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Meet Mae Stephens, the viral hitmaker who wants to spread ‘boss energy’

After unexpectedly securing a smash with alt-pop bop ‘If We Ever Broke Up’, the Kettering singer-songwriter wants to harness her newfound platform to help those going through hard times

By Rhian Daly

Mae Stephens (Picture: Press)

Until last month, Mae Stephens was working in her local Asda, writing pop songs and gigging anywhere she could between shifts. Now, supermarket shifts have been swapped for imminent stardom after her breakout song ‘If We Ever Broke Up’ – an alt-pop hit that imagines what she’d do if she were still with her ex – went unexpectedly viral on TikTok.

“Hearing my song on the radio was a really big moment,” the 19-year-old she grins from her home in Kettering as the track continues to rocket through the Top 40. “Especially when I’m driving to go pick up milk or drop off a friend and all I hear is, ‘This is Mae Stephens…’. It’s so weird!” 

The breakthrough of ‘If We Ever Broke Up’ may have happened quite literally overnight – after sharing a clip on TikTok on New Year’s Eve, Stephens woke up the next day to it spreading like wildfire online – but her success has been a long time coming. Since she started writing songs around the age of 12, she’s spent countless hours honing her craft, while turning up at local open mic nights and gigs in pubs to share the emotional, therapeutic ballads she’d been penning to cope with the awful bullying she was subjected to at school. 

“I’ve done some very uncomfortable gigs, but it’s taught me a lot – how to stay strong through tough situations, how to improvise on the spot when things go wrong,” she explains. 

Now moving her artistry forward with new sounds and styles – and a mission to spread what she terms “boss energy” – we caught up with Stephens to learn more about her and her plans for the future. 

‘If We Ever Broke Up’ is very different to the ballads you put out previously. How has getting out of your comfort zone pushed you forward as an artist? 

Mae Stephens: “It’s pushed me to explore a new side of things and hear my voice in these different styles. I’m also trying new genres, new styles, different beats and just seeing where I sit musically. It’s all a learning curve for me – I’m very used to singing emotionally and so raw, but now I’ve found this sass in my voice that I’ve never heard before.” 

Why were you so drawn to writing these big, emotional ballads before? 

“They started because I was so emotional and so angry after coming back from school and being bullied. Emotional ballads and sad songs became the way that I could expel that. If I had a good day, I’d go and write something more upbeat, but school was a really rough time, so I was sad the majority of the time. I just fell in love with the way I could make other people feel from that music as well.” 

As you move forward, do you want to keep a balance of ballads and sass then?

“Absolutely. I don’t think I could cut my roots. If I were to do an album, it would be half dancing until your feet hurt and the other half crying into my pillow for 30 minutes.” 

You’ve cited Adele and Freddie Mercury as long-standing influences for you. Who’s been inspiring your recent songwriting? 

“Sigrid. I love her voice and the way she sings in general, but also, her production is so diverse, yet so suited to her. She has a million different songs and a million different styles, but they all sit in the same band of being Sigrid. As an artist in general, she’s so genuine and real – she’s herself. She doesn’t worry about big fancy brands or the way she looks. That’s what I love about her – I dress the way I dress, too. I’m not a big fancy feather boa, I’m a rusty t-shirt from six years ago.” 

You want to be an artist that young people going through a hard time can turn to or look up to. What would it have meant to you have an artist like that when you were growing up?

“I think it would have given me a little bit more confidence. There’s a lot of artists that have gone through that and been through way worse situations than I have. But it’s important that young people feel like they have that person [to look up to]. Cyberbullying is at its highest, schools are becoming much harsher places to be, and the world is getting more and more cruel. That’s why it’s so important to me to create this family – I call them Mae’s misfits – where people are free to be themselves, whatever they want to do, dress or act. To be able to be that person for them would be nice, I really want to help people with that.”