The Week In Pop

Having Conquered Britain, Dua Lipa Is Coming For America Next

“New Rules” is a great song. Using the ingredients of the moment — nimbly tapped tropical-house keyboards, complex but airy drum programming indebted to Africa and the Caribbean, a morphing stylistic terrain that veers from booming rock-indebted bridges into surging dance-infused choruses — it serves as a contagious canvas for 22-year-old British pop singer Dua Lipa. Her voice is full and powerful, and she uses it like a virtuoso: digging into her lower register to convey authority, stretching out the high notes and letting them hover over the beat with a trembling vulnerability, flashing passionately across her range when emotions flare. With a conversational tone befitting the subject matter, she lays out strict regulations adopted to avoid getting entangled in the same dead-end romance yet again:

One, don’t pick up the phone
You know he’s only calling ’cause he’s drunk and alone
Two, don’t let him in
You have to kick him out again
Three, don’t be his friend
You know you’re gonna wake up in his bed in the morning
And if you’re under him
You ain’t getting over him

Then comes the hook, with Lipa’s vocals tweaked and multiplied as they repeat the mantra, “I got new rules, I count ‘em,” subjected to those suddenly ubiquitous filters that convert the human voice into synthesizer squeals. It’s severely infectious, an effect enhanced by the video, which finds Lipa and squad enjoying a highly choreographed hotel stay while fighting off the urge to ignore these helpful bylaws. The whole thing is a mainstream pop masterclass. No wonder “New Rules” went to #1 in the UK last year or that the video has been watched more than 900 million times.

Nor, having taken a few spins through Lipa’s 2017 self-titled debut album, is it a surprise what a star she’s become in her home country. (Lipa was born in London to Kosovar Albanian parents; her first name means “love” in Albanian.) She boasts that aforementioned voice, a deadly weapon in a field where singers often get by on looks and personality — qualities Lipa also does not lack. Speaking of which, even though her music exists within the eclectic-yet-homogenous festival-cocktail parameters of the modern mainstream, she’s put an individual stamp on it. “New Rules” is the only song on Lipa’s album she wasn’t involved in writing, yet she fully possesses it, teetering between weakness to self-assured strength with striking realism. She brings similar charisma to the ones she did write, including duets with Miguel (the rippling drum machine joyride “Lost In Your Light”) and Chris Martin (the album-closing piano ballad “Homesick”). In The Guardian, Laura Snapes called her “an authentic voice of young British womanhood: independent, cool and in command of her own sexuality.”

Lipa’s considerable talent and appealing persona added up to a huge 2017 in Britain. She was Spotify’s most-streamed woman in the UK last year. At Glastonbury, the entire crowd belted out her two-year-old “Be The One,” a propulsive head-bob jam reminiscent of HAIM channeling the Cure’s “Close To Me.” This week, she beat Ed Sheeran for the most BRIT Award nominations with five, the most ever for a female solo artist. Again, all this success seems perfectly reasonable; she is an ideal example of the major-label apparatus (Warner Brothers in this case) discovering a born star and launching them into orbit. At this point it won’t even be an occasion for eyebrow raising when, for her next trick, she manages to turn a song built around the phrase “I don’t give a fuck” into a radio smash.

What did catch me off guard was just how long Lipa and the considerable industry machinery behind her toiled away to make this big break happen. Dua Lipa benefited from what amounted to a two-year rollout — a slow, steady saturation campaign that, for once, reeked of assurance rather than desperation. “New Rules” is so obviously excellent that you’d think it was her album’s lead single, but she released a whopping five songs from the project before that one officially dropped last summer, dating all the way back to “Be The One” in 2015. That was followed in 2016 by the uptempo post-EDM power ballad “Last Dance” and the surging festival-core behemoths “Hotter Than Hell” and “Blow Your Mind (Mwah),” the latter featuring perhaps pop’s most effective use of an exaggerated kiss sound as a means of percussive punctuation. Then, in early 2017, she jumped on Martin Garrix’s “Scared To Be Lonely,” and the Miguel collab “Lost In Your Light” arrived a few weeks ahead of the album’s early June release.

Typically, some or all of the singles released in the two-year span leading up to an album would be discarded from the final tracklist — think Rihanna ditching “Bitch Better Have My Money” and “FourFiveSeconds” come ANTI or Kanye West leaving “All Day” and “Only One” off The Life Of Pablo — but Lipa kept every one of hers, which suggests a genuine belief in the material. And usually once a song pops off, a label will rush an album to market to capitalize on the buzz; instead, WB let Lipa keep getting bigger and bigger. This extended process could have been the label waiting for another Lipa song to chart as highly as #9 “Be The One” — she came close with “Hotter Than Hell” and “Scared To Be Lonely” — but in hindsight it looks like a remarkable demonstration of patience.

The result was a Dua Lipa who could rule Glastonbury just weeks after her debut album’s release and could deploy “New Rules” as a royalty-cementing triumph rather than an opening blast. Lipa has been blowing up in other countries, too. “New Rules” went to #1 in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Ireland, came close in Australia and New Zealand, and cracked the top 10 in Germany and Sweden. A number of her other tracks have been big hits in those territories in recent years. With a straight face, you can call her a rising global superstar. Yet all this time, her presence in America has mostly been limited to coverage from pop blogs and some limited streaming success.

