When Dua Lipa began posting covers of her favorite pop songs to YouTube as a teenager, it was a way for the young singer to share her voice. “I just wanted my friends in school to know I was singing,” Lipa tells YouTube. “I wanted people around me to know what I do, and it felt like the easiest way for me to be able to just get my stuff out — I didn't really know how else I was going to have people hear me.” Over 280 million views and 850,000 subscribers later, the 21-year-old singer is now finding herself on the other side of the pop equation, with her soulful, honest originals inspiring covers of their own.
“I was always surrounded by music,” Lipa explains in See In Blue, a documentary co-produced by YouTube and The Fader. “I remember driving to school and singing along to The Stereophonics, Christina Aguilera, Robbie Williams. It was always a part of what I was brought up into.” But in her formative years, a teacher discouraged the aspiring performer from singing, telling Lipa that her register was too low to handle solos. Thankfully, she did not let the experience deter her, eventually going on to study at London’s prestigious Sylvia Young Theater School before leaving the U.K. for her parents’ hometown of Pristina, Kosovo at age 11. There, Lipa kept singing, drawing inspiration from pop earworms like Nelly Furtado’s anthemic “Turn Off the Light” and P!nk’s throwdown “Get the Party Started” while developing a love for hip hop.
The growing musical passion eventually led the singer back to London, where she returned to study music and explored a new outlet for her voice — the internet. Lipa began regularly uploading earnest covers of the likes of Jessie J and Joss Stone directly to YouTube, crafting her own sound along the way. “It was a lot of just having something out there for when I did meet someone in music,” she says. “I'd be like, ‘Oh, you should check out my covers! If you like them, and you like my voice, maybe we should work together.’ That's really followed me through my career — just going out and trying my luck.”
It paid off: In 2015, she signed to Warner Bros. Records. Later that year, she was one of the first participants in the YouTube Music Foundry, YouTube’s music development program, recording stripped-down versions of her songs “New Love” and "Thinking Bout You" at YouTube Space LA in what was her first stateside performance. The performance sparked an 1,100 percent bump in Lipa’s average daily subscriber count while earning over 1 million combined views. And staying true to her early roots, Lipa continued to post covers of her own discoveries, putting her now trademark spin on tracks from fellow emerging stars Jamie xx and Alessia Carra throughout the year.
The singer’s star only continued to rise in 2016, with her daily views reaching as high as 1.75 million. That year, her whirlwind SXSW schedule included a set on YouTube’s stage alongside Future and Santigold, while her pulsing original “Hotter Than Hell” cracked the top 20 in the UK — a first for the singer. 2016 also found Lipa returning to Pristina to perform a homecoming charity show for an audience of nearly 20,000 eager fans. “This whole year has been jam-packed full with things that I’ve always dreamed of doing, from performing in Glastonbury to doing The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon,” she said in See in Blue, which was released that December.
But it is 2017 that has Lipa poised for her true breakout, with her originals “Blow Your Mind (Muah)” and “Be The One” — which recently surpassed 120 million views — both topping Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart and collaborative efforts with Sean Paul and Martin Garrix gaining traction on the YouTube Music Charts. This year also marks the release of her self-titled debut album, for which YouTube and Lipa partnered on a multi-faceted campaign, complete with billboards in key locations throughout London, New York and Los Angeles. The release and accompanying videos have led to the rising stars biggest views to date, with her channel netting an additional 35 million views and 137,000 subscribers since dropping in early June, putting Lipa on track to cross the one million subscriber mark by year’s end. And her latest video for album standout “New Rules” has only furthered her channel’s growth, earning a personal record 2.3 million views within 24 hours of its release.
Lipa wrote the majority of the songs on the album, a big yet natural shift for an artist who came up on covers. “It comes from a very honest and very personal place,” she says of her songwriting. “The songs that I chose to cover, I chose them because I really love them as songs. But it's different when I'm telling my own story.” Fittingly, the rich voice, truthful lyrics and unique musical style featured on these originals — she calls her blend of heavy beats and heavy emotions “dance-crying” — have inspired aspiring and established singers from all over the world to pay their own tributes. “I’ve heard lots of them,” she says of the covers fans post to YouTube. “It’s always really, really fun and exciting to get to watch them.”
Next up for Lipa: Taking her act to an ever-growing international stage. She drew one of the biggest crowds at the UK’s massive Glastonbury Festival in June and will open for Bruno Mars on the North American and Australian legs of his forthcoming 24K Magic Tour. “It’s actually really crazy to think that, at 15, I was uploading covers to YouTube, and now I’m walking onstage at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in my hometown,” Lipa said before headlining the historic London venue this spring. “This is everything I could possibly have dreamt of, and yeah, it’s nuts. If I was telling 15-year-old me that I’d be doing this, right now? I’d probably have a really big giggle."