Dua Lipa signs his paychecks
Brooklyn-based Brennan Carley ’13 is an entertainment editor, writer, producer, talent booker, and media trainer who has pitched, reported, and written for The New York Times, Vulture, Vogue, Bustle, Vice Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Cosmopolitan, MTV News, Grammy.com, Elle, Esquire, Billboard, and more.
In his current role as US editor and culture director of Service95 (Dua Lipa’s newsletter) and the podcast, Dua Lipa: At Your Service, Carley helps the pop star share her recommendations and stories with her fans all over the world.
But before he made a name for himself in media, Carley was a communication and English double-major at Boston College, developing his skills and carving out his path as a journalist. Through hard work, mentorship, and a dash of luck, today he’s living out his dream.
Is it true that Dua Lipa signs your paychecks?
How did you get so lucky?
When I worked for Spin right out of graduate school, I was sent to SXSW in Austin, Texas, where an up-and-coming artist named Dua Lipa performed. I had heard some of her songs before, but in person I was blown away—and I had a feeling that she was going to be a big star. After SXSW I got to sit down with her for a profile I was writing for Spin and I just completely fell in love with her. I thought she was so funny and smart and had such a really intelligent grasp on pop music and what people cared about and her own vision for it.
We stayed in touch after that and I ended up writing a short profile of her for GQ. Over the pandemic I wrote a Q&A with her as part of a “stars at home” portfolio. Again, we just hit it off and had great chemistry. About a year into my freelancing stint, her team reached out to me and said, “Hey, we have this thing we want to talk to you about. Can you get on a call tomorrow?” That’s when they pitched me on the idea of Service95 and the podcast. So now Dua and I work together. She’s a delight.
Did you always want to be a journalist? How did you know you could write?
The credit goes to Jane Burke, who was my reading and English teacher from grades five through eight. She identified pretty quickly that I was passionate about reading and writing. She would give me book recommendations and tell me about book festivals and fairs that were happening in New York City. She was also the first person to hold my feet to the fire when I underperformed on writing assignments. I’ll never forget the time she sat me down to say, “You’re really good at this, you just need to put in the effort. If you care about it, and you’re passionate about it, you have the ability to do it extremely well. So just go all in.” It’s stuck with me all these years. She instilled that spark in me.
From that point on, did you decide you wanted to be a writer when you grew up?
Basically, yes. For me, writing was the only thing that I was ever going to do. I knew I wanted to tell other people’s stories. I have always enjoyed the art of communication. My parents like to joke that I was the chattiest baby—I would talk to strangers in stores when I was in my stroller. The reason I like being a writer now is because I get to talk to incredible people from different walks of life from all over the world and help tell their stories in ways that they may not have been able to do before. Being that conduit is such a thrill that has not ever been lost on me all these years later.
How did your undergraduate years at Boston College help you pursue your dream of becoming a writer?
I took classes with professors whose guidance and encouragement will always stay with me. [Associate Professor of the Practice] Celeste Wells is one of the most inspiring professors I have ever worked with and we still stay in touch.
In my senior year, a magazine feature writing course taught by Janelle Nanos ’02 broke the door open for me in a tangible “this can be a career” way. At the time, Janelle was also a senior editor at Boston Magazine and I ended up interning for her there. We are also still in touch and she brings me back every other semester to talk to her students, which is a lot of fun.
I also had a writing internship at Billboard magazine the summer after junior year. It was absolutely headfirst into the deep end of the pool. I had real assignments and real work. And through transcribing people’s tapes, I learned the art of the interview.
After several years of writing for publications, you accidentally veered off your passion path. Can you tell me about how that happened?
I fell off track because I went from writing full time to accepting an incredible opportunity that, through a series of events, resulted in me editing other writers full time. After about a year I realized how much I missed storytelling and writing. While I love working with writers as an editor and I love helping shape their stories, there’s just something about being able to be in the mix that feels incredible.
How did you know it was time to get back on it?
I think it was when my survival mode kicked in as “let’s just get through the week.” My passion for the work was gone. All those inner voices that used to remind me about my excitement for certain stories went quiet for a really long time. I realized that the instinct and desire to want to write and to want to be a storyteller of my own never had gone away, I had just put it on a shelf. And at a certain point, the box got so big on that shelf that I couldn’t avoid it anymore. For a while, I was just trying to figure out what the missing piece was for me and then I was able to identify that I needed to get back to storytelling.
What advice would you want to give to someone who wants to refocus?
There are three really great pieces of advice that I would give to anyone who’s strayed from their passion path. I learned these the hard way.
- Open yourself up to the people around you who know you best. Listen to what they’re saying to you. For me, I learned from friends, family, and my partner, very quickly, that they noticed that something was missing in my life.
- Give yourself the freedom, the time, and the space to have crucial conversations with yourself. I realized that I was so caught up in the day-to-day of work and the hustle culture, that I wasn’t allowing myself the opportunity to listen to my own thoughts. At the end of the day, when I sat down with myself and allowed for quiet to take over, the little voice inside me was telling me exactly what I needed to do.
- Allow yourself the opportunity to grow and learn new things and do things that you think you might not like; do things that you think might scare you. At the end of the day, this has always brought it directly back to the things that I love.
It sounds like you really love what you’re doing now—and that’s refreshing to hear!
Eighteen months ago, if someone had said to me, “Hey, you’re going to do this freelance writing for a while where you sit down with these people you care so deeply about and tell their stories—things you thought were only dreams—and then you’re going to work behind the scenes on a podcast but you will be incredibly happy with the work that you’re doing, because you are finding it to be a new way of storytelling you didn’t know possible,” I think I would have laughed and said, “I’m not taking that job, that’s crazy.”
But working on the podcast has been one of the most creatively exciting things I’ve ever done in my entire life. We wrapped season two in December and we are developing our slate of guests for season three. I can’t wait to start prepping and producing.