Dua Lipa and what it takes to be a Main Pop Girl

Jenessa Williams investigates the rise of Glastonbury’s next headliner, and how she is confounding expectations of what it takes to win the pop attention economy


For those of us who are chronically online, the phrase ‘Main Pop Girl’ is likely a familiar one. 

Used to delineate It-girls-in-training from established superstars, the phrase is popular in Stan communities, bubbling up again with every big release. 

Earlier this month, it was the subject of an entire episode of the New York Times Popcast, dismantling and dissecting the potential tickboxes that any pop girl (or boy) must fulfil if they are to ascend to top-tier status. Chart performance and killer songs were of course a factor, but so was the idea of adhering to certain pop principles — understanding the history of the genre, having a celebrity narrative bigger than the songs themselves, toeing a line between relatability and aspiration. 


The hosts talked about artists like Tate McRae, Ariana Grande and Beyoncé, but they also discussed Dua Lipa, a pop star who the hosts couldn’t seem to quite place. She was popular yes, but they couldn’t quite put their finger on why — we know relatively little about her, and her music, while catchy, wasn’t exactly rocking their world. In one case, host Jon Caramanica even suggested that Lipa may have benefitted from a sense of pandemic escapism, experiencing the kind of commercial boost that would not have happened outside of that specific cultural moment. But with ‘Future Nostalgia’ still shifting huge units, ‘Dance the Night’ holding its own on a star-studded Barbie soundtrack and a Glastonbury headline slot coming this June, she has slowly but surely clawed her way up the mainstream mountain, becoming one of the UK’s biggest current exports. 

The meme that Dua Lipa ‘gives us nothing’ is not exactly new. Her onstage demeanour, dance moves and overall charisma have all been criticised, falling short of what some might expect of a Main Pop Girl. When the Glastonbury line-up was announced, online debate raged as to whether she was really big enough for the slot, or what the booking said about a current dearth of genuinely legendary names in the festival circuit. But with even a quick glance at Dua’s streaming metrics, it simply doesn’t follow that there isn’t a loyal, passionate audience out there who wholeheartedly believes that she has what it takes. 

In my quest to understand more about what draws listeners to Lipa, I reached out to an array of stan accounts, and heard back from AddictionLipa, whose account reaches 147.8k followers. Aged 24 and using he/him pronouns, AL first discovered Dua Lipa during the pandemic, not long after ‘Future Nostalgia’ had been released.

“I put a random playlist of her on Spotify while I was gaming, and I just instantly fell in love with her music,” he says. “I wish I could find the words to explain it, but her songs just relax me and make me feel good.” 

AddictionLipa also refutes the idea that Lipa gives her fans no personality. “I just love how humble, fun and sweet she is outside of the music world, whether it’s in interviews or her legendary Instagram dumps,” he says. “She just feels like a person you would love to be around. For the ones who don’t know, Dua’s baptised her fandom as “loves” and that’s exactly what we are. We are lovely, fun and honestly one of the most chill fandoms out there. A fandom needs to be a mirror of their idol, and I think we’ve achieved that.”

This point about ‘chill’ feels pretty vital. Where artists like Billie Eilish or Olivia Rodrigo have ascended to stardom by troubling the sonic status quo, Dua’s interpretation of pop adheres to more traditional standards, delivering a style that is sleek, sexy and hugely accessible in its fun, disco-tinged vibe. Her lyrics and overall presentation may at times feel quite restrained, but in a climate that is still wrangling with the implications of cancel culture, the image of a smart, laidback, cosmopolitan woman who is good at her job, likes the right books, dates the hot boys and always feels put together is a smart branding move, aspirational and ambiguous in the way that pre-social media popstars used to be. 

Her constant jetsetting may have raised some eyebrows from climate activists, but on the whole, Lipa’s brand is all about quiet luxury, appealing to the kind of clean eating, moodboard-making, Stanley-Cup-drinking cool-girl monoculture that has defined TikTok over the last few years. It’s not easy to stand out in this crowded marketplace, but she navigates it expertly, dominating the trends by curating and reflecting them back with the kind of measured, expensive casualness that only true stars can pull off. Like the most popular girl in high school, you can’t help but want to be a little bit like her, to revel in the glow of her effortless, sun-kissed orbit. 

Of course, it’s insulting and misogynistic to dismiss Dua Lipa as nothing more than a hot body, or to insinuate that her music doesn’t come first. When you leave room for mystery and interpretation, you also leave room for creative and personal growth, for fans to gravitate to you and take away whatever they need. In the last year especially, Lipa has been relatively open about both her politics and developing musical inclinations, positioning her forthcoming third album ‘Radical Optimism’ as a “psychedelic-pop-infused tribute to UK rave culture”. As AddictionLipa points out, she’s also been mature and resilient enough to channel her criticisms into self-improvement, with recent performances at the BRITs and GRAMMYs showing just how far her performance has come. What is a Main Pop Girl if not somebody who is willing to take notes?   

“I was really sad to learn that type of comments took a toll on her mental health at the time, but I like to look at it as a blessing in disguise,” he says. “You can see how she took all that negativity and grew, and it’s really inspirational to witness that. To me, a Main Pop Girl is someone that makes songs that are recognisable with just a few seconds of playing, as well as having a stage presence that makes their show completely worth the investment. Dua checks both.”

When all is said and done, does the ‘Main Pop Girl’ debate really matter? Of course not. Dua Lipa is killing it, and there are very few amongst us who wouldn’t have a great time if we were there to see her unleash ‘New Rules’, ‘Levitating’ or ‘Physical’ down on Worthy Farm. Main Pop Girl debates push us to ‘prove’ that any one artist is definitively better than another, but the true excitement in pop comes from women winning in their own ways, finding different ways to connect with their own fanbase. When ‘Radical Optimism’ drops, it’s highly possible that it will fill in many of Dua Lipa’s perceived blanks – or at very least, provide the proof that this pop girl is giving us a whole lot more than nothing.