The breakout star talks TikTok, leaking her own songs and her kinship with Miley Cyrus
Bellah Mae knows she has a friendly face. “I absolutely swear this is the truth,” she says. “Every single day, I get asked for help in the streets or on the tube. And I don’t know what it is about my face. It just says, ‘Come and ask me for directions’.”
She rattles off a story about her day yesterday, when she found herself coaching a frightened woman down the escalator in the underground. “It just keeps happening. People come up to me in supermarkets I’ve never been in before and ask me where the bread aisle is. And I’m like, ‘I don’t know, but let me find out for you!’.”
When you make confessional pop music it’s undoubtedly an asset to be someone that your listeners want to confide in. To talk to her, it’s easy to see how Bellah Mae so rapidly became a TikTok success story, building a loyal community of listeners off the back of just three singles and an infectious personality. Fresh from her performance at The Great Escape festival, we caught up with Bellah Mae to find out how it’s all going.
How was your Great Escape?
Great Escape was fun. It was actually my first festival, although it didn’t really feel like a festival, because it’s a bizarre little place. It’s just full of random venues.
This all feels pretty fast since you were only signed in September. Does it feel that way to you?
Yeah, I guess so. I mean, I have the best team in the world and we talk all day, every day. I don’t know how I did this without them, to be honest. I did a degree in music, but I was writing full time at the time and didn’t go to uni, really. Basically, I did it all from my laptop while I was in the studio. And then I wrote a song called ‘Boyfriend Of The Year’, which I put on TikTok. That blew up and got me signed. So I did all the label meetings after that, and then signed with EMI who are just the best. I’m very protective of them.
We signed on that song, but I knew exactly what my sound was. People kind of blow up on a song sometimes and don’t 100% know what their sound is yet, but I was like, “I got this”. It’s pop anthems. It’s relatable, honest, anthems.
When did you work that out?
I came from a country background predominantly. My granddad was in a rock’n’roll band and my intro to music was very southern stuff. He would go to Memphis and Tennessee and perform there. I was always like, “I want to be in country, I love that song writing”. Then I went over to Nashville for the first time when I was like, seventeen or eighteen. They will teach you how to write a song there. It’s amazing. But then I was actually getting the last flight back to the UK during COVID while I was over there, and then it was obviously just me locked up on my own writing songs for two years. I realised I just didn’t find country fun to write anymore because I felt restricted. I wanted to have more fun than that.
Why was country restrictive for you?
I like it. It’s great for a love song and telling a story. But I wanted to be a bit more kick your door down. I was feeling a bit angrier than that. There’s only so angry you can get in a country song. I started to write in sessions as we were coming out of COVID as well, and I was just getting into that mini-Avril Lavigne sort of sound and putting very country lyrics over fall-to-the-floor drums and it was just… the synergy was just amazing. We’ve just not stopped. We just make those every day now. And what’s funny is if you listen to my songs, they’re quite violent. You’d think I hate me, and that I’m like that in real life. But I’m a sweetheart. I get it all out in the songs.
Where does it come from then, the anger?
I just store it all and put it in into this little box ready to put into the songs. It’s definitely in there, but in my day-to-day life, I’m actually very chill. it’s funny, but I think it also makes sense when you meet me. I think my songs make sense when you hear me talk because you’re just like, “Oh, she’s actually not angry. She’s just funny.” But I’m definitely not at this stage of my life where I’m trying to win the men. I’m for the girls.
When the guys that you’ve written these songs about hear the songs, are they taken aback?
Oh, yeah. I mean, it can’t be comfortable. I would never date a songwriter myself. It’s a violation. I would never do it. You do one tiny thing to me, like my boyfriend will watch one episode of something on Netflix without me, and the next day I’m writing a breakup song.
When you first got on TikTok, was it that you knew it was the place to be for aspiring musicians? Or was it just for fun?
I had to do a dissertation when I was finishing my degree. I had the option to do a dissertation project or a regular dissertation. The project was half the word count, so I chose the project. And I was like, what can I do? I didn’t even have a TikTok. I was still like, I’m not doing that. I was still one of those people.
Where did that reluctance come from?
