The New York Times

The New York Times 7 May 2020

Dua Lipa's 'Physical' Will Get You Moving. Here's How She Made It


Watch how a tarot card reading, alpacas and a wacky flute sample helped a group of pop songwriters create the '80s throwback dance track "Physical" in this episode of Diary of a Song.

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As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, China has claimed a victory in containing its domestic spread. But the pressure of preventing a second wave of the pandemic remains high. This week, the country will hold one of its biggest political gatherings in Beijing -- the annual "Two Sessions", which was delayed due to COVID-19. Here's how it will convene the meetings safely.
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“Don’t know what’s going on with that.
I’m going to try to fix this.
We’re ready, I think.”
I’m Dua, and I’ll be your instructor today.”
“Nothing was a no-go.
We were just experimenting and playing.
Everything was just fun.”
[music for “Physical”] Singing: “Come on.”
“It just makes you want to go.
We can’t go outside right now, I guess.
But if I could, I’d go dance in the middle of the street.”
Singing: “Let’s get physical.
Lights out, follow the noise.
Baby, keep on dancing like you ain’t got a choice.
So come on, come on, come on.
Let’s get physical.”
“I wanted to get away from the anxiety and the pressures
of making a second record.
Because everyone’s like, oh, it’s a scary album.
Just trying to constantly recreate that success.”
Singing: “One, don’t pick up the phone.
You know he’s only calling ’cause he’s drunk and alone.
Two, don’t let him in.
You’ll have to kick him out again.”
“The Grammy goes to —”
“Dua Lipa.”
“I wanted to make something that I felt I
wasn’t hearing on the radio.
I wanted it to be upbeat.
I wanted it just to be fun.”
“What was the day in the studio like
when you created ‘Physical’?”
“We went to Jason’s studio in Tarzana,
which is like a weird, mystical land of its own.”
“Thirty fruit trees.
My wife’s garden over there.
Hey, Midnight.”
“They’re ridiculously cute.
They look like giant poodles.”
“It’s this kind of magical little garden,
and inside here is like a spaceship,
so you kind of get all the worlds here.
A lot of times, songwriting sessions
are hard because you’re on like a blind date, basically.
And this was cool because it just felt
like instant party-family zone.”
“Sarah, Coffee and I have been working together
for a really long time.”
“I’ve written songs with Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj.”
“Sarah, any time she gets into a session,
she has to set up her altar, basically.”
“I have, like, 5,000 tarot decks.
I collect them.
It’s a good icebreaker to a session.”
“How do Dua’s cards usually turn out?”
“She always gets the Queen of Wands,
which is a card that’s saying, this is her destiny
and this is where she’s supposed to be.”
“Do you just pull the same cards
for all of your artists?”
You never — no!
I would be a fraud.
“We’re like, all right, let’s do something really crazy,
’80s, Flashdance-y.
This is the way we’ll ease into the week.
Once we get something really crazy out of us,
then we can just kind of carry on.”
“She was like, I want to get some crazy,
world-sounding instruments in here,
and I pull up a Persian flute sample and —”
[flute sounds]
[flute music]
“As soon as he did it, he was like —
we all kind of perked up, and we
were like, yes, this is it!”
“They’re the best hype team ever.
They’re like, that’s amazing!
Which is so important in a room, by the way
for producers, because we’re all insecure,
trying to make ideas in front of you guys.”
“And we all were kind of laughing and like,
this is crazy.
What are we doing?”
“In my mind, her with her deep voice,
that kind of, almost Depeche Mode-y, but
like a pop version of it, like midnight
driving in a Corvette.”
“So Jason’s sitting at his synth, whipping up the track,
and what are you guys doing?”
“Me, Sarah and Coffee, we just, we’re writing.
It really is like a puzzle.
You’re constantly putting little bits together,
and you work as a team.”
“Someone says a word that leads to a line, that
