The South London R&B singer taking over America...
Anyone passing through Times Square in New York recently may well have noticed Ella Mai in profile, her face lit up on a giant billboard. Towering over hordes of tourists was never on the 23-year-old South Londoner’s radar, but Ella Mai is the breakout star of summer 2018. Based in Los Angeles and signed to DJ Mustard’s 10 Summers label, Mai is behind bassy R&B jam Boo’d Up – and it’s growing into a monster. Recently certified platinum, it’s lodged in the US Top 10 and has been played almost 50 million times on Spotify. The video is closing in on 130m YouTube views, while a remix featuring Nicki Minaj and Quavo was recently released.
While it is yet to take off in the UK charts, Mai performed Boo’d Up on US TV and at the BET Awards. Then the billboards appeared, in honour of her status as YouTube Music’s Artist On The Rise. “Fairytale is 100% accurate,” Mai tells Music Week, discussing her rapid rise. “I have to pinch myself sometimes and remind myself that this is really happening! I am super-grateful for all the love and support.” The love-in started after DJ Mustard – who has worked with Rihanna, 2 Chainz and more – discovered Mai on Instagram. With 1.3m followers, she’s very aware of the power of social media. “Taking advantage of social media as an artist, or even as anyone who is trying to start something, is important,” she says. “Everyone is on their phone 24/7, so apps like Instagram are the best business tool.”
But Mai – who keeps up with the scene back in London, where she’s been lauded by none other than Stormzy – had to wait for her break. Three EPs, Time, Change and Ready, have dropped since 2016, and Boo’d Up is exploding more than a year after release. All the while, Mai and DJ Mustard have been nurturing her talent. “His role in my career is by far the biggest,” she says. “As the head of the label, a mentor and most importantly a big brother, he really has helped me grow. We came together and created such a specific sound that was so natural for the both of us.”
And Mai’s songs really do flow, full of emotion and personality. Perhaps it’s the ease with which they envelop you that draws people in. “My music is a reflection of what I feel or have felt before, it’s very genuine,” says Mai. “I enjoy being able to be 100% myself through the music.” And what has Boo’d Up, the ultimate sleeper hit, taught her about making records? “If you believe in it, put it out! Don’t let time, numbers or opinions dishearten you. What is meant to be will be.” With Ella Mai, it just sounds simple.