Dua Lipa (‘Barbie’): ‘Awards Chatter’ Podcast

30 mins read

The Grammy-winning pop superstar opens up about her childhood split between London and Kosovo, breaking into the music biz with hits like “New Rules” and “Levitating,” the unique challenges of writing “Dance the Night” for Greta Gerwig’s summer blockbuster and releasing “Houdini,” the first single from her forthcoming third album.

Dua Lipa, the guest on this episode of The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast, is a three-time Grammy-winning singer/songwriter who is one of the biggest pop stars in the world. A Brit who has been described by The New York Times as “a powerhouse young artist,” by Vanity Fair as a “bona fide superstar” and by TIME as one of the most influential people in the world, she has to her name hit singles like “Levitating,” “Don’t Start Now,” “Cold Heart,” “Last Dance,” “New Rules,” “Houdini” and, from Greta Gerwig’s critically acclaimed summer blockbuster Barbie, “Dance the Night,” which on Nov. 10 garnered Grammy nominations for song of the year and best song written for visual media, and is now very much in the running for a best original song Oscar nomination as well.

Dua Lipa (‘Barbie’)

Over the course of a conversation at the London West Hollywood, the 28-year-old reflected on her childhood split between London and Kosovo; how she wound up signing her first record deal in 2015; the origins and bangers of her 2017 self-titled debut album and her 2020 pandemic-era second album Future Nostalgia; how she came to be a part of Barbie and wrote, with Mark RonsonCaroline Ailin and Andrew Wyatt, “Dance the Night”; plus much more.Dua Lipa (‘Barbie’)

Dua, thank you so much for doing the podcast. Can you tell our listeners where you were born and what your folks did for a living?

Yeah. I was born in London in 1995, and at that point, my parents were working in bars and restaurants while at the same time studying in the evening.

People talk about your work ethic, and I know it’s major, but theirs sound pretty incredible too…

Yeah. Well, I think I get most of my — not most, I get my work ethic from my parents and seeing them really adapt to any situation.

Now you’ve spoken about how a lot of your mindset and worldview has been shaped by “the immigrant experience.” You were born in London, but your parents were not. How did they wind up there?

They fled the Yugoslavian War. They left Kosovo then. My dad was in a band — he was in a rock group — but he was studying to be a dentist, and my mom was studying law at the time. In 1992, they decided to leave Kosovo and come to London. And their life completely changed at that point.

The fact that your dad had been involved with music, was that part of what got you into music as a kid? How early on were you listening to and kind of a fan of music?

I think from the moment I came out the womb I was listening to music. Music was so present in my life. Both my parents have always been singing around the house, playing artists that they love. I think I had a good range of knowledge of a lot of amazing artists and songs way before I could even speak. And so music just felt like second nature to me.

When we listen to your music now, it makes sense based on who you were personally into as a kid…

Yeah. Artists that my parents listened to a lot were David Bowie and Elton John and Oasis and Blur, and then Blondie. It was such a mix of so many different artists. And I think for me, after listening to and loving all the music that my parents listened to, that became then my favorite music and the music that I always go back to as the music that makes me feel the best. Then, I was maybe nine, 10 or 11 when I discovered my favorite pop artists. And that was like—

Nelly Furtado?

Nelly Furtado. It was the Whoa, Nelly! album that really changed my life. Then it was Misunderstood by Pink. And also Songs in A Minor by Alicia Keys. All of these women have such a strong identity, and when you’re a young girl and you hear these artists and their stories — I just felt so connected. So all I wanted to do was sing their songs and listen to their music. They had so much independence and strength and attitude that I was like, “When I grow up, I want to be just like them.”

That being said, I’ve heard — and I could not believe — that you were being told as a kid that you didn’t sing well?

I wanted to sing for the school choir, and I have a very deep voice. I think my speaking voice is quite deep, and my singing voice is also like — me being able to go down octaves is my forte. At the time, my high register just wasn’t developed at all. There was a school choir and the music teacher was like, “Okay, who wants to audition for the choir?” And I was like, “All right, I’m going to get up and I’m going to sing.” And he starts playing on the piano and I’m trying to reach this high note and nothing but air comes out and I’m so embarrassed — and it’s in school assembly, so I’m in front of all the kids of all ages, and I’m absolutely mortified in the moment, and he’s like, “Oh, maybe next time.” And I never got the place in the choir. But it was a big moment for me, in the sense of having the confidence to stand up in front of people sing — and not having the outcome that I wanted.

