GRAZIA: Last time you spoke with GRAZIA you said the spotlight’s biggest challenge was, “Being a perfectionist and realising that not everybody is going to love what you do.” How has that changed two years on and after amassing over four billion streams worldwide?
Mabel: “It couldn’t have changed more, honestly. I’m still a perfectionist [but] I worked really hard on not letting it get in the way of the enjoyment. I think before I was so much of a perfectionist that I wouldn’t actually enjoy what I was doing, and I wasn’t present. I think that took away from what should have been some of the best moments that I’d ever had, just being so focused on everything being 100 percent… You have to let go of that idea of something being flawless or being flawless as an artist to really be able to be happy.”
You’ve said that your latest single “Let Them Know” is inspired by drag queens. What was it about drag culture that inspired the tone and theme of this song?
M: “I mean, it’s inspired by a lot of things. When it really clicked for me was going back and listening to CeCe Peniston, “Finally” and definitely Madonna, “Vogue.” Some of the Whitney tunes in the 90s that were dance-based, where soulful music meets the dance world – that was very much about the culture and very much about being who you are, and sort of wanting to bring that back into now. I grew up in a house where drag culture and ballroom culture was very celebrated by my mother and by my late godfather.
They showed me “Paris Is Burning” and we watched “[RuPaul’s] Drag Race” as a family. It’s just something that I grew up around and I think obviously that’s not my journey, but I respect it so highly. What I’ve taken from that is that you should be who you are unapologetically, which is very brave. But not everybody grows up in a household the way that I did where you celebrate all different sides of yourself. [I did] the crazy things that I wanted to do, wanted to wear, and wanted to say. I was encouraged to do that as a kid. In other ways it was more outside of the house where I started slowly suppressing sides of myself…
“I think we have all at some point felt like we couldn’t be who we are, and I’m so done with it. I’m so sick of it.”
I just want to encourage anybody who’s ever felt like they’ve been in a space or maybe spent their whole lives feeling like they can’t release a side of themselves that needs to be free.”
Would you say that your expected upcoming album embodies these values as well?
M: “The music that’s coming, I definitely would say that it is all about being who you really are. I think you have to let go of perfectionism to be who you really are because real confidence is about knowing yourself, knowing the good things, knowing the bad things, seeing it as a whole. Saying, ‘Ok, but I still love this person. This person is still great.’”
You’ve said in the past that this new music is all about shedding your previous worries and preoccupations and “reintroducing” yourself. Lyrically and sonically, will there be a big difference between your previous music?
M: “I think with “Let Them Know,” you can sort of hear where I’m going. I wanted to make something that was fun. With all the things that have been going on there’s been so much darkness in the world. I wanted to speak about the good times that we have had but also about the freedom that I’m so confident we will have in the future, and that we will be reunited on the dance floor. That was really important to me. To make people feel good even if people are just going to be dancing in their homes.”
You’re no stranger to dressing up and embodying a strong visual identity. How important do you think reinvention is for musicians from record to record?
M: “I think there’s a very fine line and a balance between showing people your different sides and reinventing yourself to a certain degree. But also staying true to who you are because you don’t want to confuse anybody either. For me it’s all been a journey. I started off as an RnB artist and then slowly transitioned into a dance.
Big records that everybody can relate to, that you can’t define necessarily, that are inspired by so many different things. I think that I’ve been good as an artist in showing people that I’m capable of more than one thing, so why box yourself in as an artist? That’s why I love Rihanna so much. She’s done so many different things but not at any point have we asked, ‘I’m confused, who is she?’”
You come from a mixed heritage background and you have musical parents as well. How has this inspired your song writing?
M: “Where you are really influences what you’re creating. I really delved into my background – that’s always going to make your music stronger. Being in London, living in Sweden before that, and spending time in America, my music is always me but it sounds different in every place.
My mum was always so adamant that we know about our heritage and that we be proud about [our] culture. If anything, that’s just an amazing asset as a person and as an artist to have all these different places to draw inspiration from.”
So many young musicians and actors have been speaking out recently about the mental health struggles they had when navigating fame and success for the first time. Recently, you also spoke about your anxiety. What is your advice to other young, aspiring creatives when it comes to navigating newfound and often overwhelming attention?
M: “With newfound fame and overwhelming attention nothing can really prepare you for that. And that’s ok… So I think that’s always going to take a minute, and we find our own ways to deal with them. What would have saved me a lot of time, but again people kept telling me and I had to just figure out for myself, is that in the beginning you’ll get 200 amazing comments. You’ll get one negative [comment] which you know clearly isn’t true…
The validation and the negative things are not really real. You have to find a place of peace within yourself where you’re putting out things that you’re happy with, and once they’re out you’re done, you let it go, you move on to the next thing.”
What did you learn going on tour and watching Harry Styles perform that you’ll carry into your own career?
M: “What an incredible person and an incredible performer. He is so inspiring. Watching his shows, he brings the same amount of energy which I’ll tell you is 110 percent every time he sets foot on that stage. But in no way is all of that rehearsed. He attacks every show differently. Depending on who’s in the crowd [he will] have little conversations with them. I think that really taught me that it’s not about the perfect show even though his shows are pretty flawless. It’s about enjoying it and being present and having those moments.”
Mabel’s latest single “Let Them Know” is out now.