WITH a debut album called High Expectations, Mabel has set an ambitious target for herself.
Not surprising, perhaps, as she comes from musical royalty. Her mother is the Swedish singer-songwriter Neneh Cherry and dad is Massive Attack/All Saints producer Cameron McVey.
But for Mabel it was about doing things her way.
“They’re just Mum and Dad to me and we’ve kept it all so separate,” says Mabel.
“I was making my own music and I was doing that by myself and they were doing their thing — Mum making her own music.
“At the end of the day, we are just family. My parents listen to my music and come to my shows but they are far more interesting as Mum and Dad than as a producer and an artist who will judge my stuff.
“I just want to spend time with them as my parents. I’m much more interested in having that relationship with them.”
Sitting in the café of the Beats 1 radio station in north London, 23-year-old Mabel is the image of her famous mum.
She looks stylish in a Lacoste jacket, her hair scraped back into a ponytail and with standout long yellow nails. It’s why she’s all over the fashion press as well as the music press.
We’ve been excited about Mabel’s debut album for what seems like ages. Her tracks Finders Keepers, Don’t Call Me Up and Mad Love have already been big hits for the singer/songwriter and she was nominated for the Brits Critics’ Choice Award in 2018 and Best Breakthrough in 2019.
She says: “The reason High Expectations has been highly anticipated is because I took my time. I could have given everybody a project a year ago, with 14 or 15 really good songs. But I didn’t want to do that.
“I needed to arrive at the point where I am now. I needed to be comfortable in myself and in the stories and messages that I’m telling or else I’m not interested. It has to be honest and real.”
On High Expectations, one family member she HAS worked with is her half-brother, songwriter, producer and former Mattafix frontman Marlon Roudette.
She says: “When I first started making music in London, I worked with a few people — experimenting and sitting around figuring things out. My brother played a massive part in that.
“He’s 14 years older than me, so making music together has been our way to find our friendship.”
On High Expectations Mabel also worked with Steve Mac (Ed Sheeran), Fraser T Smith (Adele, Stormzy), MNEK (Clean Bandit), Oak (Nicki Minaj, Alicia Keys), Camille Purcell (Jess Glynne) and Jax Jones (Duke Dumont).
She says: “Who they are and who they’ve worked with doesn’t matter to me. Everything depends on who I get on with as a person.
“It’s easy to make a list of ten people who I want to work with but you could have zero chemistry with them.
Being pop star used to be about perfection…but I am very human
“I am only interested in making music with people that I gel with as I have to open my heart and be honest and that isn’t easy. You often have to dig up old wounds and put yourself under a magnifying glass. My songs have to be my own story.”
Mabel says making High Expectations was a journey of self-exploration and not always easy.
“I had to examine myself and put myself back together. Growing up I’d had lots of confidence issues.
“They were crippling. Even up to the point of making the album, I still had confidence issues and problems with anxiety.
‘SWEDEN IS GREAT BUT IT’S TOO SAFE’
“But making the album, I came out the other side. Now I am OK with all of it. I started to believe in myself and deal with my negative thoughts. I wrote a song called OK (Anxiety Anthem) which is the most important track on the record as it’s the one that made everything happen.
“I’d had a low day and was meant to be working with MNEK that day. I was embarrassed and felt like I’d failed so I started to write how I felt and that became the song. Now when I feel like that, I know how important it is to open up and talk.”
Mabel was born in Spain and moved from London to Stockholm when she was eight. She started writing songs on the piano when she was six and attended Rytmus music college (Sweden’s version of the Brit School).
“I was a real worrier when I was little,” says Mabel. “I had big questions from a very young age and I carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was always catastrophising things and my parents were so helpful.
“They encouraged me to express my thoughts, so I started a journal. When I started playing piano, I connected my journals and feelings with the chords and wrote songs. But I would never perform them until I was 18.
“Until then I did my own little shows at home to Beyonce and Destiny’s Child songs.
“When I started college I began to work on my own songs and when I was 18 and graduated, I knew I had to move to London as singing was what I wanted to do.”