I was very young to have that experience, but because I loved to sing, my mom signed me up for Saturday classes at Sylvia Young Theater School. I was nine years old when I started going there, and every Saturday I would go and do singing lessons. I had this really great teacher there called Ray, and he heard my voice and really liked my low register, and he was like, “You know what? I’m going to change your class and I’m going to put you in the 9:30 am class,” which was with the 14 and 15 year olds. I was terrified. I was like, “Oh my God, I have to go in with the teenagers — how am I going to get up and sing in front of them?!”

And he really helped me to believe in myself and have the confidence to stand up in front of the teenagers and sing and feel good about it. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t tell me that I could sing; my parents always told me, “Oh, you’ve got a good voice and you can sing.” But I think hearing it from somebody that’s not your mom or your dad means a lot.

Then, just as you’re developing some belief in your own abilities, you guys end up leaving to go back to Kosovo?


What were the circumstances that led to that?

My parents always had the idea of going back to Kosovo. I think whenever somebody leaves a place because of the war, they leave because of the potential of having a better life, but always wanting to go back to your home, to your family, to the things that that you’ve grown up around. And Albanian was my first language. I’d always spoken English at school and with my friends, but I also spoke a mix of English and Albanian at home, and so when my parents decided that we were going to move back to Kosovo when I was 11 and finishing year six, which is just the end of primary school, I was like, “Okay.” All my friends from my primary school were going to go to different schools anyway. I was going to go to a different country.

So you weren’t terribly devastated.

I wasn’t terribly. I was quite excited at the idea of going back. I lived in Pristina for four years, from 11 to 15. I think the thing that was the most interesting was adapting to being the new girl in school and being like, “Not only am I starting in a new school, but I have to adapt to people already having formed friendships.” At the same time, I knew I could speak Albanian, but I thought I could speak it way better than I did because at home everything was fine. When I went to Kosovo, everyone was like, “Oh, you’re speaking Albanian, but almost with an English accent or something.” So it took me a little while to not only get down with the slang — to learn it grammatically — and read and write properly in Albanian, but also be thrown into new friendships and new studies that were so much more advanced than what I was learning in London. I was doing fractions, and then I went and was doing algebra in Albanian. So it was a very big kind of push for me out my comfort zone, while at the same time giving me the opportunity to be really in touch with my roots and my family and my language and my heritage.

And were you continuing your singing when you got back there?

Yeah. I had music lessons in school there, so I was singing there. And I think that’s when I did my first performance in front of a crowd. It was like a school event, and I chose to sing “No One” by Alicia Keys. I think there’s a video of it online. I’m so small.

It went well?

It went well. You can see me holding the mic and being quite nervous, and then people clap, and I think, with confidence, I put my other hand on the mic. But also, my time that I spent in Kosovo made me realize how badly I wanted to do music and how I needed to go back to London and be in a place where everything was happening — where I maybe might have the opportunity to try and do this as a job. I didn’t feel like I could get discovered in Kosovo. Things were completely different then.

You were there when they declared independence, right?

I was there when independence got declared, yes.

But it was still going to be a long shot to get any kind of career going there…

Absolutely. Our world’s just getting so much smaller, but at that time, when I was 13, 14, 15, living in Kosovo, it just wasn’t possible to be in a place like that and hope that you might get heard. And so I wanted to go back to London.

So how does the conversation go? You’re 15 and say to your parents, “I’m out of here” — how did you get them to go along with this?!

I have younger siblings — I’ve got a younger sister and a younger brother — and when I saw them turn 15, in my head I was like, “I have no idea how I managed to pull this off and get them to let me live on my own.” I was just so determined that I wanted to be in London. I wanted to go back to school in London. I also wanted the opportunity to maybe go to uni in London — I had to go and finish my GCSCs there and get my exams done. Anyway, I’m a very convincing young lady. I think that’s what I’ve gathered from when I go back and ask my parents. Every time, I go and ask my parents, “How did you let me do that?!” It’s so amazing that they had so much trust in me. They are like, “You were just so determined.”

