The UK is having a bit of a, shall we say, drought when it comes to major solo pop stars. We’ve got Harry Styles obviously, who probably counts for three people when it comes to star power – but he’s an anomaly in more ways than one. We’ve got Charli XCX, too, although her sound is far enough left field that she may never reach the upper echelons of pop's mainstream. And we’ve also got Jorja Smith, although she’s more sophisticated soul singer than the sort of artist who could do a camp comeback stadium tour with choreography in 30 years' time, like Cher. At the moment, several of the country's most popular musicians, sales-wise, have been plopped from a similar mould: white, guitar-playing men, often with ~self-aware~ IRL senses of humour; your Lewis Capaldis, Sam Fenders, Dermot Kennedys (sort of) and the granddaddy of them all, Ed Sheeran.
Enter Dua Lipa, the 24-year-old behind “New Rules”, “IDGAF”, “One Kiss” and other massive songs you’ll have heard on Spotify playlists in gyms across the country. She has everything: major label backing, constant radio play, back-to-back bangers and really silky hair. But what next? When does an artist go from very good and popular atm, to the kind of icon we can say is like our Ariana Grande?
First-thing on Friday the 1st of November, Dua released “Don’t Start Now”, her second track of the year (her first was “Swan Song” which came out in January). In a statement she wrote: “Into a new era with a new sound! It’s about moving on and not allowing anyone to get in the way of that.” And she's right about the new sound, moving as she does into disco and Chic-like guitars on this one. But is the track any good, and where exactly does it place her, musically? A few of us at VICE had a listen and then a chat about it. Read our debate below, but first, listen to the track yourself:
Lauren: I cannot lie, the opening of this song made me rub my temples and exhale the first time I heard it. That’s not because it’s bad, but more because it just sounds exactly like the sort of GIRLS IN THE CLUB, EMPOWERMENT ANTHEM BABE!!!!! I had expected from the latest iteration of Dua Lipa’s comeback. “New Rules” branded her so well as a ‘no fucks given icon x’ that really, all of her music will follow in that vein. That’s a fine niche to be in, but it’d be cool to see one of the most popular pop stars in the UK branch out a bit from the “IDGAF” of her last cycle. “Don’t Start Now” is a great title though, hope Kim Woodburn has been given her writing credit.
Tshepo: I agree that this massively fits into her ‘forget a fuckboy’ wheelhouse, but reckon she’ll stick to that route for a bit longer. I think it was in her recent New Yorker Festival talk that she dug into her feminist beliefs a bit more. And I feel as though she does believe in the overall premise of equality for all genders, but maybe hasn’t been able to share that with her fans, for fear of alienating some/not securing as much of the bag. So “Don’t Start Now” is totally in keeping with what we saw from her Brit Awards speeches last year, and the overall “New Rules” theme.
Daisy: Yeah it's very much on brand, lyrically. But then again, aren't all big pop songs just about love, sex or break ups? Maybe next time she'll write about her love of cooking or existential dread, but that's not what you want to hear in the club when you're trashed and trying to forget your ex. Also, that disco production is tight as fuck.
Lauren: I do think embracing a more disco-y sound is a cool move, am a particular fan of the “Ring My Bell”-esque cowbell and laser gun sound effects. I would imagine that I will listen to this song again, maybe when I am getting ready to go out, or when it's synced in an episode of Love Island when the contestants are pretending to have a party, for example. I am being snarky but to be real I actually don’t mind “Don’t Start Now,” though I think that perhaps that pleasant ambivalence might be the problem.
Tshepo: Musically, I truly wasn’t ready for how on-the-nose the opening ‘gentle house music’ piano chords are. But the production feels as though it literally slaps. Listening to this on headphones feels like your eardrums are being directly pummelled by the handclap samples in the chorus. And that's no bad thing. This is an extremely tight piece of pop songwriting, though its hooks might remind you of other songs (the pre-chorus has hints of Lizzo’s “Juice”, for example, in addition to the "Ring My Bell" flourishes). That's the nature of the pop beast at the moment – creating familiarity to inspire streaming replays – and it's interesting to see her play that savvy move.
Daisy: This is the kind of song I pay no attention to whatsoever until three weeks after its release, when it’s been played on repeat so often – in shops, on ITV adverts for celeb dating shows involving Megan McKenna – that I have a kind of Stockholm syndrome attachment to it and end up sing-crying it on a podium in Heaven nightclub at 2AM. Which is the exact formula pop stars like Dua Lipa thrive with tbh so fair play.
Tshepo: True about Heaven. I can already envision this blasting out from Pride floats. She is really good at giving her straight fans something they’d want, which they’d not been able to anticipate, while hyping up the gays.
Lauren: Having not seen the video yet I will say if there’s not a kickflare and a disco ball in sight it’s a wasted opportunity. The strings are quite “I Will Survive” if it got orange VK down its crop top and shouted at its boyfriend about it outside McDonalds (who among us etc).
Daisy: At least we’ve now moved on from that handful of years in 2013 to 2017 when no pop song, not a single pop song in sight, had a chorus, or even an earworm-y hook. We've listened to this three times now and already I can feel myself wanting to start singing “If you don't wanna see me dancing with somebody...” Was this song a good move? Yeah for sure. Will it turn her into the kind of mega pop icon the UK needs? We'll wait for that second album, but I don't see why not.