Dua Lipa — who doesn’t require a stage name because her birth one is so striking — has made it very clear in press releases and interviews that this album is, well, her. It’s not a performance but a set of songs that reflect her life and the fact we all “go through the same fucking shit”. The question is: do we believe her?
When artists write about themselves, they’re expected to really bare their souls. It’s probably time this idea was disregarded, thrown to the wayside. Good music doesn’t have to have the tortured soul of an artist lurking beneath it. On Dua Lipa’s self-titled debut the London-born, Kosovo-raised artist gets personal. But she does so without resorting to bombast — at least for the most part. Dua Lipa isn’t baring her tortured innermost self, she’s singing songs about her life, her ups and her downs. This balance is undoubtedly refreshing.
Lipa, who made her name via Youtube at the age of 16, is only 21 but her music belies the confidence of someone older. She mentions J. Cole, Nelly Furtado and Christina Aguilera as influences, no surprise there given her sound. More surprising, however, are her references to the Stereophonics and Robbie Williams.
On first listen, what’s most striking about the twelve-song album is how Lipa manages to keep things texturally interesting. Of course, throughout the album there are increases and decreases in intensity. But Dua Lipa never relies on these to keep the listener hooked — that’s where the detailed percussion and satisfyingly complex melodies come in.
Slowburner ‘Genesis’ kicks off the album but ‘Hotter Than Hell’ is the first track to up the ante. Although it’s well produced, ‘Hotter Than Hell’ lacks a little of the genuine energy of Lipa’s other singles. ‘Be The One’, which follows, sparkles with that missing zeal. It’s a track to rival the best efforts of Lipa’s big-name pop contemporaries: a slinking baseline and vibrant, layered melodies.
The amusingly named ‘IDGAF’ takes crisp, almost militaristic drums and combines them with some of Lipa’s most cutting lyrics. When she sings: “You say you're sorry / But it's too late now / So save it, get gone, shut up / 'Cause if you think I care about you now / Well, boy, I don't give a fuck”, it’s easy to believe she means it. The touch of MNEK on production is notable — ‘IDGAF’ is likely the best track off the album.
Dua Lipa does encounter some minor pitfalls. On ‘Garden’, she succumbs to overproduced drums and lacklustre lyrics. When she sings: “Are we leaving this garden of Eden? / Now I know what I know / But it’s hard to find the meaning,” the dramatism falls somewhat flat. ‘New Rules’ brings things back on track, with pattering drums leading into a scorching chorus as elements of bashment, tropical house and glitchy horn-laced pop vie for attention. Tracks like ‘New Rules’ demonstrate exactly why critics picked Lipa out as one to watch last year.
The final result is a debut album brimming with confidence, confidence not only in Lipa’s own voice and her eye for a chorus, but in the emotive quality of her lyrics. When Dua Lipa reaches for the personal, she sounds like she's doing so because that’s where her best music emerges from, not because she think that’s what authentic artists do.
Words: Alex Green
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