I feel like I always knew what I wanted to do from a very young age. In order for them to feel safe about the situation and good about leaving me in London — of course I had so many friends and family in London, but a family friend of ours, their daughter was moving to London — to study at the London School of Economics — from Pristina. And so we decided that we were going to flat-share — we were going to live together — and I was going to go to school and she was going to go to uni. And that was that.

I believe you also did some waitressing, some hostessing, and a little modeling during that period?

I always loved having a job. My first job was when I was 12 or 13 years old. I was in Pristina and I remember walking home and there was a pharmacy that I had just passed by and there was a woman selling makeup products. It was like the Avon equivalent, but it was a Swedish brand. And I was like, “Oh, I could do this,” slang makeup to the girls in school. I just love the idea of always working. I love to work. And then when I moved to London, I worked in different retail stores. Then as I got older, I started going out, and I was going out a little underage—

The statute of limitations has expired…

I was going out and I made some friends in a club, and my first job in a club was when I was 17 and I was working at the door. It was fun. I made some very interesting friends — interesting people in my life that I think just really shaped my experience of being young and living in London and that club culture — and I think that all of those things trickled into my music and my inspiration and where that all came from. Then I left that job because I remember one night my friends couldn’t get in to the club — they didn’t let me let them in — and I was like, “I just don’t want to do this anymore, this is just so horrible.” So then I went to work at La Bodega Negra, which was an upscale Mexican restaurant in Soho. And I worked there up until the point that I got signed.

This was when YouTube and SoundCloud were really starting to get going — things that may have made it feel more possible to make it when you were in Kosovo, if they had existed. But now you were posting covers online, and then I think you were doing some vocals for a commercial, right?

Yes, exactly. That kind of goes back to what you were saying about modeling. While I was in school, I was posting covers online — I would just be like, “Hey, I’m Dua, I’m 15 years old and this is my cover of ‘Super Duper Love’ by Joss Stone.” And I was posting a lot online and also, at the same time, always working. I had been scouted in Oxford Circus for a modeling agency, but I was put on a commercial board and got sent out to do some auditions and stuff. And basically, I did a commercial — I had to do the singing for it — and I worked with a producer for two weeks on that, and afterwards he was like, “Hey, do you want to maybe write a song?” And I was like, “Absolutely, I would love to get in the studio and write a song together!” We wrote a song, and then I didn’t hear from him for a while. And then he contacted me and he was like, “Hey, I would love to talk to you about a potential publishing deal.” I was like, “A publishing deal? I don’t even know what that is.”

Through the covers that I’d posted online on YouTube and on Twitter and SoundCloud, there was a young producer called Felix Joseph who had heard my cover of Chance the Rapper’s “Cocoa Butter Kisses” from SoundCloud. He had contacted me and was like, “Hey, if you ever want to work in the studio together, let me know, but in the meantime, if you need anything, this is my number.” I’d never met him, but I called him and I was like, “Hi Felix. I know we’ve never met, but I was just wondering — I’ve been offered a publishing deal and I don’t even know what that is. Do you have anybody who could help me?” And he was like, “Well, I can’t really give you advice on that, but I’ve got a really good lawyer who you should go and meet and he can chat to you about it.” And so at 17 years old, I go to this law firm in Hammersmith, in London, and I sit down with my lawyer — well, he then became my lawyer, but a lawyer called Lawrence — and he basically was like, “Look, don’t sign this deal. Let me help you find a manager.” And he was the one who kind of sat me down and explained the ins and outs of what a publishing deal was and the different aspects of it. And that was the beginning of everything.

Yeah. I guess he then connected you with Ben Mawson, who had been working with Lana Del Rey and became your manager. And you’ve said at that point everything changed, in the sense that you soon had a record deal of your own.

Well, I was just going to the studio every single day and I was writing nonstop. There was a song that I’d written with my friends Tommy Baxter, Adam Midgley and Gerard O’Connell called “Hotter Than Hell,” And that song kind of caught the attention of some record labels. Everything just started happening so fast. That was when I met my A&R, Joe Kentish, who is a dear friend of mine — we still work together to this day because we just have such a great relationship just creating records together. But I don’t know, I felt like he immediately understood who I was as an artist and gave me the space to really grow. I just felt really connected to him and I was like, “You know what? I’m going to sign to Warner Records.” And that’s where I signed my deal.

