There are many reasons why Dua Lipa shouldn’t be a pop star. When she was a kid in choir, her director told her that her voice was too low. When she was 11 with dreams of making it big, her parents relocated from the U.K. to their native Kosovo, far from the scouts who could break her career. And even after she moved back to London alone at age 15, recording dozens of YouTube covers and eventually scoring a record deal, she still struggled to find her sound. “There were times I had no idea where I wanted to go,” she says. “It was scary, it was overwhelming.”

Dua Lipa (Celeste Sloman for TIME)
Dua Lipa
Celeste Sloman for TIME

That was then. Since releasing her first single, “Be the One,” in 2015, Lipa has emerged as one of pop music’s strongest new voices, thanks to a series of bold, stadium-ready girl-power anthems. In “Blow Your Mind (Mwah),” Lipa rebukes a would-be lover who doesn’t see her strengths (“If you don’t like the way I talk, then why am I on your mind?”); in “IDGAF,” she dismisses a cheating ex who wants her back (“I’m too busy for your business/ Go find a girl who wants to listen”). Song by song, she’s broadening her fan base: Lipa’s self-titled debut album, which was released in June, has been streamed more than 1.4 billion times; now she’s headlining giant music festivals like Glastonbury and opening for Bruno Mars. “It’s so much fun—the adrenaline, the craziness,” she says. “There’s nothing quite like it.”

Lipa is equally passionate about her activism. She started the Sunny Hill Foundation to support charities and arts programs in Kosovo, in order to help kids find a path to a bigger world stage, like she did. She also routinely uses Twitter to advocate for issues like gun control and women’s rights as well as to support other rising female pop stars, like Charli XCX, Zara Larsson and Camila ­Cabello. “Girls should be looking after girls all the time,” Lipa says, echoing the sentiment of her latest moving-on-after-a-breakup hit, “New Rules,” which hit No. 1 in the U.K. and is gaining traction stateside. “I think now more than ever we need that in the world.”

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