Overnight stardom grows rarer as the modern world speeds up. Catching the public’s skittish attention requires careful planning. Videos pitch for YouTube views, social media followers are recruited, “tastemaker” patronage is sought. But there is a constant variable in the science of launching a pop star — the stage.
So far Dua Lipa’s campaign has ticked the right boxes. Talent-spotted by Lana Del Rey’s management team, the Londoner, 20, has spent a couple of years honing her sound and image. YouTube views have been harvested, almost 20m for her aspirational song “Be the One”. The PR firm behind Adele and Zayn Malik has taken her on. Tastemakers have taken notice. Now comes the crunch.
Her show at Heaven was a step up from the showcases she has been playing. Lipa — her real name: her parents are Kosovan Albanians who moved to the UK — marvelled at the size of the 1,000-capacity venue and the sight of people singing along to songs. A lot of money and effort had gone into getting her this far. Her performance suggested neither has been wasted.
A stage school graduate, Lipa looked the part of a pop star, making the eccentric combination of a swimsuit, a big necklace and a baggy camouflage jacket appear the height of fashion. Holding a note well isn’t so important in the era of voice processing software, but she showed she could do that too. Backed by a drummer and two keyboardists who doubled as guitarists, she sang in a powerful lower register, with a dynamic way of attacking verses.
The songs went from summery dance-pop (“Hotter Than Hell”) to plain retro-soul (“Thinking ’Bout You”). The funk-guitar filigree decorating a moody big ballad revealed a degree of musical imagination within the generic forms. So did a cover of the rapper A$AP Rocky’s song “L$D” involving rapped segments and exhilarating shifts of tempo into disco and trance. Despite the arduous months of preparation, she came across as spontaneous and authentic, a natural performer. Bigger stages await.