Sure, Dua Lipa can write salient pop songs taking down shitty boyfriends. And fine, she can sing. Great, she's classically beautiful. But is she even interesting? That's the question that's been posed by some music critics. Mikael Wood for the Los Angeles Times writes that her live show has a "dull, by-the-numbers quality" with a "polished, if bloodless, presentation." Caroline Sullivan for the Guardian says that on stage Lipa "comes across as having nothing much to say." And armchair critics across Twitter weighed in on every aspect of her existence after her debut Saturday Night Live performance of "New Rules," rendering a general verdict of: "awkward."
Well, Lipa appears to have heard the criticism — and she's taking it on in her new video with Silk City (Diplo and Mark Ronson) for "Electricity." In it, a newly blonde Lipa dances around a blackout in the city (giving me strong summer of 2003 East Coast blackout shudders), turning the electricity back on with her dance moves. Of the video and how Lipa landed on the track, Mark Ronson told Apple Beats Radio, "[W]e got together with Dua, who was just blowing up. I've never seen anybody, from the time we asked her if she was down to help us finish writing this song and sing it in November, to when it came out in March [have] such a crazy trajectory. She was like, 8,000 times more popular."
The video owes an obvious visual debt to that '80s classic Flashdance, from the bared abs to the barely-there white t-shirt tied around her chest to the constant spinning. Every moment suggests that Dua Lipa is riveting and you should not take your eyes off of her. It is a not-so-subtle middle finger to the rumors that she's dull.
But the video also plays into a sexist and outdated idea about woman pop singers: that they have to look a certain way, a way that emphasizes the male gaze on female sexuality, to be interesting. Frankly, that's buying into an archetype invented by men and carried on by the dudes who still run things in music. Women don't have to perform a Vegas review on the stage to be interesting, and some of the failings of Dua Lipa's live performances could be easily addressed with different stage design rather than by attempting to shove her into a Britney Spears-shaped template.
In the industry, that conversation has been used to explain why Dua Lipa hasn't translated from the UK, where she was the most streamed woman of 2017, to the U.S. But that template doesn't seem to apply to men in the world of pop. Have you ever heard anyone complain that The Weeknd is too standoffish and should work on his dance moves? Do you see anyone trying to stop Justin Timberlake from recording a track with Chris Stapleton just because Timberlake isn't a guitar virtuoso? Has anyone referred to Lipa's collaborators on this track, Diplo and Mark Ronson, as boring live performers because they simply stand behind the DJ decks and leave all the hard work to dancers, collaborators, and pyro?
Women are held to a higher standard (and sometimes double standard) than men in nearly every profession they enter. It's not a surprise that it applies to pop music too. That criticism is often used as an excuse to bounce women out of the field for not being "perfect." How about giving women a break instead and letting them break the old mold? That was what made Dua Lipa's video for "New Rules" so compelling — it also carried a message that women happened to want to hear. Let women cultivate their own stage presence, craft their own vibe, be the masters of their own careers. We don't need an outdated, patriarchal, fascist groove thing.