Study the lyrics of Life for Rent—the new sophomore outing on Arista from ethereal techno-cabaret diva Dido—and a rather startling picture emerges: “I cause nothing but trouble / I understand if you can’t talk to me again”; “It’s taken me a while to see you’re not so special … I found, tonight, what I’d been warned about”; “If my life is for rent and I don’t learn to buy / Well I deserve nothing more than I get.” A psychiatrist might hear these lines and pump a dose of Prozac into this somnolent singer, pronto. But surprise! When blonde bombshell Dido strolls leisurely into her San Francisco hotel suite, she’s all girlish giggles and toothy smiles. Depressed? Far from it, she laughs—with 12 million copies of her No Angel debut sold worldwide, as well as countless songwriting awards under her belt—the U.K. thrush is sitting in the coveted catbird seat, and pleased as punch about it.
Granted, sighs Dido, a sage-like 31, some of that sentiment sounds pretty sad. And she did recently break up with her beau of seven years. But she’s remarkably upbeat about it all. “It was just a case of growing up, growing apart, becoming different from how we were in the beginning, but not necessarily what either of us wanted,” she explains, sunnily. “So he and I are still brilliant friends, we get on really well and I think we’re both happier now.” After three years touring to support ’99’s No Angel—including a few weeks pushing Eminem single “Stan,” which sampled her dreamy “Thank You” smash—she felt no follow-up pressure whatsoever; with her DJ brother Rollo co-producing, she whipped together Rent over the past 11 months, knowing exactly what she wanted to communicate.
Which was? Dido grins, Mona Lisa mischievous. “I’ll tell you what I find really strange,” confides the keyboardist, who once held a high-powered position in British publishing. “I write songs, basically, and I try to write the perfect song. But I don’t document my life in my songs, although I definitely use personal things as a frame of reference. I use personal things from my brother’s life, my friends’ lives, or from people’s lives that I read about in the papers. But on the first album, everyone took the songs and sort of related them to themselves, which is how I take songs—I listen to music and I relate it to myself and it’ll transport me to some part of my life that I haven’t thought about for awhile.”
Not so with newer numbers like “White Flag”—despite its dark tone, already well on its way to becoming Dido’s next megahit. “With these new songs, everyone’s just picking apart my life, and I find that so strange. Because I’m not writing songs for you to understand me better—I’m writing to hopefully cause some emotion in you, as opposed to you having some insight into my head. Because, ultimately, you’re never gonna work it out because there’s such a heavy dose of imagination in the songs.” For example, she cites her “Mary’s in India” ballad. Sure, she has a friend named Mary who often trots the globe. But the rest of the cut—including a left-at-home boyfriend named Danny—is purely fictional. When pressed, Dido will admit that she’s beginning to “enjoy the fact that people are getting so obsessed with my lyrics that they’re just twisting themselves in circles, trying to work out what my life’s about. I think it’s funny—it really makes me laugh.
“But I’ll be honest—the day I explain every single line of every single song, it would be quite boring for everybody.”
Then—bubbling with effervescent energy—the undaunted Dido marches on to her next radio station interview, the umpteenth in a whirlwind Rent promo tour. “And I’m happy,” she declares. “I’m happy, but I do feel things very deeply. That’s the conflict that I have—I’m a totally optimistic person, but if someone tells me a story that’s sad, I can feel terrible. And that’s why I write songs, songs to make you feel something.”