Dua Lipa, the 23-year-old Albanian-British pop sensation's song, “New Rules” broke a YouTube record in 2018, racking up 1 billion views, and making her the youngest female artist yet to hit that bar. Her newest hit, “Swan Song,” references the AIDS activists of ACT UP (and their “Silence = Death” rallying cry) with lyrics like: “I won’t stay quiet, I won’t stay quiet / ’Cause staying silent’s the same as dying / I won’t stay quiet, the flicker’s burning low.” The rousing chorus is “This is not a, this is not a swan song, swan song.”
The single appears on the soundtrack to Alita: Battle Angel, a film based on the manga series Gunnm by Yukito Kishiro, about an empowered girl cyborg. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita stars Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, and Keean Johnson.
“A Swan Song is by definition a person's final public performance or professional activity before retirement,” Lipa tweeted to her fans. “So the idea behind it is that 'This is NOT a swan song' [is] this is only the beginning of our fight for justice. Alita fights for the lives of marginalised people. Hopefully we all find a part of ourselves in Alita’s character and see that we mustn’t ever quit our battle against the injustices of the world. Even in the hardest moments we must speak up. Lyrically, the song references the brilliant minds at Act Up, a HIV and AIDS activist group from the 80s who’s motto was ‘Silence equals death’ with the hopes that in our everyday life we put into action this deeper meaning so that silence never become us.”
The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power launched in 1987, but, as How to Survive a Plague and the film BPM — and now Lipa's song — show, ACT UP’s activism continues to inspire, three decades later.