It was a bright and stifling day in Singapore, where British singer-songwriter Mabel sat down for an interview with Young Post, before her big showcase at night. The 23-year-old spoke to us about her upcoming album, growing up with anxiety, and her journey to self-discovery.
Born Mabel McVey, the pop star embarked on her music journey four years ago when she released her single Know Me Better, and she has since risen to become one of the top up-and-coming R’n’B artists in Britain. In 2017, her song Finders Keepers went platinum, and sat in the Top 10 charts for five consecutive weeks.
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Her hit track Don’t Call Me Up, which she released earlier this year, has racked up more than 100 million views on YouTube. And, just last Friday, she released her first ever full-length album, High Expectations, and now she is preparing for her 2020 tour.
Music was always a big part of Mabel’s life, with two 80s music icons – Swedish singer-songwriter and rapper Neneh Cherry and British singer and music producer Cameron McVey – as her parents.
You might immediately think the pressure to follow in her parent’s footsteps is what drove her to pursue a career in music, but the pop star says she naturally developed a love for music at a very young age, and decided this was what she wanted to with her life at the age of 18.
“When I went to my parents and said this is what I’m gonna do for music, sign a record label and everything, my father was like, ‘That’s great, do you, enjoy!’” says Mabel.
Though Mabel lives in Britain, she was born in Spain and studied music in Sweden. Growing up mixed-race and being consistently culturally displaced was not so easy for the singer growing up. She says it caused feelings of anxiety, which led her to drop out of school – something that she touches on in some of her songs such as OK, Anxiety Anthem.
Mabel says that particular track is especially personal, as she delves into her own journey of battling anxiety.
“I wanted to send that message to people because I felt quite alone with it growing up, so hopefully [I can] make people feel less alone and people can relate with it.”
She adds the best piece of advice she had received was from her father. Before she embarks on her musical journey, he told her that she should “make sure that what you’re making is like genuinely making you happy, because If it’s not, money and fame and all of those things won’t feel good”.
“Figure out what it is that you really want to make,” he had told her, “then don’t let other people’s opinions affect that.”
The young artist adds she is in a good place now, and has learned to be comfortable with herself and not let other people’s opinions affect her too much.
“I’ve come to a point where I’m okay with good days as well as bad days, ” she says. “Having anxiety is nothing to be embarrassed about and nothing to be ashamed about.”
When Mabel writes her songs, she likes to jot down the things that are going on in her life to reflect upon, and she brings those stories to the studio and builds a beat around them. She likens the songwriting process to going on a journey of self-discovery. “You see good things and also bad things about yourself, and you’re really looking at your inside world, picking at old wounds.”
Mabel is a big supporter of self-love and female power, which is clear in her music. She believes that confidence and honestly are key to good songwriting. Her biggest hit, Don’t Call Me Up, was written based on a previous relationship. In the song, she tells listeners about her struggles to get over her ex, but also how she has become a stronger person without him.
It is this openness that has resulted in her large female-heavy fan base. One of her fans, Kemme Lau, a teen from Singapore, shares, “I like Mabel because her music is very [special] to me, there’s a lot about self-empowerment. Sometimes when there are negative subjects, she can make it very catchy. She turns very negative things into something fun to listen to.”
If there is one thing the singer would like her fans to take away from her latest album, it would be self-confidence.
“If I can make them feel empowered and feel stronger and beautiful, I would be very happy,” says Mabel.