I still was in my head. I have a little sister who’s seven years younger than me who was already doing Musical.ly. But I thought it wasn’t for me. So I didn’t even have TikTok up until I did my dissertation in my third year of uni. But then I made it my project; that I would grow my TikTok from the ground up, as an artist. I would post a couple of trends, and I would do some singing in videos, like a few a week… It was basically building a brand. Which I did, because I was basically doing more of what you’d expect influencers to do, but an influencer that could sing. I was just hamming it up for six months. But then I started to properly tease ‘Boyfriend Of The Year’. And people were like, “Oh, my God, she actually sings. That’s what she does”. It was, I think, a good way to do it. Because from the start I was putting out personality content.
It sounds like you had a very clear roadmap.
I don’t think I did at the time. But it worked out. It’s one of those things where I look back now and realise I could tell this story in a way where it sounded like I really knew what I was doing. Or I could say that I winged it… But I’ve never wanted to do anything else. It really was kind of a wing and a prayer for the first six months. And then I wrote ‘Boyfriend Of The Year’, and that was the first song that I ever teased on TikTok.
How did you know that was the song that you wanted to launch with?
I actually wrote a different song the week before and I was like, this is it. And it’s still one of my favourite songs, but I’ll get handcuffed by my label if I tell you what the title is. But then I wrote ‘Boyfriend Of The Year’ afterwards, and it was one of those evenings where we’d written it all at 7pm. I’d had the first line of the chorus, which is, “I bet she would get flowers and a morning text” in my notes page since New Year’s Day – very specifically, because I have a video on my phone of me crying on New Year’s Day at 2am. What a sad day. But you know, good things come…
It was gonna be an entirely different song called ‘If I Were Her’, and I just hadn’t figured out how I felt about the situation, basically. I was trying to come up with something, I was going through my notes, and I had this line. But I couldn’t think of a title. I was like, “Oh, I need something for when you’re just like, ‘Oh, congratulations, blah blah blah, boyfriend of the year.'” And my co-writer was like, “We should write that”. We wrote it in an hour. And we did the vocals straightaway, which sometimes you don’t do if it’s late at night. I remember we all just sat there in the back studio in the middle of a farm, had a little beer, and played it on repeat. Honest to God, we played it 35 times before we drove home, and then we drove home with it on repeat the whole time. I actually sent a text to my dad that night saying, “I just wrote a career starting song”.
And now you’ve got a super active community on TikTok. When did you start realising that community was forming?
When was about to release ‘Boyfriend Of The Year’, people messaged me privately saying things like, “this has helped me so much, I can’t wait for you to release this…” It was my first song but it was also the first time I ever had an impact with my songwriting. Given where it had come from for me, literally crying on New Year’s Day, it was a pretty full circle moment.
I don’t really know how I got so lucky. I have this amazing group of girls. I feel like maybe every artist thinks that they have the best fans, but you just don’t think that’s gonna come with it. I feel like they’re all sisters. We have the ‘hottest girlfriends club’ group chat on Instagram. I literally feel like their big sister. A lot of them are going through GCSEs right now and I sent them all a little message and I’ve been like checking in with them. I feel very connected to them.
Do they get previews of the new songs?
I’m awful. I show my fans songs way before I should. Actually on my headline show, which was the first time I actually got to meet a lot of them, my team after the show were like, “You know, it’s kind of weird, Bellah… because a lot of your fans were singing some of the words to songs that we don’t even have a release plan for yet…” I was like, “It’s so weird how that happens…” I’ll be on a TikTok live and I can’t say no. I cannot say no. They have me. And I’m like “Fine, I’ll give you a lot of sneak peeks.” Yeah, bless them. They get to hear everything first.
Do you have the next one lined up?
It’s probably summer. And it’s… it’s on brand. Actually my manager sent me a text earlier saying, “Oh my God, I absolutely love this, it’s so on brand.” I texted back like, “I think you saying to me I’m ‘on brand’ is my love language.”
What’s on brand for you?
It’s like this combination of big sister girl boss vibes but also very angsty and like, I will be violent to an ex-boyfriend. Yeah, it’s like girly pop best friend, but with a bit of f*ck you.
Where would you like to be in five years or so?
I mean, if we’re not doing arena tours in five years, then I’ll retire. I’m joking. I want to be doing arena tours in five years for sure.
Who would be your dream artist to open for?
Taylor Swift, hands down. There just isn’t another support slot that would do it like that for me. However, I am a Miley Cyrus stan. Hannah raised me. So Miley would be amazing, and I would love to write with Miley. Because what I love about her is she’s kinda like me, like, country but savage. The older I get, the more I’m like, we’re quite similar, Miley. You just haven’t seen me yet. But when you do, you’re going to be like, “She’s my little sister,” and then we’re going to be unstoppable.