by Tommaso Rocchi
Published February 7th, 2021
2020 was the year of many dreadful things, but also the year of Dua Lipa. The British-Kosovar singer saw her consecration as one of the world’s top pop-stars thanks to her album Future Nostalgia. A groovy disco-inspired record that allowed Dua to step up her game with a compelling aesthetic and unique sound – as declared by the artist herself in the title-track.
“I know you’re dying trying to figure me out
My name’s on the tip of your tongue, keep running your mouth
You want the recipe but can’t handle my sound“
With stellar reviews, two Grammy-nominations, and a cumulated 3 billion streams on DSPs, Dua Lipa’s second album was a global success, making her one of the top 5 female artists on Spotify’s year-end list for 2020. Alongside streaming, radio played a significant part in the record’s success, as we highlighted in one of our latest stories. Don’t Start Now, Dua Lipa’s lead single, was the second most played song globally, making her the top female artist of 2020. This was not only due to the performance of the main single but also by a strategic release planning that allowed her to stay up in the charts for the entirety of 2020.
In the radio environment, it’s pretty tricky for artists to keep multiple singles in the charts, or at least to make them perform similarly. When looking at the total airplay data for 2020, only 36 out of 240 artists had two or more singles in relevant positions, and only Dua Lipa and Ava Max managed to have more than five singles coming from the same record. This is due to multiple factors, but most of the time, it’s because the following singles cannot live up to the lead one’s performance. In other words, a single can be too good and end up cannibalising all subsequent releases in terms of airplay, like The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights. Even Dua Lipa wasn’t completely immune from this phenomenon. Still, thanks to her compelling record she managed to keep multiple singles in the high rotation for the entirety of 2020, as we can see from the visualisation below:
The first thing that we see is the outstanding performance of the leading single Don’t Start Now. Released on October 31 2019, Don’t Start Now was the best performing single from Future Nostalgia, accounting for a total of 1,5 million radio plays and for 49.04% of her total airplay for the US, UK and German markets alone. The song reached its peak of 38,572 plays in the week before the album release, alongside the third single Break My Heart. From March 27, Don’t Start Now started to decline constantly, but managed to keep a very long tail of 10,000 to 20,000 plays per week until January 2021.
It’s fascinating to see how each country behaves in terms of airplay. While the US has been the leading market in terms of numbers, it had a more conservative approach and remained somehow indifferent to the following singles’ releases. Don’t Start Now remained the most played song in the American market until June 21, when Break My Heart overthrew the first single. Don’t forget that Break My Heart was released three months before, so it took quite some time for the American market to be convinced by it (while the second single Physical had an inferior reception).
On the other side, the UK market followed Dua’s release schedule with great attention. As soon as the new single was released, the radios embraced it immediately and pushed it very high on the radio rotation. In this way, the latest track from the record was always on top, and the previous ones still benefited in terms of airplay in the following months (Don’t Start Now managed to maintain the second or third spot of the most played singles).
Germany had a different behaviour since its peculiarity was to completely fall in love for the second single Physical. Maybe it was for the song’s dance-oriented structure, but apparently, the radios couldn’t have enough of it. Since the album’s release, Physical dominated the German market, despite being closely followed by the latest singles. In the long term, Dua Lipa’s singles had a longer life and better numbers in Germany, surpassing the UK as the second-best performing country.
The last thing that’s interesting to address is the performance of Hallucinate. Dua Lipa’s fourth single started gathering some minor airplay around April, way before its official release date on July 17. This proves that some DJs recognized the track’s strength in advance and started programming it as soon as they heard it in the full-length album, even before it was announced as the fourth official single.
In conclusion, Dua Lipa’s latest record proved extremely successful even on the radio, thanks to a good combination of well-planned releases and smashing hits. While the radio may still seem as the dominion of few, gigantic tracks, when looking down to the single countries we can see very different behaviors. A single can be extremely successful in a single market while being completely snubbed in another one. But despite all the considerations, Dua Lipa and her team managed to raise the awareness of Future Nostalgia while positioning five different singles on the radios of the entire word for the entirety of 2020. A result that, in the age of volatility and short attention span, is exceptionally remarkable.
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