Dua Lipa's A&R on how the singer coped with second album anxiety

Dua Lipa's A&R on how the singer coped with second album anxiety

Difficult second album syndrome is a phenomenon that’s well known to artists and labels.

For some acts, the sophomore LP fails to maintain momentum. For others, such as Gerry Cinnamon, it’s a big opportunity to step up a level.

Dua Lipa is undoubtedly in the second category with absolutely no sign of a sophomore slump. During three separate runs at No.1, Future Nostalgia (Warner Records) has spent four weeks at the summit and is now a gold record. 

As predicted by Warner Records president Phil Christie, consistent streaming volumes have kept Dua Lipa at No.1 or thereabouts since its release in March. Future Nostalgia, which narrowly lost out to Lewis Capaldi in the race for No.1 last week, has sales to date of 104,723, according to the Official Charts Company.

But it turns out that Dua Lipa and her label team were well aware of the potential for difficult second album syndrome. 

“I certainly had an anxiety, as she got bigger and bigger; I had a worry of how we were going to follow this up,” Warner Records’ head of A&R Joe Kentish told Music Week. “I'm well versed in the lore of second albums. At the time, I found it really quite surprising, actually, that Dua didn't seem to be absorbing any of that, she was definitely front foot forward and attacked making the record with a real energy and enthusiasm.

“But then, just before we came to release the first single [Don’t Start Now], she opened up about the fact that it was an absolutely conscious decision, that she kind of felt the anxiety building up in her and decided to go the completely opposite way and to really attack the process, which she didn’t share with me right at the beginning of it all. That approach was a lot more helpful to her, than to really be putting yourself under unbelievable amounts of pressure to follow up the first record.” 

Dua Lipa’s self-titled 2017 debut LP has UK sales of 623,084 and a global tally of four million.

“We had a quite a long time to look forward to the second album, because the success kept building through the first record, post-release with [singles] New Rules and IDGAF,” said Kentish. “The deluxe version with the features on it kept building. So we were actually looking forward to this second record for quite a long time.”

Co-writers on Future Nostalgia included Ian Kirkpatrick, Emily Warren, Caroline Ailin, Clarence Coffee Jr and Sarah Hudson.

“There’s handful of people Dua really enjoys working with and who create the right atmosphere for her to do her best work and to feel really comfortable,” said Kentish. “So we based a lot of the writing on that, and we used that environment in which she felt comfortable to bring other people in. When it came to finishing the record, Stuart Price came in and lent a hand.” 

One hiccup in the campaign involved Future Nostalgia missing out on No.1 in its first week when 5 Seconds Of Summer emerged triumphant. But Lipa made No.1 the following week with the critically acclaimed album.

“I think it was really important for her personally, it's that sort of validation after all the hard work that was really important,” said Kentish. “And it's always nice to have No.1 albums.

“In the first week, it wasn't necessarily the first thing on my agenda. The way it got reviewed and the response to the [singles] globally was actually, long term, much more important to us. But, of course, it's amazing to get No.1 and it's super important for her. She was absolutely over the moon to get the No.1 in the end.”

Kentish – who Lipa singled out for thanks when she won a pair of BRITs in 2018 – credited her ability to connect with fans on social media as an important part of the campaign, particularly during lockdown.

“Her understanding of social media has always been just innate, and it's an extension of her ability to relate to people,” he said. “It's been absolutely huge for us at almost every stage of the campaign in different ways. She manages to convey a tone that has felt really authentic, and has enabled people to relate to her in a very strange time. 

“When it's come to big TV moments around the world, she's managed to carry that through too. So those skills that she has are as important as they always have been, if not more so at the moment. It's been really incredible to watch her do it, because obviously this is a time when you're limited to how much you can help an artist in those situations.”

Kentish praised Lipa’s work promoting the album at a time when the usual support structure is less available.

“Usually, we've got teams around her and we can manage environments to the best of our ability to give her all the advantages possible,” he said. “But now she is on her own, to some extent, so it's been a real advantage that she's always had this ability to put herself over in a really natural way.” 

Warner Records are nominated in the Promotions Team and PR Campaign (Liam Gallagher) categories at the Music Week Awards on September 21.

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