After winning two Brit Awards she has reason to feel confident: A 22-year-old British-Albanian pop singer from London, Lipa was the most-streamed female musician in the U.K. last year; fans include Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Bruno Mars; and her biggest single, “New Rules,” has more than a billion YouTube views.
Lipa says that, growing up, she learned firsthand what work means. Born in London, she comes from a family of Albanians from Kosovo who left their homeland when it became engulfed in conflict. Her parents were immigrant strivers who “worked in, like, restaurants and bars and little coffee shops,” she says, making ends meet as London transplants. “They worked really, really hard, and while they were doing that, my dad went to night school to get a business degree, then a master’s in journalism, then started getting into advertising. My mom was getting her law degree before the war started, and when we moved to London she studied travel and tourism.”
Music filled the Lipa household thanks to her father, who sang lead, on the side, in a Kosovar rock band called Oda. “They did it for fun,” she says, “but then they had a really big song called ‘Beso ne Diell,’ which means ‘Believe in the sun.’ I did a show in Kosovo two summers ago and me and my band decided to surprise my dad and sing it. It was so surreal, because everyone in the audience was singing along.”
In her early adolescence, the Lipas moved back to Kosovo’s capital, Pristina: “I could speak the language, but I couldn’t read or write, so moving there was daunting – the other kids weren’t going to be making spelling mistakes on their homework. Not only that, but just being the new girl in school, once everyone has formed their friendships. It was nerve-wracking.” But she made friends, and they put her on to hip-hop. Her first concert was Method Man and Redman. Second was 50 Cent.
At 15, intent on taking a shot at a music career, Lipa convinced her parents to let her move back to London without them, staying with a family friend and enrolling at the Sylvia Young Theatre School, whose alumni include Amy Winehouse and Rita Ora. A few years later, “it came to the point where I had to decide what I wanted to do for university, and I didn’t know,” Lipa says. “I knew the only thing I wanted to do was music. So I was like, ‘Let me just take a year out and see what happens.’ ” Before that year was through, she’d landed her major-label deal.
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