Photos by Neil Van.
Remember pop music? Or at least, do you remember one of its successful iterations? You might be tempted to think of it at the peak of its hay-day, when pitting female artists against one another a la Britney vs. Christina (and, to some, vs. Jessica vs. Mandy) was a popular lens. The time when boy bands wore coordinated outfits, and Destiny’s Child created anthems that were in fact ahead of the times. Pop music, in the more traditional sense, hasn’t had a total monopoly over the charts and market in a long time. While artists like Charli XCX, Troye Sivan, and Carly Rae Jepsen found their footing through the higher powers of the internet, and even the likes of Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Taylor Swift have all dominated the charts at some point or another, the landscape hasn’t come anywhere close to what it once looked like in the thick of the late 90s, early 2000s. Its face is now hip hop, thanks in large part to Drake, and often electronic, with the rise of artists like Marshmello and Calvin Harris.
Amidst the current state of affairs, Dua Lipa should be an outlier; but during her stop in Toronto this past week at RBC Echo Beach, she felt more like a bridge, connecting what made pop music the guilty pleasure that it was to today’s threads. Maybe that’s a bit literal; Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa did produce the summer anthem of 2018, “One Kiss” (written by Toronto’s Jessie Reyez). Yet even when the song made its appearance a little more than halfway through the show, it felt more like a gem amongst a whole trunk of treasures.
Dua Lipa’s self-titled debut plays into a few common sonic trends; the 80s swirls and skips on “Be the One” and “Lost in Your Light”, electronica-fuelled “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” and “Hotter Than Hell”, and the nostalgia-pop tendencies of songs like “Genesis” and “Begging”. The infectious part kicks in with her vocals, which meld perfectly to each production, flexing the depths of her vocals on choruses and skirting with a delicate finesse on bridges and transitions. Listening to her commentary on falling in love, forgetting about people, and telling some of them to get out, is deeply satisfying and endlessly bops.
Her voice shifts the atmosphere just as much as any beat drop. At the onset of her show, a prerecorded voiceover informed the audience that the evening was about them, and that they were about to dance the night away. The influence was immediate: a minute into opening track “Blow Your Mind”, the crowd kicked into singalong mode, followed by meticulous clapping to “Dreams”, and endless dancing throughout as she rolled through her album, all the way to her encore of “IDGAF” and “New Rules”.
“As a crowd, you never disappoint,” Dua Lipa shared, later recounting how she performed “Scared to Be Lonely” for the first time at The MOD Club last year and recalling how it was well-received. It’d be surprising if she saw anything less than a growing response elsewhere, because a show like hers is an experience that all artists should strive to create, and what any concert-goer could ever really want: big energy, lots of movement, and a clear force to be reckoned with giving it their very best. Dua Lipa delivers a performance worthy of praise because it is set with intention, and heart. Anything less genuine than that would feel cookie-cutter and dull.
Maybe that’s what will help Dua Lipa stick; the fact that she reflects what makes pop music great, in a way that has resonated with a mass market, but without compromising her distinctiveness. Perhaps she can open up more doors for all the artists who can bring so much to the revival of the genre – like Allie X, who opened for Dua Lipa in spectacular fashion. With Dua Lipa writing the new rules to pop, anything is possible.