- Words Notion Staff
This year's viral sensation Mae Stephens talks breakup anthems, FaceTimes with Meghan Trainor and why she'll always support the misfits.
Understandably, having released the biggest debut single of 2023, there’s a lot of weight on Mae Stephens’ shoulders. The Kettering-born singer-songwriter was working in Asda, until she woke up on New Year’s Day to find her track “If We Ever Broke Up” had become a viral sensation. Nowadays, the rapidly rising artist walks the stages of Britain’s biggest festivals rather than the isles of supermarkets; stocking shelves will have to wait while becoming a generational popstar becomes the vocalist’s new calling.
Earlier this month, Mae pulled a huge crowd at Latitude Festival. Later this summer, she’ll take to Reading & Leeds Festival’s Republic stage, in what will be one of the most anticipated performances across the weekend. And if that wasn’t enough, she played the Lonely Hearts Club at Glastonbury Festival, serenading a snoozy Sunday afternoon crowd with her shimmery vocals.
Glazed with glittery disco production, Mae’s latest single, “Mr Right”, is another landmark moment for the artist. Joined by childhood idol Meghan Trainor, the track analyses online dating with a tongue-in-cheek prowess: stained vests and stinky breath are just a couple of icks she describes over an empowering pop instrumental.
It hasn’t always been so easy for Mae. Bullied at school for doing what she loved most, the EMI-signed artist had to battle alienation when uploading those adolescent singing videos to YouTube. The irony now is, she has a loyal following of ‘misfits’ yearning for her unmistakable pop balladry.
While Mae waits eagerly for a second dose of virality, we sat down with the singer to talk breakup anthems, FaceTime chats with Meghan Trainor and more.
Let’s start with where it all began for you. It’s been a little while since the release of “If We Ever Broke Up”, how does it feel reflecting on that now you’ve had a little bit of time to process it?
It still feels mad. I still feel like I’m going to wake up from a dream one day; it doesn’t feel like my life, I feel like I’m watching someone else’s life from a screen. I am so grateful for everything that’s happened.
“If We Ever Broke Up” is undoubtedly a hyper-feel-good song. When you were writing the track, what reaction were you hoping listeners would have? How did you want them to feel?
I wanted them to have a song that was empowering and helped after a breakup: a song they could relate and dance to. “If We Ever Broke Up” was a message for people to know their worth, wear their crowns and stay true to themselves.
You have a new single out now, “Mr Right” – with Meghan Trainor who gave you solace whilst you were being bullied at school – how did this come about and how does it feel to do a full circle moment?
I wanted to cry, to be honest, It’s not every day that you get to release a song with someone you absolutely idolised as a kid. She heard my song on TikTok and got in touch. The next thing I know, I was on a FaceTime call with her as she gave me a tour of her house! She is incredible and I’m super excited about it.
Could you talk us through the creative process of making the new track?
Funnily enough, it started with me meeting NEIKED. We got into the topic of online dating randomly, and then we thought, let’s write a fun song about it! Jake Torrey and I came up with the worst things that happened to us on a date like yellow stains on vests, bad breath, et cetera and the song was born!
Your rise to recognition via TikTok was rapid, but are there any other artists whose trajectory you’d like to follow?
Billie Eillish rocketed to stardom so quickly. I’ve never seen an artist go from zero to hero so fast! What she has achieved is so inspiring! She started from such a young age too.
You’ve said how instrumental your dad was when starting out in the music industry – a professed ‘dadager’. What did it mean to have your parents with you for the journey, and how did it feel to then hand the reigns over to EMI, your new record label?
I felt very emotional. When you’re working with someone so closely, especially family, it’s threatening at the beginning, but I wanted this to happen for such a long time! My dad wasn’t ready to let go and neither was I at the beginning but the team is incredible and we think we made the right decision.
A lot of your earlier music stemmed from feeling pent-up anger about school, and the bullying that went on. Now, with your loyal following of ‘misfits’, how does it feel to have so much support behind you?
It feels very alien. When you’re used to being put down your entire life, it feels incredible but very weird at the same time. Having support from anyone is amazing; I never would have thought it would happen to me. I love the misfits!
And you’ve mentioned that writing those ballads acted as a form of therapy. How has music allowed you to come into your own, and deal with struggles?
It’s not only giving me the opportunity to have a safe space but right now music is an escape from me. If I’m getting stressed out as an artist, I have to write more! Or, if something bad happens, I turn to writing; I never get sick of writing.
If we were to put the music to one side for a moment, what else makes you happy?
If I was to put music to the side, I would actually do something simple like spending time with my family: my grandparents, my friends and my boyfriend. I think it would be nice to have proper time with them.
And, finally, we’d love to know what you’ve got your sights set on for 2023 and beyond. What can Mae’s misfits expect to see from you next?
More performances, more music, more madness.