When we speak over Zoom, Ella Mai is stateside in LA. She’s enjoying the sun which “makes everything better” and gearing up for the release of her sophomore album: the aptly named Heart on My Sleeve. Up to this point, the 27-year-old’s biggest hits have been glossy ‘90s throwbacks, but after the tumult of the past few years, it makes sense that her new music is a crash-course in vulnerability: soaring vocals and diaristic lyrics that leave no emotional stone left unturned. The kind of tracks you listen to while you mull over a situationship or become excited about a new love, that give you strength when navigating troubling affairs of the heart.
Four years after the release of her debut album, and with a newfound confidence, the 27-year-old artist enters a new era with Heart on My Sleeve.
Raised in London before hopping over to NYC as a twelve-year-old, Mai has always had a transatlantic background and now, in something of a full-circle moment, she enjoys a huge success stateside, as well as back home in the UK. To recap some of the shiniest moments on her CV: amassing millions of online followers, a Grammy win and making history as the first British artist in 26 years to score a No.1 single on the US R&B chart with her multi-platinum single “Boo’d Up”. Most recently, she’s also become Lacoste’s brand ambassador, showcasing their new sport-inspired collection. But her love affair with music began early, a long time before all these accolades, thanks to the “very honest and always very raw” tracks she grew up on that influence her vocal and lyrical style today. Mai studied at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute before starting to post music covers on Instagram, eventually gaining the attention of prolific producer, Mustard, who signed her to his label and would become a close collaborator and mentor. And the rest, as they say, is history.
In conversation, Mai is expressive, polite and quick to laugh – so down to earth that it’s easy to forget that she’s a platinum-selling artist. And when we begin speaking, the excitement for her new album to drop is palpable – four long years after her self-titled debut album was released. “I’m a lot more excited about this era. I don’t mean that to say I’m not grateful for my debut era, but I think I am a lot more sure of myself as an artist [this time],” she explains. And for anyone reading who’s curious, she promises that this latest chapter in her career will double down on emotional honesty and offer tracks that deliver hugely in terms of candour, passion and vulnerability. “I have a vision which I didn’t really have in my debut era. I was kind of just going with the flow – I think this album is very honest. That’s how you connect with people. Even if the way I’m [describing how] I felt in a song is a bit different to how somebody listening felt in the same type of situation, I hope that [my songs] can still resonate and they can still feel the honesty and the emotion in what I’m saying.”