Arts

Mabel: High Expectations has been my identity for the last few years, my purpose

Mabel is having the kind of career that most young stars could only dream of, with a clutch of top 10 hits, a Brit nomination and a major US TV performance already under her belt. She talks about her hotly anticipated debut album, how she made it without the help of her famous parents and why she relishes feeling nervous

Mabel – 'I feel confident in what I'm making and what I'm doing, and I know that it's not because of my parents'

WEARING a Calvin Klein crop top and matching cycling shorts with a cardigan slung over the top, Mabel laughs at the suggestion that style is important to her.

I've just asked her how much her appearance means to her as a music artist, because she's clearly got a defined image – just a brief glance over her Instagram feed shows she favours a 90s-inspired look of colourful tracksuits with a feminine glam edge while rocking what appears to be a different hairstyle every day.

Almost make-up free yet enviably glowing, she jokes: "I mean, looking down at my very, very raggedy outfit right now, I'm like, errrr!?"

"You know what, though, it is important to me," she adds, confirming that she loves the idea of boyish sexiness and is inspired by the likes of 90s urban icons Aaliyah and TLC.

She laughs and smiles genuinely, talking at an excitable speed as we chat in a trendy but cool London venue that seems the ideal setting for an interview with one of Britain's hottest rising young stars.

The 23-year-old singer-songwriter has made waves since dropping her debut single Know Me Better in 2015, before bursting on to the mainstream with breakout hit Finders Keepers in 2017.

The R&B and pop artist with a voice like honey – the daughter of Swedish singer Neneh Cherry and British record producer Cameron McVey (her full name is Mabel McVey) – has seen her star rise since the release of her debut EP Bedroom and mixtape Ivy To Roses in 2017.

She's already got a handful of hit singles and collaborations under her belt, she has nearly 20 million monthly listeners on Spotify, and earlier this year she bagged a Brit nomination for British Breakthrough Act.

But her tropical house-inspired single Don't Call Me Up, released earlier this year, is perhaps her biggest triumph yet.

The catchy track debuted at number 11 before climbing to number three, making it her highest-charting song to date. It was recently certified by the Official Charts Company as the sixth biggest-selling single of 2019 so far, and the biggest single by a British female artist.

We're speaking the day after she heard the good news and she's still stunned about it, wide-eyed and animated.

She reveals she was exhausted and in the middle of a busy work day when her manager showed it to her.

"I was like, that's how I'm getting through today because that's an incredible achievement and I'm going think about that any time I feel really tired," she explains.

"It's the best thing, because then you know all of these things that are making me tired are paying off."

Following years of hard work, growing success and tiring schedules, Mabel is ready to unleash her long-awaited debut album on the world, High Expectations.

"It's been a two-year process making this record – I've really put everything into it," she says. "Some of the songs are old to me now and I've been performing them live for a while, but I can't wait for people to sing them back to me. It is nerve-racking and quite emotional because I'm really attached to it; it's been my identity in many ways for the last few years. It's been my purpose."

Mabel reckons the record was the making of her, both as an artist and as a young woman. Writing it encouraged her to delve deep into her psyche, as well as confront her battle with anxiety, something that has plagued her for years.

"It was really difficult for me to write my song OK (Anxiety Anthem) because it was about dealing with my anxiety and looking at it in a positive light," she says.

"I always say it took a day to write the song, but the actual process was longer than the making of the whole album, because it's about me actually coming to terms with my anxiety."

Having addressed her issues, she acknowledges she is in a better place now but still has to deal with nerves, particularly before a live performance.

However, she considers that sick-to-the-stomach feeling to be a positive.

"I get nervous but that's because I care," she notes. "Nerves are really good; I just love every single person that's out in the crowd so much and I just want to give them the best show possible, so I hope the nerves never leave me."

However, as nerve-racking as a gig might be, nothing compares to performing on television in front of an audience of millions.

Mabel shakes her head, smiling as she recalls making her debut on US TV earlier this year on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

"It was the most nervous I have ever been in my life," she confesses, adding that her stint on The Graham Norton Show earlier this year was another real pinch-me moment.

"It's scary because I've watched both of those shows and like, when you have watched something and then you're standing somewhere where a big artist has stood, and it's your turn, those things live forever.

"And I have a tendency to catastrophise and be like, 'this could happen or that', and what's crazy is that when they actually start, I'm like, 'Of course I can do this. I spent two days spooking myself but here I am standing here and doing it.'"

She says she was "having a meltdown" before going on Fallon's show, though, because she thought she would embarrass herself in front of "the whole world".

"Sometimes it's easy to get impostor syndrome and think, 'Oh my God I am not supposed to be here, everybody can see that, blah blah blah.' But it's important to have those moments when you stress, because it then makes the highs feel so much higher."

Clearly driven and ambitious to her core with a work ethic to rival any pop star who has been in the game for decades, Mabel is keen to make it known that she got to this point by herself – she did not use her parents as a step-up into the industry, although she says they do offer her all the support she needs to make her career her own.

"I used to be really afraid that my parents were the only thing that people were going to care about and, to be honest, I've just spent years at interviews going, 'Shall we just call in my mum?'" she laughs.

"It's frustrating when you're making good music and you're working hard. You're just like, why are we talking about this?

"But at the same time, I'm really proud of what they've accomplished, and I've got to a point with it where it's not embarrassing to talk about and it's not going to take away from me as an artist, because they're amazing people that have accomplished incredible things."

She adds: "With the confidence I have now, it doesn't bother me as much. I feel confident in what I'm making and what I'm doing, and I know that it's not because of them."

:: High Expectations by Mabel is out today. Mabel plays Dublin's Olympia theatre on January 29 2020 and the Ulster Hall, Belfast, on January 30 (ticketmaster.ie).

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