Five things we learned from our In Conversation video chat with mxmtoon

The singer/songwriter and online sensation previews her new album 'rising', discusses the influence of TikTok and her love of ABBA

“I never thought I’d travel to London in my lifetime,” Maia, AKA mxmtoon, admits as she sits down with NME in the capital. Less than an hour ago, she announced her second album ‘rising’ alongside the release of the brilliant single ‘sad disco’. Was she nervous about it? “It completely slipped my mind that it was even happening,” she laughs. “Just enjoying the ride is probably the best way to describe [my life] right now.”

It had been been nearly two years since Maia released any new mxmtoon music, bar one 2021 song which came out as part of the adventure game Life Is Strange: True Colours. “I feel like ‘sad disco’ has been a long time coming,” Maia says now, adding that she’s “excited and antsy to introduce people to what I’ve been working on”. There’s also the tiniest hint of fear, too. Like fellow bedroom pop artists Girl In Red, Chloe Moriondo and Beabadoobee, mxmtoon initially broke through with delicate, lo-fi tracks that were both incredibly personal but entirely relatable (see 2019’s ukulele-led ‘prom dress’, inspired by a panic attack and featuring lyrics like “I’d be the prom queen if crying was a contest”). ‘sad disco’, however, is a shiny, poptastic number that pulls heavily from ABBA and will make you want to dance around your bedroom rather than hide under the covers.

“I know my audience to be people who really love Phoebe Bridgers, Clairo and Taylor Swift – [music that is] sadder, more mellow, more thoughtful – but this record is me flexing a different muscle,” Maia says. “Despite the fact that I write songs that are more downtempo, that’s not the music I listen to: I listen to disco, funk and pop music. I just love upbeat songs.” ‘rising’, though, isn’t the start of mxmtoon’s pop star era. “I don’t want to be an Ariana Grande-type of artist: I think that’d be too much pressure. I think, if anything,  hopefully [this new album] just opens another door for me to explore, and allows people to continue to broaden their perspective of what an artist can be.”

Advertisement

For the latest in NME’s In Conversation series, we spoke to mxmtoon about being a TikTok sensation, her Disney Channel-inspired new album and her favourite ABBA song. Here’s what we learned.

The new mxmtoon album is inspired by comforting, nostalgic pop

The second mxmtoon album, according to Maia, is influenced by the likes of ABBA and Lily Allen, while also pulling from nursery rhymes and the animated adventure show Phineas and Ferb. “I feel like I hit a lot of different boxes in terms of people I was drawing inspiration from,” Maia explains, before promising that “people still haven’t heard the full scope of what’s to come, which is so exciting. But I also hope that they like it”.

During the pandemic, Maia was “just leaning on things that provided me [with] a lot of comfort growing up, like so many of us were”. She adds: “I think naturally, just by a reactionary process of something so traumatic happening, I needed to find things that were comforting. I ended up looking back on the songs that I sang when I was six-years-old, and trying to look at the moment I realised I loved music – like watching Mamma Mia for the first time.”

‘rising’ is a coming-of-age record

Despite not having a vision for it going in, the mantra of the second mxmtoon album is: “This is different, this is new and we’re moving on.” “I wrote a lot about growing up,” Maia says, explaining that the pandemic has had a huge effect on her. “It’s so crazy that I started this pandemic at the age of 19, and I’m 21 now. Two years is a long time to sit and think about who you are and what you will become.”

Because of that forced introspection, “a lot of the lyrics are about getting older, leaving behind the teenager that I was when I started my job and growing into the adult that I’m trying to be”. It’s a journey that Maia knows a lot of her audience will have also been on: “There’s been this universal experience of us all trying to navigate what it means to be where we are now versus where we began, when this all started.”

The new record is the final part of a trilogy that started with her ‘dawn’ and ‘dusk’ EPs

Advertisement

Both released in 2020, ‘dawn’ and ‘dusk’ saw mxmtoon curate one record of positive, up-tempo tracks and one featuring quiet, vulnerable songs. Listening to her describe ‘rising’ now, it sounds like mxmtoon’s new album is a deliberate combination of those two different vibes. “It accidentally became that, for sure,” Maia says. “‘rising’ feels like the third installment of those songs: a mixture of more sad, introspective songs and the happier, upbeat songs that can talk about joyful experience. I think it naturally cemented itself as being the closing sentence to everything that has happened, to allow me to move on to the next version of myself.”

TikTok has helped mxmtoon find herself

mxmtoon has grown up online, having started her own YouTube channel in 2013 to now be using Instagram, TikTok and Twitter to communicate with her ever-growing fanbase. However, as she tells NME, “I’m not the 17-year-old girl who started playing her ukulele any more. I’m a 21-year-old girl who kind of plays the ukulele sometimes, but maybe wants to do some different things.”

TikTok has helped that process. “There’s a lot of truth to the fact that I’ve always been very myself online,” Maia continues. “I can be sad sometimes, but I definitely think I carry myself in a very different way than people might expect. I’m a pretty jovial person. TikTok has definitely allowed people to see that I’m not the way my music sounds, and I think that this [new] music is actually more reflective of who I am. We’ve had so much time to sit with ourselves and think about who we are in the past few years, I just felt this urge to be me in the fullest way that I could possibly be.”

mxmtoon sees herself more as an aunt or older sister to her fans than a role model

mxmtoon hopes that her new music will provide her fans with “the same sort of wisdom that [these songs have] given my own life”. She acknowledges that many of her fans may see her as a role model, telling NME: “I naturally have ended up being a figure for people to look up to in some ways, and I’m just so honoured. [But] I feel like more of an older sister or an aunt than a role model. I would love to claim that title eventually, but I am such a mess. Allowing myself to be the older sister gives me more room to be messy and weird.”

mxmtoon’s new album ‘rising’ will be released on May 20 via AWAL

Advertisement
Advertisement