And then I threw a little drinks party at La Bodega Negra on the night that I signed, having also kind of handed in my resignation, with the hopes that maybe I wouldn’t have to come back.

That was in 2015. I know there was a lot of touring and writing over the next two years, and milestones along the way that may seem not as big now as they did at the time — like going on The Tonight Show to perform “Scared to Be Lonely,” I think?

Yeah. Well, the first ever TV I did was The Tonight Show in 2016 — they were the first American TV that had me — and I actually sang “Hotter Than Hell.”

Oh! And all of this leading up to the release of your first, self-titled album, in 2017, which people now know went platinum, with six singles that went platinum. I wonder if we can talk about a couple of “case studies” from that. “Last Dance,” you have said, “was the song where we figured out what my sound was going to be.” I know that you’ve separately said that you always wanted to combine hip-hop and pop. But how would you describe what your sound was as a result of “Last Dance”?

It’s quite interesting hearing that back because I haven’t thought about that process of making my first record in a little while, especially as I’ve been just busy and caught up in working on my new record. But there’s always one song that for me dictates what the rest of it’s going to sound like. Even though looking back on my first record, when I listen back to it, it feels to me there’s so many songs of me figuring out where I was heading next. I was learning so much about myself in the process. I was writing for about three, four years, while at the same time releasing a lot of singles because I felt like I needed to put out a lot of songs in order to be heard before I even put out my first album. So it was a really, really long journey.

Also at the same time, I basically toured the world three times with that one album, seeing the rooms get a little bit bigger every time. But the idea of merging hip hop and pop, it was because of my love for Nelly Furtado and then my love for J. Cole or my love for Kendrick. What I loved was the storytelling in hip hop and then the way that pop records — dance records — made you feel. But how was I going to put the two together? With the first album, there’s so many songs that sound so different, but they really changed my life in so many ways, where I was learning and leaning in to the songwriting process of being vulnerable and talking about my experiences and emotions, with the idea that maybe someone out there might hear them. This was me spilling my guts essentially for everyone to hear.

But yeah, it was just such an amazing experience. And for “Last Dance,” in particular, what I loved was the electronic sounds in it, but at the same time, dancey pop sounds sonically with a real personal story intertwined. That was something that I really emotionally made me feel like I was on the right track for that record.

And it was about being homesick, because you had been out on the road for so long?

It was about being homesick. I’d written that song in Toronto. It was, I think, October, and it was really cold, and I knew that I was going to be on the road for a really long time, and I was starting to get a little bit of my London blues. And that was the song that I wrote. I think it was more about people telling you that you’re not good enough — it was a bit of an in-your-face record, like, “I’m not going to take that and I’m going to stand my ground and I deserve to be here.”

Also on that first album was “New Rules,” your first No. 1 in the U.K., first to break into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, second song by a woman to hit a billion Spotify streams. You’ve also talked about how, when you’re singing, it’s almost acting, as well, or at least inhabiting a character. So even if what you’re singing about is not your experience or your feelings, you can flip it in your mind. Was that what you would say this was an example of?

Yeah, definitely. It was also very interesting because I love to write all my own songs. I definitely felt like, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to sing this song because I didn’t write it.” But it was a song that I resonated with so deeply. I embodied it. When I sang it, it was mine. And I felt like it was such a strong song about the things that you should or shouldn’t do in your dating life, essentially. I felt so strong and empowered when I sang “New Rules.” Sometimes you manifest an energy into your life — as time’s gone by and I’ve written other songs, I’ve really felt that to be true. It’s like the more you sing something, the more share it with people, you really embody that energy.

And that was also the case, in terms of flipping things around, with “Hotter Than Hell,” which is also on that album, right?

Yeah. I was going through a bad relationship when I was writing my first record. And now, looking back— Once I put my songs out, I really don’t listen to them unless I’m preparing for tour or something. But it’s very cathartic to just put them out into the world, and then they no longer belong to me. So now, looking back in hindsight, all the themes that were going through this record were a feeling of wanting to reclaim my strength and my power and where I stood in a relationship, and wanting to give myself this feeling of confidence and that no one could put me down. So it seems to be a common theme in the self-titled record.

And it’s interesting because what you said you were striving for there could be summed up in the phrase, “I don’t give a fuck,” which is I think the last single that was actually written for that album, “IDGAF”…

For the album, yeah. It was the last record that made it onto the self-titled album.

