“I don’t feel new to the industry, if anything I feel like a bit of an OAP” – in music industry years, Mahalia is like a well-decorated veteran. The Leicester native signed a record deal aged 13 to Atlantic – with a helping hand from Ed Sheeran, no less – and now, seven years later, she’s having a bit of a moment.
Following a viral performance of her song ‘Sober’ (it currently sits at 10m views) last Autumn, the R&B act is building on a successful streak of singles. It culminates in her most recent, ‘I Wish I Missed My Ex’, a slinking jam that’ll be the giddy soundtrack to cleansing your social media history of your former lover. It’s also the song that cements her place front and centre in the pack of rising female acts giving British R&B a forceful reputation across the globe. Mahalia’s journey has been long, but it’s proved to be a revelatory.
You were signed at age 13, and Ed Sheeran played a role, didn’t he?
I met Ed through Amy Wadge [written with Sheeran, Kacey Musgraves] and she introduced me to him at his headline show in Wolverhampton in 2012. It was all really serious because I was a really huge fan of his and then she was like ‘hey, come meet Ed’. I was really nervous and he was really lovely then he tweeted about me and was like ‘everyone go check out this girl’ and then I was literally signed a few months later. He influenced this whole thing – I guess it was that moment and then the rest is history.
It’s been a long journey to here – did you always enjoy it?
I definitely at times resented it, and at times was like ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ and ‘it’s ruining my life’, but I was just a teenager who wanted to be only a teenager and nothing else.
What do you wish you had known when it all started?
I think to ‘be ready’. I think a lot of me was so naïve to it all. Because there are parts of me now that I’m annoyed at. Like, I wish I had practised my guitar everyday, or I wish that I’d have written a new song every week. There were parts of me that were definitely lazy as a teenager and it’s like now I feel like I’m almost catching up on myself.
Would speaking to someone who’d been in your position have helped?
I wish I had, but I’m also happy that I didn’t because its such a personal experience. You can take all of the advice from like everybody in the world but it’s never really your own true experience, so I’m really happy that I got to go through that and I got to see all the bad sides and all the good sides.
Now you’re here with ‘I Wish I Missed My Ex’ – talk us through it.
It’s basically me just talking about breaking up with somebody, them constantly calling me and me just being like ‘I’m really sorry but I’m just not feeling this anymore’. Its that’s kind of thing where its not a spiteful song, its actually kind of the opposite, its saying ‘I wish I missed you, but I don’t’.
Recent material has seen you put in the same bracket as artists like Jorja Smith, Mabel and Raye. Do you like that you’re seen as one of the people leading British R&B now?
I think we’re definitely all doing different things; I don’t feel like we’re all in the same pot. But then at the same time it’s really lovely that we all clearly support each other and everybody really loves what everyone does – that’s just really cool, because it’s also really rare. But I definitely don’t feel like we’re all doing the same thing – we’re all navigating our own way through the music industry.
Not long ago, you had an Instagram post about having an “image” and your appearance. What brought that on?
I’ve always wanted people to know the real me and I feel like I’m quite honest in my music and so I’m quite honest in my being and my personality. I would never want people to look at me and see anything in me that is unobtainable. I want people to see me and know that ‘she did it so I can do it’. When I talk about my hair or my skin or my voice or my body, I want people, especially young women to look at me and be like ‘she is me’.
As an artist there’s always this underlying thing that you have to be ‘aspirational’, and what I find so much is that that aspirational thing is always attached to looks. It’s like, ‘Hold on, if I was a kid and I saw a girl stood on a stage in front of 500 people, I would just find that in itself aspirational.’
Now working on new music – what’s the end goal for this journey of yours?
It’s this whole thing about ‘think global, go global’, I don’t know what’s happened to my headspace really but I’m just thinking about that. That is the aim. Genuinely, I do see myself as a global artist and I feel like two years ago that would have been me sounding arrogant, but now I think if I don’t believe in myself then nobody else can.
Mahalia’s ‘I Wish I Missed My Ex’ is out now