to “change the game”, she already has.