Becoming a global superstar, doing good at every turn and singing in the bathroom at a Jebel Ali studio are all in a day’s work for Dubai pop star DD Foxx, discovers Britt Ashley
As interviews go, this one is somewhat surreal: Dubai pop star DD Foxx in the washroom singing Mary J Blige to me. ‘What do you think?’ she coos as she finishes. I think she sounds incredible. And I also think this may be the one and only time I ever get serenaded by a pop star from a UAE bathroom.
If the impromptu performance is a little unconventional, it’s also somehow fitting. Nothing, after all, is entirely conventional about DD.
Dubai’s Lady Gaga
This is a woman who was once called the UAE’s Lady Gaga (‘a huge compliment but I have my own style – a meat dress isn’t my look’), and who describes her own live performances as ‘kind of crazy’.
‘When I’m on stage, that’s my zone,’ she says. ‘I lose myself, I’m energetic, down on the floor, unpredictable; it’s crazy – in a good way. People say I’m a different person altogether on stage.’
The 31-year-old pop star – known for her dance-pop and ever-changing hair colour – is talking to The Ethicalist from a home studio in Jebel Ali where she’s recording a bunch of songs set for release this year. Hence why she’s in that bathroom. ‘It’s the only place in the building I can hear you,’ she explains.
DD – real name Layal El Halabi and originally from Lebanon – is currently gaining something of a name as one of the leading lights of the UAE’s bourgeoning music scene. Her latest single Need Your Love Tonight has already had nearly 70,000 views on YouTube
Her debut album Had To Be Me was released in 2012 and has become, she says, the third best-selling urban record ever made by a Dubai-based artist.
Since then, her songs have been streamed more than 125,000 times on Middle East music site Anghami, while, live, she has performed at venues as varied as the World Trade Centre (‘Quincy Jones was in the audience!’ she exclaims) and Chi nightclub in Al Nasr – a gig for which she was handpicked to support legendary American-Jamaican rapper Sean Kingston.
Now, her aim for her new material is nothing short of world domination. ‘I want to be the first woman to come out of Dubai and be a global talent,’ she says. ‘I know it can happen. I listen to the radio and I know my music is as good as anything out there.’
‘I want to be the first woman to come out of Dubai and be a global talent,’ she says. ‘I know it can happen – my music is as good as anything out there.’
Making A Difference
Before all that, however, DD is talking today about charitable work, social responsibility and supporting good causes. In an age of shallow celebrity, she says that one of her main missions in life is to make a difference.
‘If you’re not trying to do good,’ she asks, ‘what are you doing?’
For DD, doing good includes dedicating time to several causes she holds close to her heart. Last year she hosted awareness-raising events for everything from YallaPink – an initiative which supports breast cancer research in the UAE – to the Beautiful Possibilities Programme, a scheme which offers life-changing experiences to disadvantaged children across Asia.
‘These things are about bringing people together so, as a society, we can help those who are less fortunate,’ she says. ‘I don’t think there’s anything more important than that, so when I get asked to host events like this, of course, it is right I say yes.
‘And the people you meet are always so inspiring. With something like breast cancer, this is such a vicious illness, I really just feel in awe of the women who go through this and come out the other side. They are truly amazing.’
Just last month, DD also threw her fame and support behind the Imperial College London Diabetes Center in Abu Dhabi, supporting its annual awareness-raising walk at Yas Marina.
‘I lost my grandfather to diabetes,’ she explains. ‘So it’s very close to my heart. It was wonderful to see so many people participating.’
DD Foxx – Empowering Pop Star
It’s not just by helping at events that she believes she can make a difference either. Her music too, she reckons, is a clarion rallying call – not least in terms of being an example of personal female empowerment.
‘I’m passionate about inspiring women from around the Middle East to follow their own dreams,’ the pop star says. ‘In this region, sometimes that’s difficult for women because of cultural and family expectations – I consider myself so blessed that my family have always supported me because that’s not always the case – but I hope that, in some small way, others might see what I’m doing and be motivated to go for whatever it is they want. That is one of my biggest ambitions.’
She, herself, as it turns out, was inspired by two main people: Madonna and a high school teacher.
Her dad gave her a tape of the former when DD Foxx, who was raised in Saudi Arabia until she was 13, causing her to fall immediately in love with pop – ‘it was the first time I’d really heard music like that – I couldn’t stop dancing to La Isla Bonita’.
The teacher, meanwhile, was at her high school in Sharjah. He told her to consider pursuing a career in performance after hearing her sing in the school choir and seeing her natural way with instruments.
‘I’m passionate about inspiring women from around the Middle East to follow their own dreams. In this region, sometimes that’s difficult because of cultural and family expectations – but I hope that, in some small way, others might see what I’m doing and be motivated to go for whatever it is they want. That is one of my biggest ambitions.’
‘That was the first time anyone had told me I could do this,’ she says. ‘It was a complete surprise to hear it. I loved music but I hadn’t thought it was something I was especially talented at. He changed my whole way of thinking.’
She has been following that dream ever since. DD went to see her first gig at 19 (American rockers Puddle Of Mudd,) and, aged 21, started singing at corporate events in the evenings while working in marketing by day.
All of which slowly led to that first album, her rise to prominence in Dubai, the ever-growing desire to conquer the world, and, right now, to this bathroom in this Jebel Ali home studio.
As we start to wrap things up, I ask how the recording is going and she breaks into song. It sounds good to me. World success – and helping more good causes – might just be around the corner.