In her recent interview with Rolling Stone, Dua Lipa has uncovered a certain pressure that she and other celebrities face: the limitations of being placed in the ‘superstar’ box. Our mass media environment makes it seem as though we as an audience have unlimited access to information about every A-list celebrity. It gives the illusion that we are all-knowing when it comes to pop culture, that we see every dimension of a celebrity and know their every nook and cranny. But this illusion is deceptive, and Brittany Spanos makes that clear.
Despite being one of the most streamed artists, Dua Lipa is mostly a mystery. She is notorious for her multiple vacation dumps on Instagram, her fashion collaborations with brands such as Pepe Jeans, Versace and Puma and her ability to slide between genres seamlessly in her music. However, as she explains in the interview, she is not as known for the things that necessarily matter to her. She describes the confines of her position as a superstar in the biggest catchphrase that came from the interview; “They don’t want you to be political. They don’t want you to be smart. Not that I’m trying to prove myself in that way, but there is so much more to me than just what I do.”
The artist’s Service95 book club, her Dua Lipa: At Your Service podcast, her activism for issues surrounding Israel-Palestine having signed a ceasefire, and her hand in organizing Sunnyhill festival — an annual music festival in Kosovo where her parents fled from war — are all very much testament to her being more than solely her music. But, as she states, she seems to be less known for these traits to those who aren’t hardcore fans. Dua Lipa’s candor surrounding the topic of multifaceted superstars opens a larger discussion on whether we permit, or appreciate, such a person.
And this isn’t the first time that this conversation has been prompted. Whilst not strictly related to music superstars, Ricky Gervais’ hosting of the 2020 Golden Globes caused quite a stir in his insistent jabs at celebrities who attempted to bring a political message in their celebratory speeches. He brought this question of the “educated superstar” to a heated surface in the ending of his introductory speech where he made it abundantly clear that the celebrities winning awards were not expected, or wanted, to preach a sociopolitical agenda;
“So, if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg”
Perhaps this violent attack and the conversations that it has inspired since is what Dua Lipa feels she doesn’t wish to “prove” herself against. Whether we agree with Gervais’ own politics or not, the comedian raises a key issue with the educated celebrity. With such a vastly different lifestyle compared to most fans, how can they lecture the public about their beliefs? Many celebrities promote sustainable fashion brands when the price tags they bear are inaccessible to the majority. They promote self-care when the reality is that the only affordable way of living for most equates to minimal time for leisure. They are seen jet-setting across the world finding themselves and learning about different cultures in the attitude of cosmopolitanism whilst we as onlookers only have the opportunity and funds to live this cosmopolitan lifestyle voyeuristically and digitally.
This elitist hypocrisy has come up more recently in the various attacks against Taylor Swift for her climate irresponsibility having been named the top celebrity CO2 polluter in 2022 which she retained in 2023; these attacks have also been used against Dua Lipa in her status as the “vacation celebrity”. There has been criticism on Swift, as the title holder, for preaching a feminist agenda when she is seen boasting a lifestyle that causes irreversible damage to our home planet. Whilst I would argue that parts of her feminism are not stripped or minimized by her problematic attitude towards the climate, we can see how her power as an artist can miseducate her audience on climate issues. This miseducation raises the key question that Gervais asked: due to their position of power, should celebrities have the position to educate?
Whilst Dua is known to be a jetsetter, her podcast, book club and efforts to educate herself on foreign issues, which she claims she largely owes to her upbringing and parents who sought refuge in the UK as a result of war, makes transparent her positive efforts to educate herself and those who wish to follow this side of her. She is not seen forcing her messages and ideas down fan’s throats as Gervais seems to suggest many celebrities do, she is seen quietly and successfully working in tune with her own educational and political beliefs that those who wish to see this side of her have the option to.
Dua Lipa’s candor surrounding the topic of multifaceted superstars opens a larger discussion on whether we permit, or appreciate, such a person.
I think it is also important, in this respect, to note Dua Lipa’s position as a woman relative to the ‘educated celebrity’ discussion. Most women have historically been split by a binary, we are either allowed to choose books or looks. But as a female educated superstar, Dua exists in both extremes of intellect and beauty that not many women feel necessarily allowed to exist in. Recently, my TikTok has been flooded with content where just “being a girl” is promoted; this state of being includes “girl hobbies” such as getting a coffee, having a nap or deciding whether you like latte or strawberry makeup. Whilst I have spoken before on this fascination with girl and the bliss that this can bring, I fear that this obsession with “girl” has become minimizing and restrictive. Dua Lipa’s stardom reminds us that we can be capable of so much more than getting a coffee and looking cute whilst you go to a Reformer Pilates class. Her capacity to engage with music, activism, literature, beauty, fashion, acting and more is inspiring to a generation that notices the crossovers between these fields but feels trapped by the binaries that have previously existed. She has reminded us that the political, smart popstar can exist, and I think that this is an inspiring thing for young people to have access to. The educated individual who is interested in the world and cares about things around them.
In praising Dua for this, I am not arguing in any way that she is the first artist to behave in this way. She comes from a line of celebrities, male and female, who have worked with their music career to signal different social issues that they stand behind. However, she is an artist who has been seen to successfully navigate the multimedia environment that we inhabit in using her music, podcast, book club, and more to celebrate the different projects that she supports. She is a supersmart superstar that we need to embrace.