MAY-A: Singer-songwriter parlaying YouTube success into heart-on-sleeve indie pop confessionals

Every month in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’d have no doubt seen opening the bill for your favourite act. Maya Cumming talks cultivating resilience in the face of online trolls and the life-changing relationship that inspired single ‘Apricots’ and her debut EP

I hit Andrew with my stick, best day of my life,” sings MAY-A, doubling over with joy. The Byron Bay-via-Sydney artist born Maya Cumming is quoting Melbourne sketch troupe Aunty Donna. At first blush, the rising indie pop singer has little in common with the comedy trio, who’ve recently springboarded off their YouTube and stage success into a Netflix special. But both have built dedicated online followings through diligently disseminating zeitgeisty content with a piss-taking charm.

Before she pivoted into music, Cumming amassed a decent YouTube following for her hectic videos capturing high school shenanigans. Heyit’smaya boasts 250,000 subscribers and the plainspoken slogan “I like the internet and I have no life.”

The tousle-haired 19-year-old takes NME’s Zoom call from an idyllic, palm tree-filled setting, munching on peanut butter toast and arching an eyebrow as she looks for a better Wi-Fi signal.

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“I didn’t get a whole lot of validation from my parents,” Cumming says, attempting to explain why she was “fucking hellbent” on being a YouTuber in high school.

“I feel like I just wanted to make things for someone to be like, ‘This is good’.” Cumming’s viral videos include “The struggles of Australia” where she pretends to be eaten by a shark (470,000 views), and “REACTING TO F*CKBOYS ON MUSICAL.LY!!” where she rips on lip-sync try-hards (1.8million).

“I’ve dealt with hundreds of comments being like, ‘You’re a fraud, you’re a fake, this isn’t the real you’”

Cumming didn’t do it for the fame. “I would always be super awkward and turn the conversation back when fans approached me.” The life of a YouTuber had its downsides both IRL and URL: it caused friction with her FOMO-suffering friends, and left Cumming at the mercy of keyboard warriors at the height of troll culture.

“I was talking to Tones And I recently,” Cumming recalls, “and she was saying ‘You’re in such a good position right now. People will start saying shit, you need to prepare for the type of hate you’re gonna get’.”

Cumming feels bulletproof, though. She cultivated resilience before it became a buzzword. “I’ve dealt with hundreds of comments being like, ‘You’re a fraud, you’re a fake, this isn’t the real you’.”

The real her is MAY-A the singer, a burgeoning star who – on the basis of her debut EP out July 23 – is on a vertical trajectory. She’s more than ready for it. “I was doing songwriting camps when I was 16 and all the other songwriters were like, in their early 20s.” Cumming feels like she’s been stuck in limbo for ages. “The past two years, I’ve just felt 22. I don’t know why the fuck my brain’s doing that.”

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After her first single ‘Green’ – think Smashing Pumpkins meets Broods – blew up, MAY-A signed to Sony and released ‘Apricots’, a song about abruptly understanding her romantic preferences and her biggest single yet. ‘Apricots’ spilled out of her one fruitful (sorry) afternoon.

“I’d been obsessing over this girl for three months at high school, but I’d had no conversation with her,” Cummings guffaws self-consciously.

“Every single person I asked about her was like, ‘I’ve no idea you’re talking about’. I started thinking I was imagining her.”

As fate would have it, this girl texted Cumming first. “She reached out to me, we hung out and got along like a fucking house on fire. Then I had to leave because I had to go to the studio. That was the first time I was like, ‘I don’t want to be here, I want to go and see her’. I had tunnel vision.”

NME politely inquires whether Cumming had kissed a girl before this point. “No, no, it was really funny. I pretended to not be gay for so long then I saw this girl and was like ‘Oh, well, I’m going with this now’,” she says. “I thought I was bi, but I could never see myself with a man.”

The life-changing afternoon charged Cumming with “mad scientist energy”, giving not one but two songs about her new muse: ‘Apricots’ and ‘Time I Love To Waste’. “I was bouncing off the walls, saying to my producer Robby De Sa, ‘What if we do it this way!?’” she blurts, eyes bulging out of her head.

‘Apricots’ starts with a plaintive Chili Peppers guitar and crescendos with a multi-tracked realisation: “You’re not looking for a girl when it’s something you don’t know you want.” No metaphors here, just MAY-A letting us have floor seats to watch her coming of age. ‘Apricots’ helped score her triple j Unearthed Feature Artist and coverage in Variety, Tone Deaf, Pilerats, Sniffers, Coup De Main and Purple Sneakers.

‘Time I Love To Waste’ was slightly different. It “started about her, then I realised that it was more about me,” Cumming says. As is the case with young love, feelings shifted slowly then sharply. “We ended up breaking up about a year afterwards,” she explains. “So it’s super awkward, but super funny. I wrote half the EP about being in love with her, then other songs like ‘Swing Of Things’ [her new single, out tomorrow] is about being in social situations without her – not having that crutch.”

“I pretended to not be gay for so long then I saw this girl and was like ‘Oh, well, I’m going with this now’”

MAY-A recounts a flashpoint in the song ‘Central Station’: “Sitting on a train and I’m talking to my girlfriend / She sends me emojis even though I fucking hate them.”

Cumming takes NME back into that train carriage. “I was about to break up with her, just at that stage where everything they do just irks you,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘I swear to God, send me one more smiley face emoji. Just fucking do it’.”

MAY-A’s mama, though, took the song a bit too literally. “My mother texted me: ‘I’m so sorry I’ve been sending you emojis’. Oh mum, it’s just a song,” she says, rolling her eyes.

Cumming moved into an apartment by herself before lockdown. “I kept making stupid decisions so that I didn’t have to be alone. I would just take random people home.” But she’s also found a new community in the band with which she recently performed headline shows in Melbourne and Sydney.

“I have an all-girl band and they’re like, my fucking family,” she gushes. “I never want any of them to leave. So I’m going to lock them all in a cage. I love them so much. And I think that we’re all super lucky to have found each other.”

MAY-A’s checklist has plenty of ticks right now. She has a cracking band, a hot EP about to drop, and another hit-in-waiting collaboration produced by (shhh) Matt Corby and Chris Collins, out in a few months.

The best day of her life hasn’t even happened yet.

MAY-A’s new single ‘Swing Of Things’ is out out May 20

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