“Why do I have to be the one to write about someone? Why won’t someone write music about me?” laughs Maia, or mxmtoon as she is known to her millions of fans. This question forms the origin of her latest single “Mona Lisa’, a savvy and sun-drenched pop tune that builds on her confessional ukulele pedigree and cleverly flips the authorial lens onto herself. “I wanted to view myself as worthy of being a subject,” she continues. “So many of my songs are about wanting to hide and be invisible; on this song, I ask to be adored for once instead of writing about another person. Celebrating myself in a song felt really important.”
With a debut album in the works that sees her stepping into new genres and inspirations (“I actually listen to such different music than I make,” she notes), her forthcoming release is set to be heavily influenced by her childhood favourites: disco, ABBA, and even nursery rhymes. “In the pandemic, I leaned on the things I loved growing up for comfort,” she explains. “Disco has always meant so much to me - especially as a queer young woman - for its history and its liberation of queer identity.” And nursery rhymes?! “The song “It’s Alright to Cry’ by Rosey Grier from “Free to Be You and Me’ had such a profound impact on me as a child. It gave me my first experience of emotional release. You can find such comfort in familiarity with the things you grew up singing.
“I definitely look to Mitski a lot, as I think we’ve both been pigeonholed into that sad, indie girl role,” she continues. “People may not expect me, as the “emo ukulele girl’, to be a #1 ABBA fan, but being perceived one-dimensionally makes me feel trapped inside a label, when there is actually a broad horizon of things that I am.”
Having just celebrated the five year anniversary of putting her first song online, Maia may still only be 21, but she’s developed a natural faith in her artistry as mxmtoon that she’s now bringing into everything she does. “As an 18-year-old Asian girl working with older white guys who have been in the industry for a long time, I think a lot of my ideas were lost in the creative process because I didn’t feel confident or deserving enough to speak up,” she says of her earlier recording experiences. “Years later, I can walk into these situations with my head held high and insist on my ideas, lyrics and direction.”
And with her long-awaited first full-length due for release this year, and a huge US tour run announced for summer, mxmtoon’s confidence is growing in every direction. “My first tour was very acoustic and stripped down, like my early work. This run is going to be really big, with lots of confetti,” she grins. “Nothing compares to singing along with your audience.”
As featured in the March 2022 issue of DIY, out now.