Tuesday, 27 Feb
If you’ve opened TikTok even for the briefest of moments this year, you’ll likely have heard ‘If We Ever Broke Up’, the funky, attitude-filled alt-pop bop sweeping the app. Its creator,19-year-old Kettering musician Mae Stephens, has been bombarded with messages to release the song in full and, now, the alt-pop hit of 2023 is here.
Before she woke up on New Year’s Day to some of the more than 200 million TikTok views that the track has now racked up, Mae was finding solace and sanctuary in her music-making between working shifts at her local Asda. A songwriter since the age of 12, she’d used music to guide her through the hardships of teenage life, pouring her heart out in emotional, impactful songs penned at her nan’s old piano.
“I used to be quite angry as a kid and I had a lot of pent-up tension, especially coming home from school,” she explains. “I tried so much to find what was going to help me release all of that – stuff like judo, going for a run, biking. I tried so many things until it came to writing. Just being able to sit, close the door, not have anyone around me and just have some space to think and let my emotions out into something creative was probably the one thing that really got me through school, other than my brother.”
The target of cruel bullying, Mae’s school years were far from easy, with her at first picked on for being the “loud, quirky kid”. When her classmates found the YouTube channel she uploaded her original songs and covers on, every video she shared would prompt more hate and spitefulness to be sent her way. “It did almost push me to quit because I thought if I couldn’t deal with that then how was I going to be able to deal with press later on, people asking me questions or people commenting with hate,” she says. “It was a massive setback but I think it gave me the hard exterior I have now. I don’t condone bullying at all, but it did make me the person I am now, and so determined to push forward and prove a lot of people wrong.”
One of her biggest influences also helped her to embrace what makes her unique and learn not to care about other people’s opinions. “I’ve always listened to Queen, but Freddie Mercury is a big inspiration for me, not just musically, but also in life,” Mae says. “He was so determined. He just did not care what people thought. He did his own thing and never changed for anyone. He was a big morale booster for me.”
Since the very first song she wrote Mae has been finding new and interesting angles on the well-worn topics we often hear about in pop. That first track, ‘Pieces Of My Heart’, detailed a bad divorce from the perspective of the woman, while ‘If We Ever Broke Up’ taps into a fantasy many people have of putting past partners in their place.
Her song writing pulls from the experiences she and her friends have had growing up, often shining a light on things older generations tried to brush off or couldn’t accept teenagers were dealing with, “I got so sick of people pushing these kinds of situations down and I wanted to write something powerful and for people to understand that, no matter how old you are, your emotions are still as valid as someone who’s been in the world a lot longer than you,” she explains.
In Mae Stephens, Gen Z has found a new champion – an artist ready to use her voice to help others and provide the same kind of sanctuary in her music that it gave her while making it. “A lot of kids are probably going through stuff that’s a lot worse than what I went through and it’s not highlighted as much as it should be,” she says. “To watch kids go through not and not have someone to look up to is something I’m really trying to stop. I want to be the champion of the underdogs – Mae’s misfits.”
The astonishing reach of ‘If We Ever Broke Up’ already hints that plenty more misfits will be joining her gang soon. The perfect kiss-off to an ex, the song is reeling in fans at an incredible rate thanks to its no-nonsense attitude and addictive synth melodies. “It was written from the perspective of if I was still with my ex-boyfriend and, if I had the attitude and the experience that I do now when I was 16, I would have done all these things and told his dad what he did,” she explains. “I think deep down everyone wants to tell their crappy ex’s dad what they did. I’ve read a lot of comments from people saying that this song helped them through their break-up because it gave them that boss energy.”
Out of Mae’s comfort zone of emotional ballads, it represents exhilarating new territory for a rising star with the relatable nous to make the alt-pop arena her own. An experiment that has well and truly paid off, now the young musician is looking ahead to expanding her musical horizons, learning new skills and creating more fresh sounds.
As she continues to grow as an artist, Mae is already well on her way to achieving the ambitions she’s been harbouring so far. “Me and my dad have had the same dream for eight years, which is for me to stand on stage and hear my lyrics being sung back to me,” she smiles. “I think that will be the moment I can relax and say, ‘I’ve done it’. I also want to show people that, even though I got bullied and stopped being loud and pushed myself down, I still made it to where I am now. If you love something, don’t hold yourself back because of other people – you’ve just got to go for it, do something you enjoy and make the most of your life.”
2023 has truly been a huge year for Mae. Statistically, she’s now the biggest brand-new developing act globally, having achieved the biggest single from a debut artist in 2023 with ‘If We Ever Broke Up’. The track has garnered over 350 million streams and 6 billion views over on TikTok; Mae has also translated this immense online following into a live fanbase, gracing the stages of numerous festivals this summer including Glastonbury, The Great Escape, BST Hyde Park, All Points East and many more. She’s also joined forces with Meghan Trainor on recent single ‘Mr Right’, as well as teaming up with ALOK and The Chainsmokers on new release ‘Jungle’. With an arsenal of upcoming bangers, 2024 looks set to be another huge year for the rising superstar.