From Storyteller to Superstar: Ella Mai Plans to Stick Around

“Hello Ella, @ellamai This may be redundant but your music speaks to me on an emotional level and makes me extremely happy. I’m singing/yelling your songs in my car or in my house! You are an angel!!! Thank you for the music!!! #selfiesforellamai,” Erin Howard, a huge fan, tweeted in early June. She’s not alone. Millions share her feelings about Ella Mai. Since her hit single “Boo’d Up” became the song of summer 2018, it’s been a nonstop roller coaster ride for the young Brit. Last fall she was one of Cardi B’s replacements on Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic Tour. This spring she headlined her own The Debut Tour and is now gearing up for the European leg of Ariana Grande’s Sweetner World Tour in August.

Ella Mai has found that opening the oldfashioned way: connecting to audiences lyrically through R&B. Songs like “Naked” and “Trip” have also resonated with music lovers. While female singers are still plentiful, few are described as “singer-songwriter” in the manner Ella Mai is. And that’s a distinction Ella Mai proudly embraces. Considering that the 24-year-old singer came to prominence doing fifteen second covers on Instagram, it sounds ironic. Unbelievably covering Fetty Wap’s “679” got her on The Shade Room. From there, fans began flooding her with song requests. Her Instagram presence was enough to attract the prolific DJ Mustard’s attention who DMed her about her label situation. Today she is signed to his 10 Summers Records distributed by Interscope and they have been making musical moves. “Boo’d” won the Grammy for Best R&B song. More recently Ella Mai won three Billboard Awards, including Top R&B Artist.

Prior to linking with DJ Mustard, the man behind countless smashes since his breakout “Rack City” from Tyga in 2011, Ella Mai, a London native born to a Jamaican mother and Irish father, spent her high school years in New York City, where she tried more traditional routes. With girl group Arize, she was on the British edition of The X-Factor, which brought stardom to One Direction and Leona Lewis, but that didn’t work out for her. In modern fashion, Instagram did. But it’s more the old-school sensibilities she’s added to these new formats. When one remembers that Ella Mai, named for Ella Fitzgerald by her jazz-loving mother, prides herself on singing with emotion, her connection with audiences makes perfect sense. On top of that, she has often gushed that Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott are her two biggest musical inspirations. Most importantly it’s how Ella Mai sees herself as an artist.

“I do consider myself a storyteller,” she told Pop Sugar last May, “therefore sometimes I do make music about things I may not have necessarily experienced but feel deeply about.”

When it comes to writing songs, she keeps it very close to her heart or the hearts of those she loves. “A lot of my music is based on personal experiences or things that have happened to someone really close to me, which then makes it easy to write about,” she also shared with Pop Sugar.

Speaking with Rolling Stone last October, she insisted that “R&B is not dead,” adding that “We can make it mainstream again. Clearly, people love it.” What’s most remarkable is that Ella Mai has distinguished herself with an R&B sound fused with ‘90s nostalgia but with a strong Pop feel. Ella Mai cites Lauryn Hill’s The Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill, which her mom played constantly when she was growing up, as one of her greatest musical influences. She has pointed to individual songs like 112’s “Cupid” and Donnell Jones’s “Shorty” as also having an impact. Ella Mai also listened to Jazz, Gospel and Reggae growing up.

She doesn’t write concepts for songs she has shared. Instead she likes listening to beats and getting a feeling for a song. Feeling is very important to Ella Mai, whose growing catalogue is filled with songs dealing with matters of the heart. With each song, she told Flaunt Magazine, “I want people to feel the way I feel when I make it.”

And it’s that emotion, that intense feeling that has skyrocketed her to success and it is exactly what Sony/ATV, her music publisher, is banking on to keep her there.

“Ella Mai is the very definition of a modern superstar,” says Jennifer Drake, Senior Director of A&R at Sony/ATV. “She is young, beautiful, multi-cultural and multi-talented with the ability to speak directly to her audience. She is also a prolific songwriter and an amazing performer who can effortlessly cross styles and genres. We are proud to have Ella on our roster and believe that her career will only continue to blossom; and she will achieve many more great things in the future.”

by Ronda Racha Penrice