leads to a melody.”
“Anything we throw out, I write it down,
and I write it in all caps.”
Singing: “Common love isn’t for us.”
“I need it to scream at me because if it screams at me
and I don’t like it, then maybe we change it.”
Singing: “We created something phenomenal,
don’t you agree?”
“Asking a question to the audience
also feels a little bit nostalgic.”
“Dua gets right into the booth, man.
When she’s excited about something,
she just goes for it.”
“You’ll never mistake Dua’s voice for somebody else.
It’s very thick, warm, sexy.
Her low range is insane.”
Singing: “You got me feeling diamond rich.
Nothing on this planet compares to it.
Don’t you agree?”
“I speak very good Lorna.
She would tell me that she could hear a smile.”
“Do you hear a smile in ‘Physical’?”
“I do.
I hear I'm ear to ear.
Honestly, we were just being so ridiculous
in the studio, so I just kind of went on in the room mic,
and was like, what if I just do this?”
Singing: “Who needs to go to sleep
when I got you next to me?”
“It allows everything to sort of drop out
before it hits again, right?”
It’s the ‘suction’ effect.
You pull it back, and then you release it.”
Singing: “All night, I riot with you,
I know you got my back,
and you know I got you.”
“The verses are like this moody vibe,
and then it blasts into this anthemic chant.”
Singing: “Let’s get physical.”
“It’s almost like you’re at a rally.”
“Remember ‘Care Bears’?”
“To me, that’s what the chorus is.
It is a Care Bear shooting out a beam of light
into the world.”
“Dua came up with that bridge melody, just messing around.
So the fact that the song can even go from the big chorus
to the next level is pretty wild.”
Singing: “Let’s get physical.
Hold on just a little tighter, come on.
Hold on.”
“It’s a roast to sing.
It’s the climax of the song, but you
have to do that twice through after verse-bridge-chorus,
verse-bridge-chorus, double-middle-eight, back
into a double chorus.
It’s a roast.
It’s so hard.”
Singing: “Tell me if you’re ready, come on.
Baby, keep on dancing.”
“Yeah, really, just like ‘Aaaah!’
I just see ‘Flashdance,’ like ‘Maniac.’
It’s just so feel-good.”
Singing: “Let’s get physical.”
“I didn’t know how anybody else would react to it.
So when I sent it to my manager,
I was like, oh, it’s a bit over the top,
but I bloody love it.”
“The flute almost didn’t make it.
I had to fight for this flute.
I think Koz might have saved the day.”
“There was a lot of debate on the flute.
The original demo of the flute
was blazing off the top.
You press play, and then it’s just —
this really loud flute.
So my solution was to just filter it down.
No one ever really said anything after that,
so I assumed that it was OK.
It’s all about the flute to me.
It’s about the flute, and that drive.
You just never want to lose that energy of when they made it
because sometimes that’s so hard to recreate.”
“Dua Lipa, ooh!”
“Ah, this chorus!”
“So impressed!”
“Come on.
Come on, Dua!”
“I believe in divine timing, and I believe
that we needed this record.”
“I imagine everyone dancing around their living rooms,
and wailing and flailing their arms in the air.”
“It’s OK to let your mind run away for a second
and have some fun, and try and see the good in everything.
A little something to just help
you get out of bed a bit easier, which I felt like
was something that I needed myself.”
“So we’ll start with a breathing exercise.
And exhale.”
“The ‘Physical’ workout video, where
did that idea come from?”
“That’s just playing and being —
I wanted to have my own Jane Fonda workout video.”
“I feel like with the virus now,
an at-home workout video is oddly relevant.”
“I wish it was otherwise.”
“Did you have a favorite of the moves?”
“The Fonda because it’s an ode to that, and also
the Crybaby is just hilarious and silly,
and I would never ever do it in any other situation
other than that.”
Singing: “Phy-phy-phy-physical!”
Singing: “I got the horses in the back.”
Singing: “Di, di, di, di, di.”
Singing: “The debt I owe, got to sell my soul,
’cause I can’t say no,
no, I can’t say no.”
Singing: “Man, what’s the deal?
Man, I’m coming through.
It’s your girl, Lizzo.”

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