WE have been promised this wave of Pop…
PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Morgan for DAZED
that is supposed to eradicate the sugary and inane stuff you hear on some radio stations and replace it with something more personal, appealing and deep. I am a fan of newcomers like Sigrid and Billie Eilish – two names that keep coming up on these pages – and am a new convert of Mabel. If you think you recognise the face then that might be because of her mother: the legendary Swedish-born artist Neneh Cherry. Mabel McVey, the twenty-two-year-old, is mononymously known as ‘Mabel’ and inherits a lot of her mother’s talent. Both performed at this week’s Biggest Weekend and it showed the offspring of Neneh Cherry possesses the same fortitude, command and talent as her mother. It might not be a surprise to find Mabel is already on the road and travelling intercontinentally. When Neneh Cherry was growing up, she moved around Europe and was used to living in different environments: Mabel has that sort of D.N.A. in her blood that means the transitions and travel is part of who she is – even if the jetlag, according to her Twitter feed, is a bit of a bitch! So far, after being born in Malaga; Mabel has lived in Sweden and is based in London. It is a rather hectic and busy time in her life: she will see even more countries and people. All of this might sound like I am pitching Mabel to be the next Michael Palin but, in truth, it shows how worldly and cultured she is.
IN THIS PHOTO: Mabel with her mother, Neneh Cherry
That maturity and strength goes into her music. There is a Venn diagram in Pop that separates the fluffier, commercial brand with the more introspective and independent sort. Mabel, in many ways, is in that intersect – the same sort of blends and brand her mother honed and owned in her early days. I do not like to keep bringing family into things but there is a correlation to the sort of eclecticism found on Raw Like Sushi (the 1989 debut from Neneh Cherry). It has been a busy past couple of years for Mabel. Her E.P., Bedroom, was released last year and found a lot of positive feedback. Like a lot of Mabel’s material; it found willing artists to revisit songs and add their own spin. It usually takes a while for an artist to get to the stage where others want to remix and rework songs: Mabel’s instant and alluring sound has found reinventive passion in Shura, Cadenza and TIEKS. Not only has Mabel stridden proudly alone but she is easily able to hook up with other artists, including Not3s and Kojo Funds and make it work. Whether sparring with someone else or going it alone; the material you get from Mabel is a lot stronger and more nuanced than the normal Pop fare. Fine Line, released earlier this year, was another collaboration with Not3s – they seem like natural sparring partners and, in My Lover, there is contrast and two sides to their bond.
Whilst it is good to hear Mabel have a natural grace and modesty – sharing the spotlight with others – I suspect there is a commercial aspect to hooking with others and getting into the forefront. That may sound cynical but, when one duets or works with others, there is a culture of artists riding high on Spotify playlists and helping one another out – pushing streaming figures up and getting into new markets. I am a fan of Mabel and see that huge potential inside her. When her debut album comes out; it would be good to see the young artist show more of who she is and ride out front. She has a raw and real passion that makes her a much more defiant and intriguing artist than, say, Dua Lipa or Anne-Marie. I am not a fan of the latter and find Dua Lipa’s best work is ahead of her. When I venture into the Pop market, I am searching for something that goes against the commercial and cheap and, in a way, reminds me of the glory days of Pop – back years ago when it was a lot of fun but conveyed a message. Mabel is not someone who writes for a limited audience and is always checking to see how many stations are spinning her music. She writes music that means a lot to her and brings everyone together.
Another collaboration, with RAYE and Stefflon Don, saw Cigarette burn a hole into the senses – a more potent and meaningful than Girls (which saw Rita Ora join with Charli XCX, Cardi B and Bebe Rexha and, in the process, gain controversy because of its apparent light-hearted and cheap approach to homosexuality). Set aside all the collaborations and the defining work, in my view, is her 2017 mixtape, Ivy to Roses. Tight, short titles – like Roses, Passionfruit and Ivy – presented a mixture of romance and anger (Begging and Weapon). It is, in fact, a mixtape that shows two sides to the stunning artist. There is the more alluring and soulful tones that sit with street-level grit. That is unsurprising given Mabel’s background the market. She must have grown up around an array of artists and, living with Neneh Cherry, some of that might have been physical interaction. There is little contrived and calculated when it comes to her projections. The material brings together her childhood tastes and the music she is discovering now. I hear elements of Neneh Cherry in her work but Soul legends and R&B icons like Beyoncé. Her music can be described as ‘Pop’ but you would be hard-pushed to compare it with anything out in the market.
Projecting forward and I think there will be some big changes for the Polydor-signed hopeful. Even if the hook-ups with big artists has been designed, one suspects, to boost profile and get her name among the market leader as soon as possible…I feel it is her own voice and family ties that make her happier and most fulfilled. Her 2015 debut single, Know Me Better, was promising and hinted at what was to come. 2017’s Finders Keepers came with an eye-catching video and her work alongside producer Joel Pott has brought her to new audiences. There are whispers of a debut album but no title and release date has been set. Whether Mabel decides to start from scratch and write ten/eleven new songs for the L.P. or incorporate already-released cuts I am not sure. There are at least four tracks from her mixtape I would have on the album. I would stray away from collaborations too much – maybe one near the middle of the record – but Ivy and Low Key (from Ivy to Roses) would sound great near the top. Obviously, there will be so many different producers ready to work with Mabel but, unless it is an album as complex and hard-hitting as Lemonade (Beyoncé); there is little need to clog the album with too many bodies.
Some personal production from Mabel might give the songs the personality and drive they warrant; maybe writing with one or two others would be a good move – although she is capable of penning fantastic music herself. It is exciting seeing what her album could sound like but, if it is anything like her previous work, it will be a colourful and genre-fusing bag that mixes in 1990s-influcned Soul/R&B with modern Pop and some old-skool vibes. Not to come back to the mother well but Mabel has that family knowledge and fountain of experience. She has her mum to consult with and, who knows, maybe work alongside! I am excited to see what an album might sound like but, in a year that has seen some rather ho-hum efforts, I feel Mabel can make a big mark. Maybe Pop’s new breed like Sigrid and Dua Lipa have made steps and impressed critics. I have listened to their work and there is something charming and thrilling about it. I feel Mabel exceeds their benchmark and adds new light and lease to the Pop market. She is broader and more intuitive than her peers; less needy when it comes to other producers and bodies – even if many have been involved in her career – and crystal in what she wants to achieve and how far she needs to go. The remainder of this year sees her hit festivals (including Wireless) and get her new material out there. I think 2019 will be her biggest year and take her music to a new level. When/if there is an album out, I feel that will show to people she is one of the most promising and original artists…
WORKING in music right now.