That’s starting to change. Lipa’s American invasion is now underway, with a stint opening for Bruno Mars recently completed and “New Rules” finally taking off at US radio. (Currently it’s up to #11 on the Hot 100; meanwhile Dua Lipa just reached a new #35 peak on the Billboard 200.) Her eye-catching “IDGAF” video is arriving just in time to capitalize on her rising profile here, and given American listeners’ relative unfamiliarity with her hits, she could easily re-release many of them stateside now that this country seems to be listening. If not, shockingly there are still serious bangers left to be released off the album, not least of all opening track “Genesis,” a glimmering mirage that exists in a fertile space between Halsey’s modern spin on mainstream pop and Adele’s heartfelt traditionalism. Barring all that, she just announced she’s working with fellow young UK pop phenom MNEK on material for LP2. You can be certain she won’t be needing another two-year rollout for that one.

CHART WATCH

When I saw The Greatest Showman’s soundtrack just spent a second week at #1 on the Billboard 200, I figured it was because we’ve entered a particularly slow time of year. Then I realized the soundtrack tallied 104,000 equivalent album units and 70,000 in pure sales, figures that would be good for #1 almost any week of the year. This thing is a hit! After that comes a steep dropoff, as Ed Sheeran’s ÷ returns to #2 with 53,000 units, and G-Eazy’s The Beautiful & Damned climbs back to #3 with 38,000. Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic shoots back to #4 thanks to interest in the new “Finesse” remix featuring Cardi B. The rest of the top 10 comprises Post Malone, Taylor Swift, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Huncho Jack (Quavo & Travis Scott), and Sam Smith.

There’s more action on the Hot 100. Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” remains at #1 for a sixth straight week. You’ll notice Beyoncé is no longer credited on that; as Billboard explains, it’s because “Perfect Duet,” the version of the song featuring Bey, no longer accounts for the majority of its plays. Both versions of the song continue to count toward its chart placement. Camila Cabello and Young Thug’s “Havana” holds down #2 for a seventh nonconsecutive week.

Surging to #3 in its first full week of eligibility is Bruno Mars and Cardi B’s “Finesse” remix, which becomes Mars’ fifteenth top-10 hit and Cardi’s fourth. It makes Mars only the second male artist and sixth act overall to land three top-10 singles from each of his first three albums. Cardi, meanwhile, has three songs in the top 10 for the third straight week, with “Finesse” rising just as “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” finally drops out. Her other entries are the G-Eazy/A$AP Rocky collab “No Limit” at #5 and the Migos/Nicki Minaj collab “MotorSport” at #10. Cardi also becomes the first woman to land five simultaneous tracks in the top 10 of the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart — an insane achievement.

Post Malone and 21 Savage’s “Rockstar” drops to #4, Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder” drops to #6, Halsey’s “Bad At Love” drops to #7, and Sam Smith’s “Too Good At Goodbyes” drops to #8. And debuting at #9 is Justin Timberlake’s divisive “Filthy,” becoming his 18th solo top-10 hit (and 24th overall, counting the six he logged with *NSYNC).

POP FIVE

Justin Timberlake – “Supplies”
And now here’s Man Of The Woods single #2, which I imagine will have a much longer shelf life than “Filthy.” Try to detach yourself from the insufferable marketing campaign and the video’s tonedeaf wokeness and just hear the music. Country melody or not, “Supplies” sounds like Justin Timberlake and Pharrell doing their best to adapt to the trap era. It also sounds like a hit; if hip-hop stations get on board with it, it might even go to #1.

UPDATE: OK I changed my mind, this song is bad. Sorry for temporarily leading you astray.

The Chainsmokers – “Sick Boy”
For their 2018 opening volley, the Chainsmokers are openly ripping off Twenty One Pilots, name-checking This Is Us, and asking, “How many likes is my life worth?” Deep!

Maroon 5 – “Wait”
I still can’t believe that lo-fi guitar sound that opens this track is “in” right now, but I like it. I also can’t believe people are not horrified by the kinds of Snapchat filters Adam Levine indulges in throughout this video, which I most definitely do not like. I continue to find latter-day Maroon 5 mildly enjoyable on a song-by-song basis even if a whole album of this much vanilla remains difficult to endure.

Troye Sivan – “The Good Side”
Last week we got Troye’s big synth-pop banger, which was exceptional. Today we get his tender acoustic ballad, which rules as well. Sivan SZN approaching, and it feels so good.

Hailee Steinfeld & BloodPop – “Capital Letters”
This one seems boring at first but will sneak up on you about two and a half minutes in, should you decide to stick with it that long. Still kind of wild to hear a longtime Grimes collaborator coming through with such straitlaced singles like this and Justin Bieber’s “Friends.”

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Katy Perry will present Minnie Mouse with a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. [Twitter]
  • Offset got a Cardi B neck tattoo. [Instagram]
  • Cardi also signed on for her first movie role. Filming begins in March. [TMZ]
  • American Express is hosting a listening session for Justin Timberlake’s new album at Prince’s Paisley Park estate three days before the Super Bowl. [Star Tribune]
  • Taylor Swift filed to trademark the phrase “big reputation.” [TMZ]
  • Khalid and Normani Kordei’s collab, “Love Lies,” is out on Jack Antonoff’s Love, Simon soundtrack in March. [Idolator]
  • Some people think the Jonas Brothers are reuniting. [Billboard]
  • Eric Church and Maren Morris will pay tribute to Vegas shooting victims at the Grammys. [Rolling Stone]
  • Bhad Bhabie disses spiritual forebear Iggy Azalea on the new “Hi Bich” remix. [TMZ]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME