Lipa Faith: How Generationally Talented Pop Star Dua Lipa Amassed A Following, Weathered The Pandemic And Emerged An Arena Headliner On The Other Side
Elizabeth Miranda – Future Nostalgia Now
Dua Lipa performs at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, Feb. 12, 2022.
Dua Lipa has almost 20 tattoos.
The 26-year-old pop star’s left bicep sports the words “Future Nostalgia,” commemorating the completion of her Grammy-winning album of the same name, which guided and helped soothe millions of fans through the early days of the coronavirus pandemic after its March 2020 release.
The London-born musician’s right forearm bears the phrase “Sunny Hill,” the English translation of “Bregu i Diellit,” a district in Pristina, the capital city of Lipa’s ancestral home of Kosovo; in 2016, Lipa launched the Sunny Hill Foundation to give back to Kosovo, and in 2018 and 2019, she staged the Sunny Hill Festival in the country.
On her left tricep is another, more cryptic tattoo: “245.” The ink represents the grueling number of shows Lipa performed in 2017 and 2018 on the back of her self-titled debut, released in June 2017. And, more broadly, it symbolizes Lipa’s relentless work ethic and commitment to the road, performing and her fans.
“She knew where she was going from the first day,” says Live Nation senior vice president of touring Jared Braverman, who began promoting Lipa’s tours in 2016. “If she sets her mind to something, you can be very confident it’s gonna happen.”
Case in point: Lipa’s long-awaited “Future Nostalgia Tour,” which debuted at Miami’s FTX Arena Feb. 9 to rave reviews after more than two years of pandemic-related delays.
“There was a brief moment where the conversation was broached of, ‘Should we even tour? By the time we go out, the record is two years old and, creatively, Dua may want to move on to the next project,'” Braverman says. “The argument that stood out for not why we should but why we have to do this tour is emphasizing that [Future Nostalgia] held such a special and important place in people’s lives.”
The gravity of the night was clear to Jarred Diamond, general manager of FTX Arena.
“A lot of these folks, this might have been their first show back,” he says. “They hadn’t gone out and they hadn’t partied and really seen their favorite artist like that. They were into it.”
And with good reason. “It was Lady Gaga meets Elton John meets Justin Timberlake meets Beyoncé. It was like all of that, into one,” Diamond adds.
That scene will soon play out in dozens of markets across the globe, from Seattle to Oslo to Auckland, as Lipa, ever the road warrior, continues to bring Future Nostalgia to her legions of fans at arenas and festivals in 2022.
Jason Koerner / Getty Images – Starting Now
Dua Lipa performs at the opening night of her long-awaited “Future Nostalgia Tour” at Miami’s FTX Arena, Feb. 9, 2022.
That Lipa, who tops Pollstar‘s APX chart this week, would eventually reach pop’s apex was never in much doubt to those in her orbit, although the speed with which she’s accomplished the feat, just a few years removed from club plays and support slots, is remarkable.
CAA joined Lipa’s team in fall 2015, with Carole Kinzel and Marlene Tsuchii handling her touring in North and South America, respectively. Like Braverman, CAA was introduced to Lipa early via her former management. (Pollstar confirmed Lipa recently parted with the company, TaP Music.)
Braverman and Kinzel first saw Lipa perform at her first L.A. show – and third U.S. date, period – at School Night, the weekly Monday series held at the 350-capacity Bardot, and they point to the May 2016 gig as a bellwether for what laid ahead.
“The room went silent,” Braverman says. “It was captivating. Instantly you knew you were in the presence of something really spectacular.”
“We definitely had a sense going into the night that she was going to kill it,” says Chris Douridas, the longtime KCRW host who co-founded School Night in 2010, which has hosted artists such as Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Rüfüs Du Sol and Alt-J early in their careers. “We had a sense that she would light up the room, and indeed she did – that’s an understatement.”
Mark Horton / Getty Images – New Ruling The World
Lipa performs at Montreal’s Osheaga, one of her early festival boosters, on Aug. 5, 2018. She’ll return to the event this July – as headliner.
Soon, Lipa was headlining clubs, wowing afternoon audiences at festivals and staking out a reputation as one of pop’s most in-demand support bookings. In November 2016, she opened several shows for Australian artist Troye Sivan, and in early 2017, she headlined clubs including New York’s Irving Plaza and Chicago’s Lincoln Hall.
Her profile exploded that summer, when she released her self-titled debut and one of its singles, “New Rules,” peaked at No. 6 on Billboard‘s Hot 100. Among her fans? Bruno Mars, another artist Braverman works with, who tapped Lipa to open two dozen dates on his “24K Magic World Tour.” Braverman still remembers how he pitched Lipa to Mars – “Dua Lipa’s gonna be the biggest pop star on the planet” – and Mars, who was already familiar with Lipa, was immediately in.
“That was a great experience for her,” Kinzel says. “She was received extremely well, and she could see what playing an arena entailed.”
As Braverman points out, that’s not always a given for an opener on a major pop tour.
“To walk out onto a stage where it’s someone else’s fans and they may not know your music, and they’re there excited about someone else and you have to win them over, that is one of the biggest tests of a performer’s stage presence and ability to go out there and focus,” he says. “Those crowds were Dua fans the second her set was over.”
That fall, between stints opening for Mars in North America and Australia, Lipa made her stadium debut, supporting Coldplay across a handful of shows in Brazil and Argentina. Her status as an opener was already getting tenuous.
“It went over bigger than we’ve ever seen a support act at her level go over, to the point where we had to hire extra security just to get her from an airport to the hotel,” Braverman says. “That’s not something you ever have to do with a support act.”
Simultaneously, Lipa was solidifying herself as a headliner, including with North American runs in February and June 2018 that routed her through theaters, auditoriums and small amphitheaters and arenas. She notched then-best U.S. marks for tickets sold and gross at San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on June 30, 2018, moving 8,504 tickets and grossing $355,908, and also had strong showings at Seattle’s WaMu Theater (6,954 tickets sold, $196,370 grossed) and Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom (4,807, $100,386).
“In everything she’s done, Dua has always put in the work and taken the right steps,” Kinzel says. “The team has always taken the right steps to grow her. We didn’t skip any steps. We went from tiny rooms to support slots to the next bigger-sized clubs.”
By the time Braverman, Kinzel and WME’s David Levy and David Bradley, who represent Lipa outside of North and South America, convened in late 2018 to roughly sketch out the touring that would support Lipa’s in-the-works second album, it was clear: Arenas were in the mix.
Lipa’s spring 2020 European routing, revealed with Future Nostalgia‘s announcement in December 2019, affirmed that, with bookings at arenas including Madrid’s WiZink Center, Berlin’s Mercedes-Benz Arena and two nights at London’s O2. But Lipa’s path forward in the U.S. was less clear.
“We had multiple different scenarios in place for the U.S.,” Braverman says. “There were a million conversations going on, and no definitive decision, because the album hadn’t come out yet.”
The team was gravitating toward an American arena run “and then the pandemic happened and everything flipped upside down,” Braverman says.
On March 27, 2020, Lipa released a record of immaculate pop bangers into a world where no one could (publicly) dance to them.
Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images / dcp – Levitating
Lipa’s high-concept livestreams and award show performances were among the pandemic’s most memorable.
“Everyone just grabbed onto that album, including myself,” Kinzel says. “That album got me through more treadmill workouts than anything could have. … I always say it was like 37 minutes of pure joy and aerobics. [laughs] And I think everyone felt the same way. ‘Don’t Start Now,’ everything about it was just so perfect. If you had to write a song to bring people joy during such a dire time, this was definitely it.”
David M. Benett / Getty Images / Elton John AIDS Foundation – Their Song
Dua Lipa and Elton John pose together at the latter’s annual AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party on April 25, 2021. Their collaborative single, “Cold Heart (Pnau remix),” released last August, has more than 600 million Spotify streams and became John’s first UK No. 1 since 2005.
Few musicians soundtracked the pandemic like Lipa, who scored two Hot 100 No. 2 hits with “Don’t Start Now” and “Levitating,” with the latter landing at No. 1 on the chart’s 2021 year-end ranking. Those songs, along with Future Nostalgia‘s “Break My Heart,” all hit No. 1 on the American Top 40, where Lipa also became the first female artist to have three songs simultaneously in the top 20. The RIAA certified Future Nostalgia platinum in March 2021, and its 13 billion Spotify streams make it the most-streamed album by a female artist in the platform’s history. Lipa continued her momentum with “Cold Heart (Pnau remix),” a collaboration with Elton John that reached No. 7 on the Hot 100, while also becoming John’s first UK No. 1 since 2005.
All the while, Lipa grew her following with high-concept award show and late-night performances; her November 2020 Studio 2054 livestream, which set a Guinness record with 284,000 tickets sold; and even a turn guest hosting “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in August 2020.
As the world reopened, a Lipa tour was front of mind for her, her team and her fans. But exactly what that tour might look like had changed drastically from its pre-pandemic blueprint.
“When we first routed this tour, the type of venues we were looking at were different than the venues we ended up in,” says Kinzel, noting that an earlier routing iteration included amphitheaters and midsize arenas. “In Dua’s case, [the pandemic] allowed her to grow and develop an even stronger, wider audience with a larger demographic than she had at the beginning. It enabled us to actually come out with a much more robust tour that we had initially planned on.”
In fact, Lipa’s 2021 arena routing, which would’ve seemed ambitious two years ago, now scans as downright conservative. Supported by Caroline Polachek and Lolo Zouaï – and, in Denver, Tulsa and Phoenix, Megan Thee Stallion – many of the tour’s dates sold out immediately upon the onsale, indicating the rabid pent-up demand for Lipa. If not for high post-pandemic demand for arena dates and Lipa’s own packed calendar, the star might’ve done two nights in multiple markets. (As it stands, the North American leg’s sole two-night run is booked for the Forum in Inglewood, Calif.)
Kevin Winter / Getty Images / The Recording Academy – Changing The Game
Lipa accepts the third Grammy of her career, recognizing Future Nostalgia as Best Pop Vocal Album, on March 14, 2021. She previously took home Best New Artist and Best Dance Recording in 2019.
The lack of arena doubles, however, had a silver lining: “It would have been great to play doubles in some of the cities, but that would have meant getting to one fewer market,” Braverman says. “It was just a matter of fitting in as many shows as we could and routing this to get to as many fans as possible.”
So far, the results have been impressive. At press time, Lipa had completed the tour’s first 10 shows, with two box office reports submitted to Pollstar thus far: Her sold-out Feb. 12 show at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, where she moved 12,827 tickets and grossed $1.15 million, and a gig at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, where she sold 11,101 tickets and grossed $1.06 million.
“Dua is proving to be the superstar that we always knew she had the potential to be,” Kinzel says.
“We could have hosted two nights, if the date was available,” says FTX’s Diamond. “She’s just a talent. She does it all.”
After wrapping the North American leg of the “Future Nostalgia Tour” at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena on April 1, Lipa will head overseas for a European tour from mid-April to late June. In September, she’ll head to South America, and she’ll spend November in Oceania. The rigorous touring is all in service of the fans who’ve waited patiently to hear Future Nostalgia in the flesh.
“It’s incredible to see what that record meant to people,” Braverman says. “In one of the darkest moments that any of us have ever experienced, Future Nostalgia gave people some light. We’re now looking at a path where we’re coming out of that really dark period. Everyone’s moving away from social distancing and it’s all about togetherness and coming back together and having those moments that we share instead of being in isolation. This tour is the definition of bringing everyone back together.”
Before long, Lipa will have plenty more impressive touring stats to memorialize in ink.