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New Rules: How Dua Lipa Re-Wrote the Story for Female Popstars in the UK

This Friday, Dua Lipa became the first solo female artist in almost two years to have a UK number one single with ‘New Rules’.

Not only does this mark Lipa’s true mainstream emergence, but also a hopeful sign that the glass ceiling keeping female popstars from reaching the top echelons of the charts is finally showing signs of being shattered.

The way in which Dua Lipa’s ‘New Rules’ has been embraced in the UK over these past few weeks has been a wonder to behold. But, also, I imagine, a little enraging for Dua herself. The overall seventh (!) single released from her self-titled debut album, ‘New Rules’ has blown up at a time when most record labels (and popstars) think that if the lead single from an album doesn’t chart particularly well, that’s convincing grounds for the entire project to be scrapped and to start again. This past year, the same fate looked to be quickly approaching Lipa. The first few singles from the album; ‘New Love,’ ‘Be The One’ and ‘Last Dance’, quickly established her as a new pop voice to watch, almost as, to put it quite bluntly, Lana Del Rey but with more bangers, but did little to set the charts alight. ‘Hotter Than Hell,’ released this past summer, was a monster record that deserved to top charts all over the world, but it barely cracked the top 20 of the UK. ‘Blow Your Mind (Mwah)’ quickly followed suit, as did the news that Lipa’s debut had been pushed back to June 2017.

Time, it seemed, was running out to make a marketable impact on the charts and secure enough interest and backing for a second album. Then, however, came the news that Lipa had been shortlisted – alongside Rag’N’Bone Man and Anne-Marie – for the BRITs Critics Choice Award, an award that seeks to shine a spotlight on the brightest new and emerging talent in British music. Sam Smith has won it, so has Adele and, um, Jessie J. Lipa didn’t win, sadly, but the publicity did push ‘Be The One’ – which had been officially released at least twelve months previously – into the UK top ten in the first few weeks of the new year and when her debut was finally released, it hit the Top 5 in the Album Chart.

So, basically, it has been a long and winding road for Dua Lipa to finally reach the sort of the success she’s been aiming for since ‘Hotter Than Hell,’ and that is, quite clearly, a UK number one single. The factors surrounding her inability to truly breakthrough a numerous, and they’re best summed up in this article by the Guardian, detailing the glass ceiling that has hindered so many new, promising female pop acts – including Zara Larsson, Raye and Alma – from truly breaking through. Now, with Lipa earning her first official UK number one single, this glass ceiling is hopefully showing its first signs of being shattered.

It’s notable as well, that in a world where pop music has become smothered by ‘Despacito’, Ed Sheeran and the rise of trop-pop, ‘New Rules’ sounds and feels distinctly un-like anything out there at the minute. It’a a slinky, synth-pop focused number built around a numbered chorus listing the reason why Dua shouldn’t let her fuckboy back in her life. Lipa’s delivery is decidedly icy yet firm throughout, and the lyrics of the song combined with its multi-layered production see the creation of a pop single that is smarter and cooler than anything Justin Bieber et. al have come out with this year.

The largest factor to ‘New Rules’ success, however, has to be contributed to its music video. As layered and intelligent as its musical counterpart, the video sees Dua and her girl-gang trapped in a Purgatory-like existence in a hotel room, trapped in the same toxic relationships, until their belief in each other (and the ‘rules’ that Lipa lists off in the song’s chorus) enables them to break free. The video starts with Dua being told the rules by one girl, before the songs end she, having learnt the rules, is relaying them to another girl and so-forth, until they escape into a sunshine-laden pool to celebrate their new-found independence. Much like Charli XCX’s ‘Boys,’ the video for ‘New Rules’ is a breath of fresh air for the music video as an art form, in an age where most videos are too often vignettes of barely-stitched-together photoshoot-like glamour shots, combated maybe with some half-arsed choreography and some scattering of a narrative.

‘New Rules’ breaks this tradition; as well as placing Dua Lipa front and centre and preaching the values of female empowerment and friendship in a time when the objectification of women in the music industry is rife. As soon as it was released, the video struck a chord – it practically exploded onto Twitter – and its reception, over 100 million views in just under a month, was a massive help in the single making the much-needed jump to playlists both on UK commercial radio and Spotify, whose Hot Hits playlist is an increasingly invaluable (and expensive) tool for singles and singers looking for their single to make a big impact.

It often feels, now, like female pop stars whose earlier singles have seen them experiment and be genuinely brave with the places they can take pop music, are being diluted down by their record companies in an effort to make them more palatable to commercial radio. For example, Little Mix – whose avant-garde ‘Move’ is an example of a brainstormingly brilliant concoction of a pop song that doesn’t have a traditional chorus – have just jumped on the remix for a single by a Spanglish boy band. Due Lipa, it seems, has fought against this and has ultimately come out on top with a single that will hopefully show record labels that a female popstar can be brave, fearless and commercially viable without having to compromise in her vision or dilute down her message. The same can be said for Pink, Lipa’s nearest rival for the number one spot with her comeback tune ‘What About Us’ which is to ‘New Rules’ what a nail is to a hammer.

Hopefully, Dua Lipa’s ascendance to the top of the UK charts is just the beginning for her. Speaking first hand, she’s an electrifying presence live who clearly can make extraordinary pop music. And, also, hopefully, this inspires commercial radio and the playlist bosses at Spotify and Apple Music to include more solo released by deserving female acts. We would love to see Sigrid, Alma, Charli XCX and many, many more being given the chance that Lipa has been given, and has no doubt made the best of.

Fittingly, there are now new rules to being a female pop star, and we can thank Dua Lipa for giving that glass ceiling its first chip.

Words by George Griffiths

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