Mabel has been crowned Best British Female Solo Artist at the Brit Awards 2020. But how did the chart-topping singer become famous?
Mabel McVey has taken the music industry by storm. While she may have a famous singer mum and a musical family, she got discovered through a process of determined self-promotion, hard work and by unveiling her soulful R&B sound on mainstream radio.
In this article, we’ll tell you exactly how she did it and the obstacles Mabel had to overcome to get to where she is today.
Who is Mabel?
In just a few short years, the pop princess has had two top ten hits, multiple Brit nominations (and a win), has collaborated with some of the most respected rappers in the business and is a leading light on the urban music scene. She’d won acclaim and had a track go viral before even dropping her first album. With a lifelong steely determination and dogged self-belief, she fought her way to international success and insists that her sense of drive will ensure she keeps on climbing.
How did Mabel get discovered?
Like many young artists, her discovery was made via a streaming platform, in this case, it was SoundCloud. If you, like Mabel, wish to be spotted by industry professionals, it’s important to upload good quality tracks onto SoundCloud or Spotify and to promote your songs continually.
Where did Mabel grow up?
Mabel Alabama-Pearl McVey was born on the 20 February 1996 in Spain but was raised in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. There she studied songwriting and production while at the prestigious Rytmus Musikgymnasiet music school. With parents in the music industry, life in her household always involved a lot of travelling around the world, with frequent trips to the UK, where they’d often stay in London’s Notting Hill. While this international upbringing may sound glamorous, her childhood had its challenges and she recalls being somewhat of a loner, preferring adult company to that of her peers.
Talking to DIY Mag about her time at high school in Sweden she said:
“I felt really misplaced in my year. I really loved Lauryn Hill, Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé, and felt in some way ashamed to admit that to my classmates, which is crazy.”
She began playing the piano and singing at just five years of age – and the music wasn’t her only passion. The enterprising Mabel created her very own style blog, with its success seeing her make the front row of runway shows from the likes of Stella McCartney.
But with R&B and hip hop being her first loves, McVey felt a pull to come and live full time in the UK, a country that’s known for having much more of a scene for these genres in particular.
As Mabel was born in the mountains of Malaga, but with a British father and Swedish mother, the singer holds triple citizenship: Spanish, Swedish and British. This means she can freely live and work in all three countries. And as she’s multilingual, she can sing in a foreign language, something that can help artists break into international music markets. Mabel, like her mother, is of African-European descent.
Mabel’s parents – Cameron McKey and Neneh Cherry
She’s the daughter of Massive Attack and Portishead producer Cameron McVey and 1990s breakout star Neneh Cherry of Buffalo Stance and Manchild fame. Aged four, she spent time in the studio with her dad, as he produced the Sugababes debut album recording in 2000. Mabel felt asleep, lulled by the bass, something that earned her the nickname Lil Bassy – and it’s stuck. She says she often finds herself drifting off even as an adult, relaxed by the sounds.
Her mother, Neneh Cherry, who still DJs and broadcasts, would always encourage Mabel to write about her feelings through journaling. This was especially useful when Mabel experienced anxiety and panic attacks – something that was often the case for her growing up (she says anxiety does still affect her, but that she’s learning to deal with it more effectively as she gets older). Her mother explained that many creative people and musicians suffer from anxiety. Her journalling combined with playing on the piano resulted in exciting songwriting beginnings. It was both self-soothing and creative.
Mabel’s siblings and family
Mabel says that despite having parents in the music industry, she didn’t ride on their success and had no contacts of her own in the music industry before she went out and made them. In fact, as she revealed to the Evening Standard magazine, she worried that her family links would be more of a hindrance than a help.
‘When I was in my teens, and was like, “I really want to do music. I felt quite embarrassed by being my mum and dad’s daughter. I thought, “People will never take me seriously”. I very much had to start again. But I knew why I was here: I wanted to do music, and I wanted to do it by myself. I felt like if my parents helped me, I would never feel confident in the fact that I’m actually good.’
And she has a brother and sister in the industry too. Marlon Roudette, her brother, is known for the tune When The Beat Drops Out. They often write together, producing some of her biggest hits through their collaborations. Her big sister Tyson is part of electro duo Panes and her godfather is REM’s, Michael Stipe.
Mabel’s first single
Mabel’s first single Know Me Better, was self-released onto her SoundCloud account in September 2015.
Not only did the platform SoundCloud kickstart her career, but it was her go-to site for discovering new music. Even at this early point in her career, she was working with some interesting people, many of whom operate in the indie rock arena. Joel Pott of Athlete has been a co-writer and producer since that very first single.
