NEW YORK (AP) — Dua Lipa is floating in the ocean, the sun just beginning to set behind her. She looks strong, serene — save for the looming threat of a massive shark, fin just breaching the surface a few feet away.

The image is the cover of her third album, “Radical Optimism,” out Friday. It is an apt visual representation for an album about finding and protecting your peace in dangerous waters — a thematic maturation for the Grammy-award winning pop superstar, who has long identified her sound as “dance-crying.”

That cheeky term encapsulates the clubby jubilance of her biggest pop hits, but “Radical Optimism,” with its psychedelic electro-pop, complicates it.

“There’s definitely something more cathartic that comes with the third album,” she told The Associated Press recently.

“’Future Nostalgia’ was my chance for me to be able to do a very polished pop-dance-disco record,” she says of her 2020 sophomore release. “Radical Optimism,” alternatively, was informed by what she’s learned from touring the world over the last few years — drawing influence from trip hop and Britpop and including newfound interest in live instrumentation.

“It was so much more free flowing,” she says of her latest album’s creative process. “And it didn’t have a formula, per se, but I always had that pop sensibility in the back of my mind. But I wanted to just experiment and try and create something new. But I think this was always kind of the album that I’ve always wanted to make.”

In more ways than one: Around her first album, Lipa wrote down that she’d like to work with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker — specifically on her third album. The manifestation worked, and he became a crucial collaborator on “Radical Optimism.”

“It was almost like something deep down, instinctively, was telling me that it was something earned,” she says. “That over time I would be able to go in and work with a creative that I was so inspired by, and to be in a room and learn from him.”

As for the album’s title: “It’s euphoric, it’s togetherness,” she says.

“Dance music has such a long history of creating such a safe space. And I just want to embody that,” she adds.

She’s been working hard to get there. Lipa, now 28, began her career at age 15, when she convinced her family to let her move from Kosovo to London, where she was born, to pursue a pop career. She went to school, modeled, and in 2017 released her eponymous debut album with the blockbuster dance-pop hits “New Rules” and “One Kiss.” Then came the nu-disco electropop of 2020’s “Future Nostalgia,” which solidified her status as one of pop music’s biggest players. Not bad for a unique voice in the streaming era, where capturing the attention of the masses — and sustaining it — has never been more of a challenge.

In 2024, her pop songs contain a kind of learned elasticity. The melodies stack atop unusual synth sounds, the vocal range stretches (particularly on the cut “Falling Forever”), the dance breaks inspired by U.K. rave culture and format-benders Primal Scream and Massive Attack — they’re all elements Lipa says she wouldn’t have dared attempt on her last album. That came from working with Parker, producer Danny L Harle, songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr. (known for his work with Harry Styles and Adele ), and Lipa’s longtime collaborator Caroline Ailin.

“She understands how to handle a lot of opinions in the room, including her own,” Jesso tells the AP. “She doesn’t value hers above anyone else’s, she simply uses the ones which work best for what she is trying to achieve.”

“We were a band,” Lipa says of the group. The first day they wrote “Illusion.” The second day, “Happy for You.” (“I’d never written a song like that before,” she points out. “And I loved that version of myself.”) The third day, the post-disco pop of “Whatcha Doing.” In bright, airy studios in London and Malibu, they finessed what would become Lipa’s most ambitious — and euphoric-sounding — record to date.

That experimentation appears across Lipa’s endeavors, too. She’s acting more — “little baby roles!” she says with a smile — after playing Mermaid Barbie in the blockbuster “Barbie” (she also contributed the ubiquitous, Grammy-nominated song “Dance the Night” to the soundtrack ) and LaGrange, a sultry spy in “Argylle” (a brief performance AP film critic Jake Coyle described as the movie’s best few minutes ).

In 2022, she founded a newsletter called Service95, what she views as an extension of a childhood blog, to “tell stories from all around the world, not solely from a Western lens,” she says. It has grown into a website, podcast and book club: “It’s just another hobby of mine that I’ve somehow managed to turn into a job, which is just great,” she says, smiling.

“My day job, which is my music career, which I love, comes with constantly being online. And I think for me, at least now I’m searching for other things, and not doomscrolling on Twitter,” she says of her media enterprise. “At least this way I’m like learning something new about the world. I love having that kind of duality in my life.”

It’s a duality fueled by curiosity, like when Lipa made headlines late last year for challenging Apple CEO Tim Cook in an interview on her podcast over reports of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo mining cobalt for iPhones.

“That was scary, and really exciting,” she says. “You never really know what to expect when you go in to interview someone.”

A few days after visiting the AP’s New York headquarters, Lipa appears at a public high school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to speak to students in a conversation moderated by Drew Barrymore.

“One of the things I admire about her is how incredibly intelligent she is,” Barrymore says in her introduction, commending Lipa for not only being an “icon,” but someone who is “globally aware.”

In conversation, Lipa is generous and warm, particularly to a freshman drama student named Dolce, who is also Albanian, and expresses a desire to make it in the entertainment industry. Lipa tells her that identity, intentionally or not, is woven into her music.

At the end of the event, Lipa says she feels “optimistic about life overall, everything that comes with it,” and takes a moment to look out at the audience. “I’m the most optimistic about the next generation.”

And then, almost as swiftly as she arrived, Lipa leaves. A lingering positivity permeates the air. It recalls something she told the AP earlier in the week: that she strives to be “violently happy” in life and in her endeavors.

“You sometimes have to push yourself into that feeling,” she says. Remaining grateful is “definitely a muscle that needs to be exercised.”

On “Radical Optimism,” she’s written the workout soundtrack.

Maria Sherman, The Associated Press