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American singer-songwriter Mxmtoon lives on my phone screen rent-free

IMAGE VIA MXMTOON/INSTAGRAM

WORDS BY GEORGIE KIBEL

TikTok, Lil Jon remixes and Carly Rae Jepsen collabs.

In 2018, using her school laptop and the acoustics of her parent’s guest bedroom, an 18-year-old called Maia self-released her first EP, Plum Blossom. Two years later, the now 20-year-old bedroom pop artist, also known as Mxmtoon, has seen her music streamed over 100 million times.

Speaking to Maia over Zoom, her in her New York bedroom (where the musical magic happens) and me in my eerily similar room in Melbourne (where the only magic that happens is watching two seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the same day) it feels as though I am chatting to someone I know well.

Her face is instantly recognisable. This is because, like many Gen Z musicians hitting the mainstream, Maia is kind of TikTok famous. And by kind of famous, I mean she has 2.1 million followers. When I tell her I am the same age as her and have accomplished a mere slither of what she has, she laughs and modestly tells me that she got “very lucky”. 

Mxmtoon may be most familiar from her viral hit ‘Prom Dress’, which became the sound to use on TikTok. Whether it’s the original or the one that was edited by one of her fans to include Lil Jon’s vocals over the top of her song, it was hard to scroll through the ‘For you’ page without hearing Maia singing “I’m sitting here / Crying in my prom dress”. 

I ask her how she feels about the mash-up with Lil Jon, and what it’s like being kind of a big deal on TikTok.  “Lil Jon knows about the remix!” she tells me, with pure excitement radiating from her face. “For the one year anniversary of ‘Prom Dress’, we made a celebratory video and we reached out to Lil Jon, asking him if he would be involved. And now I have a video of him lip-syncing in his garden on my phone.”  

While this excitement is obviously warranted, it isn’t always Lil Jon and rainbows. “I began posting on the internet because it was like shouting into a void, and I thought no one was going to respond back to me,” she explains. But people did respond back, and now Maia has, on top of the aforementioned TikTok followers, 695,000 followers on Instagram and 730,000 followers on YouTube.

Aside from sharing her music, Maia uses her platform to voice her strong political opinions. My favourite example of this is her TikTok video where she says, ever so succinctly, “Fuck Trump”. It’s amassed 3.7 million likes and apparently “It made people so mad.” 

Despite such antics, she takes her responsibility as someone with a platform that reaches a global audience very seriously. “I’m bisexual and Asian-American,” she tells me. “My journey during my teen years was trying to be comfortable enough to claim who I am”. 

She knows that this is also the case for her fans. “A lot of these same issues affect who they are and if I can stand up for them, it’s the least I can do to thank them for everything they do for me,” she says.  

When Maia isn’t TikToking and speaking her mind, she is making heavenly pop music. In April of this year, she released her EP Dawn. Dusk, which is to be released on October 1, completes the two-part series.

Dawn was about new beginnings and finding opportunity in a new day,” she tells me. “Dusk is about that same concept, but from a different angle. When things are coming to an end, that means there’s room for something new.” 

Maia says she is pretty happy with Dusk. “It feels like I’m developing my sound,” she reveals. But OG listeners need not fear, as Maia explains how she focused on having the ukulele as a prominent element in this EP, so she could “tie it back to where it all began in my bedroom”. 

Dusk includes the track ‘Ok on your own’, featuring pop sensation Carly Rae Jepsen, who is best known for her 2011 hit ‘Call Me Maybe’, but has in recent years received critical acclaim and a cult following for her ’80s-influenced pop music. 

Maia tells me how she “freaked out” when dialling into a Facetime with the pop star for the first time. “I was just so excited that someone of that musical calibre wanted to work with me,” she says.

Maia explains that her launch to fame was similar to Carly Rae’s in many ways. “When a song blows up like ‘Call Me Maybe’, people can perceive an artist in a certain way. It happened to me with ‘Prom Dress’. I don’t think many people listen to much of my other music, they only know that song.” 

Personally, my awareness of Carly Rae Jepsen revolves around that one song, so I understand the point Maia is making. “People should listen to more of her [Carly Rae Jepsen’s] recent work,” she tells me. 

Ever the Gen Z prototype, Maia also began a podcast earlier this month called 365 days with mxmtoon, which is made up of short, snappy episodes through which you can learn a little bit about history, music and Maia’s life. 

The queen of TikTok (a title I gave her) knows that her audience is made up of people like me with short attention spans, using social media for a quick entertainment fix. “I was never really good at long-form stuff, so I think it’s a really fun thing to do these 10-minute episodes where I just focus on a specific day of history,” she explains.

Social media aside, Maia is excited for her fans to listen to her new music, as she knows this year has been difficult for most. “I feel like I can take a deep breath and be happy that the world finally has my work.” 

Follow Mxmtoon here and listen to her new EP here.

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