“Joel taught me a lot about songwriting,” she told Herald Scotland. “RnB can be quite aloof and cryptic, whereas indie is much more direct: ‘I walked into a room, you were wearing this…’, that sort of thing.”
Determined to succeed, Mabel began cold calling management companies, promoting herself over the phone. She did consider concealing her real name when recording but decided that her pride in her parents’ achievements should override any other concerns. Although Mabel did have access to some great contacts and learned much of her craft by attending a music school, she did the lion’s share of her promotion on her own (until she was picked up by management).
Check out an example of Mabel’s press release for Mad Love here, as well as advice on creating your own professional templates to do your own PR.
When did Mabel get signed?
Following this first release and a whole lot of plugging from Mabel, she began to attract attention. The Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac heard her first single and made Know Me Better her Tune of the Week. She then invited the emerging artist in for her first-ever radio interview later that same month. Within a few weeks, Mabel was approached to sign a recording contract with the label Universal. Then soon after signing she made it to the BBC’s Sound of 2016 longlist.
How did Mabel get famous?
Mabel was well on her way to becoming a familiar face. Then, after being spotted by Skepta’s creative director, Grace Lajoda, Mabel was cast in the Shutdown video. See if you can spot her here:
The young artist was soon at the centre of London’s cool crowd and with management under her belt, some significant doors began to open. She was asked to support Years & Years at Wembley for only her fifth gig ever. Then, in 2017, her track Finders Keepers went viral. Mabel had over two million single sales in the UK and over half a billion streams. In 2019 she released her debut album High Expectations.
Collaborations can be very important for solo artists. At an early stage in your career, it can get you noticed and a foot up the industry ladder. Contacts you make while on the way up can also be great for producing original sounds – and if you choose to work with people who are creating a buzz, that can attract a lot of attention from influential people. Many musicians end up having life long collabs that started early on. Equally, once established, singers can go stratospheric by recording with other big names, doubling their fan base in an instant.
Mabel has worked with some up and coming and big names. The Spanish born singer has collaborated with the likes of SBTRKT, BBK collective, Lany, DJ Khalid, Tiesto and once found herself part of the Tate Modern’s latest makeover.
She can be heard on Not3s Fine Lines and My Lover. Mabel supported Harry Styles on tour and worked on her debut studio album with producer J.D Reid (who produced Finders Keepers). And Kid Harpoon shares a co-writing credit on her debut EP, Bedroom.
Mabel at the 2020 Brit Awards
She took home Best British Female Solo Artist at the most recent Brit Awards – a trophy her mother had won thirty years previously – to the very day. She had also been nominated for Best New Artist and Best New Single.
What’s next for Mabel?
She’s touring Europe through 2020 and will be at the Lovebox festival in London in June. She may be just 24, but her storytelling ability, popular sound and vocal gifting have put her ahead of the game. There’s much still to come from the pop sensation and we look forward to seeing what she brings us next. Perhaps her early days as a loner, feeling out of place as a schoolgirl in Sweden stood her in good stead for a jet setting career as a solo artist. Mabel talked to NME about the impact of her new life and how she views live performance:
“Being a solo artist, in general, can be incredibly lonely. It’s funny how often the bigger you get sometimes, the lonelier you feel. A lot of people have an idea of who you are, but at the same time, it’s like ‘I’m just me! I have the same doubts as and fear as you! But people look at you differently. It isn’t about hitting all the notes or having a perfect stage show, it’s about letting go and enjoying it. Fans love human things like when I forget lyrics and there’s something beautiful in that. It’s not about being perfect, it’s not about not making mistakes, it’s about enjoying everything.”
There are many elements to her success that are within easy reach for all aspiring stars: work hard, plug away, be determined, network with industry professionals and use your life challenges to create heartfelt tunes and lyrics that capture the hearts of your listeners.
- Do artists get paid from SoundCloud?
Yes, but you’ll need to have achieved a minimum number of plays and have signed up to a SoundCloud Pro Unlimited account with a monthly fee. The platform can also be used to promote your music via their online tools.
- How do I get my music heard?
Upload your tracks, album or EP onto streaming platforms. Make your own music video and post it on YouTube. Create social media profiles for your act and use them to post links to your work, add events like your gigs or launches, and invite people to like them.
- Is Neneh Cherry related to Eagle Eye Cherry?
Yes. The Swedish singer (known for the hit Save Tonight) Eagle Eye Cherry, is the half brother of Mabel’s mum, Neneh. They share the same mother. This makes him Mabel’s half-uncle, increasing her showbiz lineage even further.
Are you an R&B or hip-hop artist seeking to make it and get discovered like Mabel? Post links to your tracks and music videos in the comments below.