So after that, but before the great second album, was the first time you worked with Mark Ronson, which is obviously going to connect back with Barbie in a little bit. Can you talk about how you guys first connected, with “Electricity”?

It feels like it’s all very full-circle now with everything Barbie-related. But I met Mark Ronson through my friend Andrew Wyatt. Andrew Wyatt and I had written the very first song I’d ever released, called “New Love” — it was me, Andrew Wyatt and Emil Haney — and it was the first thing that I ever put out with a video. I was very excited. And Andrew’s a very, very close friend of mine — we did two songs on my first album together — and when Mark was working on Silk City, he was speaking to Andrew and was like, “I’m looking for an artist who wants to write a song with me, but who has a deeper, maybe soulful voice”—

Which he had a little experience with, with Amy Winehouse, right?

Yeah, exactly. Oh my gosh, I mean, I’ve always just been such a big fan of Mark’s work, but the Amy records are something that I hold very, very dear to my heart. But going back to Mark wanting someone with a deep kind of raspy voice, the first person that came to Andrew’s mind was me. I’m so grateful that I was the person that came to mind, and Mark reached out to me and was like, “Hey, I’m a friend of Andrew’s, and I really like your work, and I would love to write a song with you if you’d be down. I’m doing this thing called Silk City with Diplo.” And I came to the studio here in LA, which was when Mark was living, and we worked on “Electricity.”

At the Grammys in 2019, you won best new artist and best dance recording for “Electricity”…

Yeah. It was all happening at the same time. It was just a really surreal moment in my life, that night at the Grammys. I mean, us winning the best dance recording and then me going on and getting best new artist, I just couldn’t believe it. I was absolutely gobsmacked. I feel like even when I think about the speech or how I felt when I got up to accept my award — I think I blacked out in the moment. It just felt so unbelievable that it was happening to me. I was just so grateful. And really from that moment on, my whole life changed.

I was going to ask about that. I’d love to hear how, on a day-to-day basis, it changed, but also, did you start feeling pressure or putting pressure on yourself? The sophomore album is usually intimidating, especially when you’ve received so much positive feedback for your first album and then this single with Mark, because the question is, I guess, “What do you do? Do you do more of the same kind of thing that’s worked? Do you instead branch out and take a chance that people are going to respond to something very different?” Take me through your outlook and thought process in the aftermath of suddenly becoming somebody that everybody knew…

Well, gosh, I mean, it was an interesting time in my life because I had a feeling of being celebrated, which was a really lovely feeling after doing something that you really love. But there was also this video online of me dancing and people were laughing at it or whatever. And that was really hard for me as a young artist because I was doing something that I really loved, but I felt the wrath of the internet. I had people telling me, “Oh, she’s got no stage presence,” or “She doesn’t deserve to be here,” or “She’s just not good enough,” or whatever. So I had a lot of that also weighing on top of feeling like I’m on cloud nine and I’m in this really special place in my life and let’s see where I’m going to go next.

It was an interesting thing to juggle, but what I decided, which was the best decision I’d ever made, was I was like, “Right, I’m going to have to start making my new record. I’m going to get off Twitter — I’m deleting this thing off my phone. I don’t want to look at it. I don’t want to think about what other people might want me to do. I don’t want to recreate the success that I had with my first album. I’m so grateful for everything that that record gave me. But I want to branch out. I want to do something different. I want to push myself outside of my comfort zone and prove that I’m here to stay.”

I had that real fire in my chest. I was adamant to create something that I was really, really proud of, that felt very refined in the sense of, like with my first record, a lot of different songs of me figuring out who I was. This Future Nostalgia album was very much carefully curated for it to all be one world. And it was my first kind of experience of creating an “era,” I guess.

It was the idea of going back to my early influences, the things that made me feel nostalgic, that made me feel like there was a place where I could be seen and heard — and disco music did that for me. Disco music has done that for history. It’s always been a place of freedom and community and togetherness, and it was the genre of music that brought people together from all walks of life where they could feel like a unit or feel like they were around like-minded people. And that was really the energy that I wanted to bring into Future Nostalgia, but also with influences of Jamiroquai and Maloko and these artists that were just so inspiring to me when I was younger, that I loved so much.

