From Lollapalooza 2018: Dua Lipa Uncouples Cool From Indifference

Speaking frankly, I came into this performance with a bit of unease. From what I had seen of Dua Lipa’s work, I’d formed a conception of the artist as undeniably talented but an emotional enigma, the same way a caged tiger paces the floor with cloaked ferocity or a riptide rages beneath an otherwise placid surface. I was curious, but tentatively nervous, to see how that persona might translate live in front of such a large audience that might not be familiar with her music. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised: Dua Lipa hit her stride quickly, extending her trademark cool air to a set that held onto the audience with a light grasp rather than a stranglehold. 

The set started off rocky. The opening monologue, featuring the pithy, borderline vacuous encouragement “Tonight I want you to be yourself. Your authentic true self” felt a bit too much like an unoriginal, lowest common denominator appeal uncharacteristic of Dua. Though a single statement generally doesn’t derail a set—she very much rectified this hiccup with plenty of more convincing, energetic empowerment later on—it was a squandered opportunity to set the tone from the beginning. The sound mixing for the first few songs was also hit-or-miss. While aggressive drum backing worked in her opening number “Blow Your Mind (Mwah),” the instrumentals almost drowned out her verses in “Dreams.” I had worried about a lack of stage presence coming in, but in an ironic twist of events, it was actually the overcompensated heavy-handedness that felt the most out of place. 

As the songs got poppier and Dua began to lean into her choreography, though, the performance vastly improved. “No Lie,” a Sean Paul song originally featuring Dua Lipa, washed out the droning drumwork of the songs before with a dollop of trop-pop, functioning unexpectedly effectively as a cover and dance track. “Be the One” brought the show to literal new dimensions, as both the singer and her backup dancers climbed onto and performed from elevated surfaces. Seemingly not content with just performing up on the stage, she had guards hoist her up to tower over the barricade, where she led the crowd in several rounds of “One Kiss.” Dua functioned best when she was absorbed in her carefully calculated moves, emitting an unbothered effortlessness. It’s resoundingly clear she goes that paradoxical extra mile of putting in the labor not to look like she’s trying too hard, which works well for her. 

Dua’s performance structure maintains this detached air by not forcing interactions with her audience. She’s not one for small talk, entreating listeners to respond to what is presented to them onstage as they deem most appropriate. At times, this means throwing hands in the air during the EDM-laced drops of songs like “Scared To Be Lonely.” At other times, the audience is meant to take a more passive role, watching the backup dancers on stage move through a freeform routine which ends in embrace. A warning slide before “IDGAF” offered a light suggestion to “put your middle fingers up” if one felt so compelled (many in the crowd did). This is the Dua that invites participation but won’t beg for it, and her audience as a result is all too happy to oblige. 

In the end, Dua didn’t need to rely on sheer force of personality to carry her to success. Much as a pro-bowler tosses their prize ball roll along and allows the pins to fall where they will, the artist allowed her choreographed hits—painstakingly polished, packing plenty of inertia—to barrel into the crowd of spectators without needing to constantly stoke a reaction from her viewers. This isn’t indifference; she obviously cares about her art. What she’s too cool to care about, though, is demanding audiences to eat it up. But they did regardless. 


—Staff writer Rick Li can be reached at


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