Dua Lipa's Technicolor Dream: How She Found Her Voice On 'Future Nostalgia'

The pop megastar dreamed up a winning concept and built an entire world

Dua Lipa has just spent 10 minutes discussing what makes her feel nostalgic. Against a candy-pink seamless background, the 24-year-old pop star mentioned her bygone Tamagotchi, a love of "Cry Me a River," and more; she was talking broadly in relation to her forthcoming second album, Future Nostalgia, but focusing on the latter half of its title. Now, she's diving right into the future.

"On my last record, everything just happened so fast. I was touring, and writing, and doing TV performances, and everything, that I don't feel like I had enough time to just sit down and rehearse for everything," she tells MTV News. "Whereas now, I decided, 'I'm going to finish the album first. Then I want to talk about creative and visuals and what I want to do for the tour.' I want to make sure that [for] every performance I do I have enough rehearsal time to be able to put on a unique performance every time, even if it is the same song."

That song, the dazzling nu-disco "Don't Start Now," kicked off Lipa's second era with panache. She reemerged as a queen of dance thanks to the tune's electricity; a few days after it dropped in early November, she lit up the MTV EMA with a choreographed live premiere, backed up by steely looks and dozens of dancers. Modified versions of that performance, slightly tweaked to better resonate on its various stages, found their way to The Tonight Show and Ellen, each one revealing Lipa with a large squad of her own. She'd earned that kind of support.

"Don't Start Now" and its follow-up singles, "Physical" and Future Nostalgia's title track, found Lipa capitalizing on the momentum she'd shaken loose with 2017's "New Rules." That ubiquitous post-breakup hit catapulted her to two Grammys (including Best New Artist), the title of most-streamed female musician in the U.K. that year, and general global superstardom. With the whirring carousel of her career in motion — spun by a purple, sultry voice that sold her early pop cuts like "New Love" and "Be the One" — she turned that kinetic energy toward the circuit breakers. It was time to power the dance floor.

"It is really nerve-wracking when you're putting out a new song and it's kind of different from what you've put out before and you don't know how people are going to react and if they're going to like it," Lipa says. "It's one thing [to have] me thinking it's all right. I suppose I probably had cabin fever in the studio for so long."

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Future Nostalgia's writing and recording began quickly after "New Rules" had reached its apex. Lipa worked with Mark Ronson and Diplo on their Silk City song "Electricity" (which nabbed all three artists a Grammy) and even hopped in the studio with pop brainiac Max Martin. Those sessions didn't yield anything for the new album, though: "That was during kind of the process that I was still on tour and I was still writing. I still hadn't quite yet figured out the Future Nostalgia title."

Once she did, it unlocked everything. Lipa reenlisted trusted collaborators from her debut, like "New Rules" producer Ian Kirkpatrick and pop super team The Monsters and the Strangerz, and added new ones; Julia Michaels and Tove Lo both get songwriting credits on Future Nostalgia. Lipa worked hard in "bright, airy spaces" from morning until 9 or 10 at night cultivating the new songs. Crucially, she felt much more comfortable with the process compared to when she recorded her self-titled debut.

"I guess I didn't realize how much I was almost holding back in a way because I was just kind of learning. I was just getting confident. I was learning my craft. I was getting used to just being in a room, and a lot of the time in a room full of men. And to be a vulnerable, 18-, 19-year-old girl talking about very personal feelings and emotions is daunting sometimes," she says of making her debut. "Now, I feel like I've claimed my place in the studio, and I know exactly what I want and I can go in and I can just write. I'm a lot more confident now."

In case you were wondering how that confidence manifests itself, the video for her clubby new single "Physical" begins with Lipa quite literally ripping a dude's heart out of his chest and using it to ignite a technicolor dance party. With intercut animation, eye-popping production detail, and, of course, another large platoon of color-clad dancers highlighting each emotional turn of the song, the "Physical" video is an opus. It's a trip to watch after revisiting her simpler (and yet no less ambitiously choreographed) "New Rules" visual.

When Lipa kicks off a world tour in late April, shortly after Future Nostalgia drops on April 3, those two songs will serve as crown jewels in the set. It'll be about 14 months since winning her first pair of Grammys, and about three since Billie Eilish succeeded her as the reigning Best New Artist. Ahead of that, she reflects on what advice she can impart to future winners in that same category, as she's lived it herself.

"Always stay true to yourself. Always be authentic. Don't allow these little pressures, or pressures from people online, or what other people may think, to make you change your trajectory and change exactly where you're headed," she says in a tone so certain that it'd be unwise to question her. "They're there for a reason, and they're there because they've worked."

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