You poured your heart and soul into this album, which was supposed to come out on March 27, 2020, and then on March 12 or thereabouts, the world shuts down because of the pandemic. How close did we come to not having Future Nostalgia come out when it did?

It was so heartbreaking because I had started promoting my record already. The last thing I did was I performed at Mardi Gras in Sydney. I remember landing back home in London and all of a sudden things were getting very, very serious. Then it was like, “Okay, things are going to shut down.” And I was about to go on tour, so it was like, “Okay, we’re going to postpone the tour for a couple of months and see.” And then things were just like, “No, they’re completely shutting down.” And so then it was a whole conversation of, “Well, are we going to release the record at this time? What should we do?” And I felt so strongly: Even though in my head I’d envisioned that this was an album that was going to be heard out and get people dancing, I don’t know, it felt necessary to me to get it out there. And I was like, “You know what? Whatever’s supposed to happen with it will.”

Of course, people loved it. It lifted a lot of spirits.

And it kept people dancing — in their homes. I’m very, very grateful, that it was the album that did that.

As we did with the first album, can I just prompt you for a couple more “case studies”? Of course, we’ve got to talk about “Levitating.” This was as big as a song can be: it spent 77 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming only the fifth song ever to spend 70 or more weeks on that chart, which goes back to 1958; most weeks ever on that chart for a song by a woman, passing LeAnn Rimes’ “How do I Live?”; 41 weeks in the top 10, the most ever for a song by a woman and second overall, behind only to The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights”; the longest charting single in the history of Warner Records; and the list goes on. How did that one come together? And why do you think that of all the great songs on that album, that’s the one that took off in that way?

Well, you never really know with a song, I think. But when I was working on “Levitating,” I went into the studio and Koz [Stephen Kozmeniuk], the producer, basically played a track that he was working on. And absolutely immediately, I pressed the record button on my Voice Memo app and just started the melody of “Levitating.” It was just such an instant feeling for me. I also did it with my really close friends, Sarah Hudson and Clarence Coffee Jr., and when you create something with really close friends and there’s such a beautiful energy and you feel the excitement in the room, you hope that it translates the same.

I feel like that with a lot of experiences that I’ve had with my music. I always go, “I hope people feel it the same way I felt when I wrote it.” And it was the song that dictated what the rest of the record was going to sound like. That was the one. And it was the time when I left the studio and I was like, “Okay, I’m onto something. I know what I’m doing now.” Yeah, that was the one.

“Don’t Start Now” went to number two on the Hot 100, making it your highest-charting single to that point, and it went on to be nominated for the record of the year, song of the year and best pop solo performance Grammys. You spoke a bit already about your love for disco. I also read that you, like I, love that documentary about the Bee Gees—

Oh my God — God, I love that documentary about the Bee Gees! So good. How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.

And this song was an instant disco classic…

That was the first song that I released from the Future Nostalgia record, really illustrating what the rest of the record was going to be like. It had all these nostalgic influences, disco influences, live instrumentation — but at the same time, it felt so fresh and new. And it was the moment where I revealed my two-tone hair, like the blonde with the dark underneath. And it was my first experience of really starting to create a world around my music. I have so many beautiful memories connected to that, and getting to work on it with my friends Emily Warren and Ian Kirkpatrick and Caroline Ailan. It was just such a massive kickstarter for me in getting people to see a whole ‘nother side of me creatively.

And then there’s “Break My Heart,” the writing of which, you have said, took you out of your comfort zone — which showed you that it’s actually a good thing to be out of your comfort zone when writing?

I was out of my comfort zone because it was very personal, it was very in-the-moment. Sometimes when I write things, like I said, I feel like maybe I manifest them. I was like, “Oh my God, am I going to write a song about a guy that’s about to break my heart? I don’t know if I’m ready for this right now.” But that’s really how I felt in the moment, and I think I just learned how amazing it is to be so open about my own experiences. And actually “Break My Heart” was the last one that I wrote for Future Nostalgia.

So obviously everyone loved Future Nostalgia. Then there was “Cold Heart” with Elton — it was fun to see you two perform that together at his last show in America. And then “Dance the Night,” which I imagine was already in the works before that in order to be ready to include in Barbie. How did your involvement in that project come about? Who reached out, and what was the pitch?

