Appearing on entertainment television cornerstone Later… With Jools Holland is likely a nerve wracking experience for any first timer. But when METTE graced the famously circular space to perform her breakout sophomore single ‘MAMA’S EYES’ earlier this year, not only was it her television debut, it was her first time performing live in front of an audience full stop. “It’s kind of nuts,” she concedes, speaking just ahead of her run supporting Jessie Ware on a sold-out UK tour (including two dates at London’s Ally Pally, the very place that Jools was filmed).
In conversation, though, the Minnesota singer seems remarkably unphased by the leap from studio audience to 10,000-strong crowd. “Performing is one of my favourite things in the world, because it's how I feel seen and how I self-express - it's everything to me,” she shrugs. “So that's the part that feels most at home.” Indeed, while this may be the birth of her outing as a solo artist, METTE is far from a stranger to the world of performance; a certified triple threat, she’s worked with the likes of Rihanna and Pharrell Williams as a dancer, and on films such as Barbie and Hustlers as an actor.
Explaining how these other creative avenues inform her current practice, she muses: “By the nature of my upbringing and my education as an artist, I treat everything as a masterclass. But I think one thing I really learned from acting is subtlety; it’s taught me that power can come from not saying a word, not making a sound, not making a movement or a facial expression. Power can literally be just holding space.”
It’s a thread which runs throughout her debut EP ‘METTENARRATIVE’ and its accompanying visuals, which play a significant role in her storytelling. At times foregrounding widescreen pop production (‘VAN GOGH’), at others showcasing a beat-driven, spoken word flow (‘FOR THE PEOPLE’), the project encodes a freedom of expression away from stringent notions of genre or theme. “There’s nothing to prove, only to share,” she smiles. “That’s literally my mantra in a sentence, and when I perform, that’s the kind of environment and safety that I want to cradle in the room. That’s my job… that’s my duty and my honour to do."
“If I’m not trying to lasso my dreams, wants, desires, passions, truths - then what the hell am I doing?”
It’s in many ways a symbiotic relationship, whereby METTE fosters a sense of belonging in her audience and, in doing so, (re)claims a certain autonomy over her art and identity. “I think there’s a bit of biomythography happening here,” she says of the EP’s lyrical content, referring to the Audre Lorde-coined literary genre of combined history, biography, and myth. Within the project, there are elements of her childhood wanderlust to “get the hell away from [her] small town in Minnesota and live a different life”, but it’s also grounded in the self-determination that her familial upbringing allowed.
“I think duality and fluidity is something that's always been a part of my life,” METTE affirms. “I was never told I couldn't do something because I was a girl - never. When I left home and entered the real world, I realised [it] upholds these rooted stereotypes of beauty and gender.” As such, subversion and contrast are key to METTE’s output; the music video for ‘MAMA’S EYES’, for example, juxtaposes masculine with feminine, nature with industry, past with present. “These are things that come out in the process of creation that we can’t storyboard,’ she comments. “We become the living, breathing manifestation of those things, so of course they’re in the work.”
Speaking about how she uses her art to question these established ideas, she notes that “some people have a huge problem with it”. “I've read comments saying, ‘You’ve got the midsection of Stallone - I know skeleton science, that’s definitely a man’,” she continues. “I don’t know if these are serious comments; I find them quite amusing personally. But if they are serious questions, if they are like, ‘Wait, I’m confused, I’ve never seen this kind of feminine strength before’ - I’m interested in that.”
“Power can come from not saying a word. Power can literally be just holding space.”
Fundamentally, what ‘METTENARRATIVE’ grapples with - and evidently, what it inspires in listeners and viewers - is a fervent curiosity about different facets of the overarching human experience. “One of the biggest questions for a lot of folks is, ‘Where do I fit in this grand tapestry of human emotion? In my community, and in the world at large?’”, says METTE. “[The EP] is my take on these umbrella theories of feeling whole and loved and passionate, but also the other realms that exist within me. There’s the light and the dark, and the two cannot exist without each other.”
It’s an ambitious statement of intent for any record (and one which is aptly, well, meta), but it’s also one that’s taken a long time to fully hone. “At a certain point in life - I think for me it was around 27 - you have the realisation that every moment is to be seized,” METTE says, explaining what prompted her to finally pursue her long-held ambition of writing music. “If I'm not trying to lasso my dreams, wants, desires, passions, truths - then what the hell am I doing?”
‘METTENARRATIVE’, then, is the culmination of years of visual storytelling, experience absorbing and soul searching, drawing on her past as a dancer and actor to communicate on multiple levels simultaneously and break new creative ground. “Difference is important, but there are throughlines that bind us together, and I’m trying to get closer to folks when I go on the road and meet fans next year,” METTE smiles. “Being on stage is where the full package comes together, and that’s where I truly believe I’m destined to be.”
As featured in the December 2023 / January 2024 issue of DIY, out now.