Mabel says moving to London was important for her as she’d needed to escape Stockholm.
‘I NEEDED TO GO SOMEWHERE WILDER’
“It’s a great city but it’s safe – it keeps you safe in a box and encourages conformity. I’m multicultural, my dad is from London and my mum is half-Sierra Leonan, half-Swedish.
“I don’t have a conventional family as my parents are musicians and travel a lot, so I felt kind of alien. In Sweden we have the word ‘lagom’ which means ‘not too much and not too little’.
“Everything has to be in the middle. You shouldn’t be too loud or too quiet and this stopped my creativity. I needed to go somewhere that is a little bit wilder and crazier.”
From break-ups on Don’t Call Me Up; telling a man how she wants to be treated on Mad Love; dealing with anxiety and panic attacks on OK (Anxiety Anthem) and having fun with friends on Bad Behaviour, High Expectations is an album that documents the ups and downs of Mabel’s life.
‘KNOW YOUR WORTH, BELIEVE IN YOURSELF’
Mabel says: “I love Bad Behaviour and wanted to write a song with a vibe that made girls want to dance. I love the idea of girls putting it on before they go out.
“I’d had a wild night out recently, which is quite unusual for me as I am always working and very focused. But it made me think how important nights like those are. I’m young and I need to have fun.”
The singer is so engrossed in her work she’s not had any time for love after the break-up of her first relationship, which inspired some songs on High Expectations.
She says: “Me and my ex are friends now and have gone past the stage when I wrote Don’t Call Me Up.
‘SOCIAL MEDIA HAS KILLED ROMANCE’
“It was a confusing relationship as it was a fiery one which I took as meaning it was passionate. But maybe it was just drama!
“My parents have been in love for so long that growing up I wanted what they had when it came to love. They’ve been together 30 years and had ups and downs but are still together — that’s what a real relationship is about.
“I also think with my generation, social media has killed romance as everyone tries to be someone else on social media or puts out a ‘perfect life’ and ‘perfect relationship’ but those social media relationships are not real.”
Last year, Mabel supported Harry Styles and wants to play more arenas in the future.
“Every touring experience you definitely learn something new,” she says.
“That was my first experience of being on the road for that long and I don’t think I’d played shows that big before. It was incredible and gave me a lot of confidence.
“Harry is so lovely, and I gained a lot of fans off the back of those shows. They were so loving and supportive and really took me in.” Mabel has been gathering more famous fans besides Styles.
Some people say I’ve sold out but my music has changed as I’ve changed and I’m proud of that
“I want to tour the world and get as many streams as possible out there. I am ambitious. I have never ever been ashamed of saying that.
“Some people say I’ve sold out from the underground to the mainstream, that my music has changed. But it’s changed as I’ve changed.
“We evolve and I am proud of that. I am glad my music doesn’t sound the same as it did when I did Finders Keepers, which I still love, but I want to grow.
“But now I don’t listen to the haters or trolls. I’ve had people call me fat, criticise my skin, say I can’t sing or dance and say I’ve sold out. But I am totally comfortable with everything and I don’t listen to those people.
“Know your worth, believe in your power and know you don’t need another person to validate you.
“At the end of the day, the most important relationship is the relationship you have with yourself.
“There was a time when pop stardom was about being perfect and untouchable, but I am human. I have a responsibility with the young listeners and platform I have.
“If any of my idols had revealed they suffered from anxiety when I was 15 it would’ve blown my mind.
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“There is nothing embarrassing about being vulnerable. It doesn’t make you weak.
“And all that is the story to making this album. That is what people need to take from the record.
“And if I can help people feel happy with themselves through it, then I am happy.”
Mabel: High Expectations
- High Expectations (Intro)
- Bad Behaviour
- Don’t Call Me Up
- We Don’t Say…
- Selfish Love [ft Kamille]
- Lucky (Interlude)
- Mad Love
- Put Your Name On it
- Stckhlm Syndrome (Interlude)
- OK (Anxiety Anthem)
- I Belong To Me
- High Expectations (Outro)
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