TikTok’s power to create inescapable hits out of songs has been one of the platform’s defining features since everyone turned to it during early COVID-19 lockdowns. The most recent earworm to get stuck in people’s heads, “If We Ever Broke Up,” is now out on streaming services from Mae Stephens, a 19-year-old from the United Kingdom, who is clearly a student of the app. “If We Ever Broke Up,” a synth-y alt-pop bop (reminiscent of BENEE or Doja Cat’s “Say So”) song has been teased on TikTok for months, and a 15-second audio clip of Stephens singing, “If we ever broke up, I’ll never be sad, thinkin’ bout everything that we had if we ever broke up” quickly took on a life of its own, becoming the soundtrack for other people’s videos. Now, Stephens has signed with Republic Records at Universal and officially released the song on Friday.
There was a considerable amount of hype built around this song and now that it’s finally out in the world, Stephens can take a second to revel in the release. Now, she’s officially quit her job as a grocery store employee to make music full-time. Stephens sat down with TIME for an interview to talk about the release of her long-awaited single, “If We Ever Broke Up,” what it’s like being a musician and an influencer, and plans for new music.
TIME: How are you feeling about your new song *finally* being out in the world?
Stephens: Honestly, a bit shocked that it’s now actually kind of out there for people to listen to it. It’s pretty surreal to me.
You’ve been promoting it for a long time.
Yeah! When I put the first post out, I really didn’t expect it to go viral. When it started to pick up likes, and views, and comments, it was a race against time to get the song out but it’s all been worth it.
What prolonged the release of the song? Was it because of getting signed? The contracts? Making the song?
After it went viral, I had a lot of labels pick me up and it was just this process of signing with a label, getting it mixed, mastered, and all that. It was quite a long process.
Now that the song has taken off and you’ve been able to quit your job, was there any apprehension about making that leap into being a full-time musician and giving up that security in doing a job you’d be working at a really long time?
I’ve always worried about money. My work was really supportive about it and I was quite upset to leave because I’ve made some good friends there. But I’m very sure it was the right decision.
What made you feel like it was the right decision?
Just the amount of people that are supporting what I’m doing now, and I don’t just mean the fans but the team I have… Before all of this happened, it was just me and my dad, we called him my “dadager,” dad-manager. He was behind the scenes, helping me with the content, and running all my socials. He was the powerhouse of all this and now he’s had to hand over the baton to EMI.
How was he with that transition? Was he breathing a sigh of relief?
To be honest, it’s been his journey as much as it has been mine. We’ve gone through everything together. Every part of the promotion, every no I’ve heard he’s felt it as well. So for him to pass it on, I think it was quite a big moment because he’s worked on it as much as I have. My mom as well, my family has been so heavily involved in what I’ve been doing and believing in me and pushing me forward to do all this. It’s a win for them as well.
When you were deciding to work with Republic, what was that conversation like and what was your family’s reaction when you finally got signed?
It was a shock. We were expecting to talk to labels, maybe in like a couple of years. We were trying to figure out our plan for 2023. For this to come so soon and to be able to talk to labels, especially Republic, we were all in such a massive state of shock. It was like everything became still. It was just a massive moment. I’ve been dreaming of it since I was a kid and it’s actually become a reality.
Now that you’re signed, what are your plans for music? An EP? An album?
“If We Ever Broke Up” was never originally my style of music. I was always more into heartbreak songs and ballads. So to have this release, it’s kind of given me a push to do more things andwork on some kind of funky bops. We’ve been working on some pieces that are very similar to “If We Ever Broke Up,” a vibe that people seem to be absolutely loving, so we’re gonna just keep pushing music like that.
I feel like that’s what people who want to be musicians strive for. They just want to sit, make music, be creative in a studio and just do that, you know?
It’s the feeling of walking out from a session and then getting sent the demo that you’ve done that is so refreshing. Especially with hearing my voice in a completely different genre of music than what I’m used to, it’s amazing. I love it. It’s my favorite part.
Being a musician on top of being an influencer that sounds exhausting. How has that balance been for you?
I’ve loved it. I love posting, seeing the numbers when I post and just how much engagement I’ve got. It’s crazy to know that people love my music and resonate with it. I haven’t felt a big amount of pressure apart from obviously you know the countdown to getting the release out but it’s been nice to be able to build a solid fan base, and for them to love me for me as well.
You’re sort of in a great position with being an influencer and a musician because a lot of musicians have to be influencers now. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from that experience?
To be myself, I know it’s such a generic thing. But I’ve always covered up who I was, especially going through school and kind of figuring out not who I was as an artist, but as a person as well—to be able to then go on to social media, be who I am, pull off some incredibly terrible dance moves, and people enjoy that. The lesson that I’ve learned is to just be who I am and people will accept me for that and it’s something that has now influenced everything in my life. I am the person I want to be because of this.
One thing that I saw in the comments and looking at your videos was people saying, “Girl, when is this coming out?” How did you feel when people were putting that pressure on you to put it out?
I’ve always been worried about upsetting people. I kept apologizing. There was a period of time where I didn’t actually post the song because I was trying so hard to avoid annoying anymore people, so it was quite hard in that respect.
What are your big hopes as a musician? Do you want to be a mega pop star like a Billie Eilish or Olivia Rodrigo or do you want to find more of a niche?
I started writing music at 12 and the reason I started writing music was to make people aware how much emotional value we have as young adults or kids and that no matter what we go through, we still go through the same things as someone who’s twice our age. I did start writing to push that emotional awareness. I definitely want to be the artist that is just normal and people who have gone through bullying school and other things as well can relate to and understand that if you work hard enough at something eventually you’ll get there.
Was there an artist that you followed or stanned that has influenced you in wanting to be this type of artist?
Freddie Mercury has always been an idol for me because he never cared what anyone thought. I’m a massive Sigrid fan because she’s not rushed into a social hierarchy or norms or anything. She is literally a normal person who loves what she does and does it because she enjoys it. Also Lizzo, she is who she is, she’s just a people person. I love her and her attitude toward what she does.
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