LOS ANGELES—When I first heard Dua Lipa’s “Blow Your Mind (Mwah),” I knew she had something up her sleeve; its title was too aggressively in-your-face for the song to keep the slow pace with which it begins. But upon seeing the 21-year-old London-born, Kosovar-Albanian singer perform at the Belasco on Wednesday night (March 15), that’s what I discovered she’s mastered: the switch-up, the build-up, the vocal cat-and-mouse.
Smoky, soulful, and full-bodied on coaxing verses, an airy falsetto on teasing pre-hooks, and club-queen forceful on choruses, Lipa’s delivery makes for ear (and audience) intrigue.
It was evident on show opener “Last Dance” which begins with intimate whispers, but eventually results in Lipa punching the air per syllable on the declarative lyric: “We were built(!) to(!) last(!).” “Want To” envelops you first with slowed moody synths, but her double-time handclap suggests that something’s coming, and what it is are dramatic thumps and thrashes from her three-man band. Their sounds support her again, this time with electronic pings, on “Bad Together.”
But it’s on “Room For 2” that Lipa’s range and genre are at their most shape-shifting. The monotone and croaky warning that is its chorus is haunting, but Lipa’s key-changing verses (and Emeli Sande-esque, piano-driven bridge) are uplifting.
Add Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse for a trifecta of vocal references and it makes the fellow concertgoer’s analysis I overheard that Lipa sounded like Lana Del Rey all the more flawed. No shade, but there’s no polite restraint or faux innocence when Lipa sings. There are huge hand claps and steel drums on “Hotter Than Hell”; body rolls, horns, and demands for the crowd to “jump!” on the island-inflected “Dreams”; electro-guitar licks straight from the ‘80s on “Genesis”; bouncy punk on "Be The One," and head bangs and full-blown belting on her future bass collaboration with Martin Garrix, “Scared to Be Lonely.”
Lipa's accessibility may not lie in her on-trend, Instagram-ready "It Girl" looks (of both the face and fashion variety), but with a sound that first dabbles in then conquers a blend of soul, hip-hop, pop, and electronica, there's something for everyone.