I catch up with 20-year-old Rachael O’Connor the day after Halloween. She recounts the events of the night before as I listen, albeit slightly distracted by her wonderful Irish accent (she hails from Drumfurn in Northern Ireland). She spent the evening with her pals, “taking hours getting ready” on her skull-themed makeup. It’s a look that I later spot in a pic on her Instagram, captioned “I’m a mouse, duh” – because everyone loves a topical Mean Girls reference, right? Clearly on top of her social media game, O’Connor is a pop singer of the internet generation. She gets style inspo from the Instagram explore page, the Kardashians are her fashion icons, she loves Dua Lipa, and her best break-up tip is to “slay on Instagram and let them rue the day.” Fittingly, her first single, “Done With Your Love”, is an upbeat break-up anthem that will get you over your ex and singing at the top of your voice long before the song is near ending.
A veritable teen prodigy, Rachael’s musical career began four years ago when, at the age of 16, she braved the stage of The Voice. Singing “Clown” by Emeli Sandé, her vocals enthralled the audience and got three of the four judges to turn their chairs, an impressive feat for someone who hadn’t even begun their A levels. She ended up picking Kylie Minogue to be her mentor (as if there were any competition); it was a match made in pop heaven. She tells me that everything you would imagine about Kylie is true: “Working with her was amazing! She is just so lovely; she is nurturing and really cares about you. Because I was so young, it was nice to have a mentor that did that.” When leaving the show, Kylie shared some advice that still resonates: “I was upset when I left and she wrote an email telling me that the industry is filled with highs and lows and to just put all this experience into my music. So that’s what I do.”
In her early music-writing days, Rachael would re-work some of her favourite musical numbers. “I remember as a child I made these really cringy songs with my cousin,” she says. “I used to take High School Musical songs, change the words, tell everyone I wrote them and then perform them at family parties!” After realising the minor legal ramifications that might crop up through this line of songwriting, a few years later Rachael decided to have a go at creating completely original compositions. “I love sitting at a piano and just putting whatever you’re thinking into a song.” This love of the cathartic power of music is still there, and she now has regular writing sessions in London, taking inspiration from things that happen in her life for the lyrics. “All my music is pretty personal. I write about things that have happened to me,” she explains. Said sessions have clearly been productive, new single “Done with Your Love” is only the beginning – she is planning on releasing an EP next year with a similar upbeat sound.