Mark [Ronson] was the one who reached out to me. He was like, “I’ve been working on the music for the new Barbie film by Greta Gerwig, and it’s quite possibly the funniest script I’ve ever read. There’s a big dance section in it, and I would absolutely love for you to write it with me.” I was on my Future Nostalgia tour, so I was like, “Oh, I for sure want to do this” — I’m such a fan of both Mark and Greta, and to get to work with them in this capacity would be incredible — but I was like, “What’s the deadline? And am I going to be able to do this while I’m still on the road?” Mark and Greta were so excited that I was up for it, and we just made it work. I flew to New York and we spent so much time crafting this bespoke dance blowout party banger, essentially, which was just such a different experience from any of the other experiences that I’d had writing music for myself. Because when I write music for myself, I have such a personal vision in mind. Here, I was writing a story about Barbie, about her character. It was interesting to work to an assignment to write a song about what in the film is Barbie’s best day ever — and then she starts having, as the day goes on, thoughts of death, and from that point on everything kind of goes upside down and she has this existential crisis and has to go into reality and discover the patriarchy. There’s a lot that happens.

It sets it all up…

It sets it all up. And it was like, “How do I create a song that really does that moment justice?” Especially with all the cast members in it, all the Barbies dancing in there! And how do I have this underlying story alongside it? It’s like, “Yes, it’s a big disco moment in the film, but lyrically, although it’s got to be fun, I have to be able to tell Barbie’s story in this way, and how are we going to do this?” I wrote it with Andrew Wyatt and Mark Ronson and Caroline Ailin, and it felt like a very 360 moment on how we all got together in the first place.

Are you thinking, as you’re working on a song like that, “Yes, it’s for a movie, but it also needs to be able to stand on its own at a club? In other words, that the lyrics have to mean multiple things? And would you say it’s harder than writing a song that’s not for a movie?

Well, I think when you’re writing from personal experiences, you are putting yourself out there in a very vulnerable position. What was interesting here with Barbie is, although we were tailoring the song, pretty much like a score, to the visuals to make it really fit in, the song also stands alone. When the song was finished, what I realized is how much I relate to Barbie, to “Dance the Night,” to the idea of resilience through the adversity of whatever life throws at you, and being able to just carry on and, I don’t know, show a completely another side of me.

Also, “Dance the Night,” to me, felt like my farewell to Future Nostalgia. When I think back to the time when people told me I couldn’t dance or I had no stage presence and I decided to instead make them all dance with the music I was making, that’s what “Dance the Night” represents to me, that complete shift in my life where I was able to find myself again and really feel like I can stand through anything as long as I have passion and a dream and a want to create something.

You also play a part in this movie. Are you interested in doing more acting moving forward?

Maybe. I had a lot of fun doing the cameo for Barbie. Just to be on set and feel the energy of all the cast and crew members — everyone was so passionate and so generous with themselves in every aspect of wanting to make this the best thing that they’d ever made. You can really feel that dedication. Like I said, when I make a song, I hope people can feel the energy of how I felt when I made this record. The same thing goes for the way that this film was made.

Grammy noms came out last week. How did you learn that “Dance the Night” had been recognized?

I got a text from a friend who was like, “Did you know that you just got nominated for two Grammys for ‘Dance the Night?’” And I was already on such a high because I had just released my new single “Houdini” and that was just absolutely flying, and then I get this news! I was just absolutely in a massive whirlwind. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was just so happy to be nominated, especially for a song that means so much to me. I just feel like it’s such a big part of me.

“Houdini” is the lead single from your next album, which is coming in 2024. You have said this one is going to be more personal than the others…

The reason why it’s personal is with every experience, with every moment that I’ve spent in the studio, I’ve learned to just open up more and give more of myself and not be afraid of that aspect of my vulnerability. And also just with every record, I’ve been learning more about myself and wanting it to be more organic in different ways, to grow sonically and change it up. This one’s a lot more psychedelic in its production, and I’m just very excited because it feels like a new step for me.

Lastly, can a song change the world?

Can a song change the world? That’s interesting. I think music gives people the feeling that you can really imagine a world with peace. It gives you that space to, I don’t know, dive into another world that gives you a lot of comfort and clarity, even when things in the world aren’t going so well. It’s a safe space. So whether or not it can change the world, I don’t know. But for me, it gives me comfort and it makes me feel very much at home, wherever I am.

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