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She's Finally Ready for the Recognition

Dido is grateful for the minor but mounting success, and its timing.

August 13, 2000|NATALIE NICHOLS | Natalie Nichols is a regular contributor to Calendar

For all the attention she's been getting lately, English dance-pop singer Dido knows she is not really famous yet. The unusual first name that serves as her professional moniker has become more prominent since rap star Eminem sampled "Thank You," a tune from her debut album, on "Stan," his song about an obsessed fan from his mega-hit "The Marshall Mathers LP." But, as she happily recounts, even her own fans don't always recognize her.

"In Seattle, when I was trying to get to the stage from the audience, this guy just shoved me out of the way. He was like, 'You're not going past me! I've got a great spot,' " says Dido, who plays at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Monday as part of her first headlining U.S. tour.

"Then he turned 'round, and I just glared at him. He was horrified! When I got on stage, I looked to see his face: It was just pure embarrassment."

Dido (last name: Armstrong) is pretty cheery for someone who's just flown in from London and is sitting patiently for a makeup artist backstage at NBC Studios in Burbank in preparation for performing on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." Watching warily as eyebrows are darkened, she's also utterly without self-consciousness as she chats shirtless, wearing just her strapless bra.

The London native, 28, doesn't mind the anonymity she has described. She is actually grateful that "No Angel," her critically praised debut, is still gaining momentum, having sold about a quarter million copies since its release in June 1999. "Everyone feels like they discovered [the album], because they have," she says. "Quite frankly, it's been a bit of a struggle for anyone to even hear about it" in today's overcrowded pop marketplace.

Although "No Angel" finally entered the Billboard album chart at No. 144 the same week in June that "Marshall Mathers" debuted at No. 1, Eminem can't have all the credit. Dido won fans when her first single, "Here With Me," became the theme to the WB's teen-alien drama "Roswell." And "Thank You," a sweet pop trifle in which she celebrates love's power to make even a crummy day great, had already popped up on the 1998 "Sliding Doors" soundtrack, in the teen TV series "Dawson's Creek," and during the Ellen DeGeneres-Sharon Stone sex scene of HBO's "If These Walls Could Talk 2."

Still, the interest from Eminem's listeners underscores Dido's growing mass appeal. A fan of the rapper, she describes his song "Stan" as "brilliant" and says she's pleased that some of his followers bought her album on the strength of the "Thank You" sample.

"I'm a bit worried that they think I'm some rapper," she jokes, "because it says, 'Eminem featuring Dido.' " She doesn't plan to start rapping but playfully considers quoting Eminem in the future: "Maybe that would be fun, to return the sample."


To Dido, "Thank You" worked in different contexts because it is a little ambiguous. "It was meant to be very, very simple and over-sweet, then produced in such a way that brought that down a bit," she says.

Dido herself is like that--so upbeat she seems almost too positive, yet she's so charismatic that you have to conclude that the joy she radiates is genuine. The bubbly serenity she exudes in person becomes fairly magnetic in front of the cameras later in the day as she performs "Here With Me" on "The Tonight Show."

The slow pace of her album's ascent has helped her prepare for the best-case scenario. "Now I've got the confidence to deal with [success]," she says, "whereas last year I would've been like, 'Woo, what's going on?' "

Still, Dido has never been far from some sort of spotlight. She was a child prodigy who attended London's Guild Hall School of Music and could play recorder, piano and violin by age 10. As a teen, she toured the U.K. with a classical music ensemble but soon discovered something she liked more.

"I loved the Police," she says. "They were doing that sort of dubby, cool pop-rock thing but still [writing] great songs. [I liked] Carole King as well. They're the ones that actually made me want to do this."

She embarked on a career as a literary agent but couldn't ignore the pull of pop. After performing with various bands in London, she sang on the 1996 debut album by Faithless, a trip-hop group led by her older brother, DJ and producer Rollo Armstrong.

She toured with the band, then returned home and made demos of her own. In 1997, she was signed to Arista Records and began recording "No Angel," which she co-produced with Rollo, Rick Nowels and Youth.

Draped lushly over the album's sleek, airy mix of programmed dance-music backdrops, acoustic and electric guitars, dub effects, piano, organ and harmonica, her sensual, intimate vocals have an emotional effect that's lighter than the isolated despair of trip-hop giant Portishead. Yet many tracks carry a similar yearning, underscoring the image of unrequited romance evoked by the mythical queen Dido, who, according to Roman myth, committed suicide after the departure of her lover, the hero Aeneas.

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