High Expectations

High Expectations

“People assumed for a long time that pop stars were these angelic, almost godlike beings,” Mabel McVey tells Apple Music. “I feel like over the last few years artists have said, ‘Fuck it. I’m just going to be human.’” High Expectations is a pop album that’s very human, very honest, and very, very good. It’s an album that’s demanded some patience from those awaiting its arrival (“I wanted to find my voice, which required a lot of trial and error and stress,” she says) but has emerged as that most wonderful thing: an album that presents its creator authentically. “If one of my idols had turned around when I was a teenager and said, ‘I get really fucking anxious and sometimes I can’t sleep and I worry over what people think of me and I have regrets,’ you have no idea how amazing that would’ve made me feel. It would’ve made me feel so much less alone.” Fittingly then, McVey has created one of 2019’s most inclusive, empowering, and celebratory records, armed with loads of incredibly catchy R&B-pop. Allow her to talk you through it, track by track. “High Expectations (Intro)” “I wrote this about two years ago with Tre Jean-Marie [Little Mix, Burna Boy] and Joel Compass. I was thinking about how I was as a kid—incredibly ambitious. I set the bar dangerously high for myself and put myself under quite a lot of pressure. This soon merged into my expectations of other people, especially in relationships. I think in general it says a lot about me. The whole album is partly about me picking that apart.” “Bad Behaviour” “It’s a song about the fun we have as girls. I wanted to make a song that’s just a vibe, literally to take you back to that amazing night. It was written after one specific night where I woke up the morning after and just couldn’t calm down. Writing a song about it was definitely better than just doing an Instagram post. And it speaks to what the album is about: making people feel good.” “Don't Call Me Up” “Ah, my little tune [laughs]. I’ll always be very grateful for this song—it’s kinda changed my life. I remember being a bit overwhelmed in the studio when we finished it. It’s the emotion of the song that I think makes people react to it so much. I get messages every day from people that say, ‘I was with this guy and he was an arsehole and I listened to your song on repeat and now I’ve left him after having no idea how I could ever do it.’ That’s incredibly powerful and incredibly cool for me to hear. I just love the idea of girls singing the songs to each other.” “FML” “This was written in LA with Marlon Roudette, Oak, Sarah Aarons, and it was a really great studio experience. The song literally just poured out of me. I try to stay positive with everything, but real life situations can be difficult. In this particular time, I was going through it and was just like, 'Fuck!' I didn’t know why this relationship hadn’t worked and just didn’t understand. I was thinking all those things you’re not supposed to think: I wonder what you're doing; I wonder where you are; tell me what went wrong. The ‘FML’ period comes way before the ‘Don’t Call Me Up’ period, I can tell you. But I love the way it came out. It shows what shit feels like, and that’s actually really empowering.” “We Don't Say” “It’s about that confusing time in a relationship when you wish you had said how you truly felt about someone. Because maybe if you had, they might have stayed. It’s about being brave enough to jump and thinking, ‘Shit, is this person going to jump too?’ But one of you always has to do it. I love the sound, the production, and everything here.” “Selfish Love” (feat. Kamille) “Collaborating is obviously very important to me, which we’ll get on to when we hit the bonus tracks. But it was very important to me that my debut album was my own story. This Kamille feature, however, is incredibly important to the album because she’s been such a vital part. She’s boosted my confidence and been an amazing friend and writer to work with. So when we wrote the song, it just made sense for her to be on it, especially as we really connected over the subject of the song. As a woman, you’re expected to do things that guys really don’t have to do. It’s just part of being a woman—bending over backwards. This is questioning why we actually have to do that.” “Lucky (Interlude)” “Interludes were always so important to me on so many of the records I grew up with, so I felt it’d be amazing to have a couple, and also, help separate the album a little bit. ‘Lucky’ was just a little freestyle. I struggle with certain of aspects of my job and social media and everything that comes with it, but even when I am feeling that way, I still feel very lucky. I know that I’m fortunate to live the life that I live. So this was a nice little moment for me. I was very much singing to myself, to have that reminder when I have those down days.” “Mad Love” “I wrote this quite soon after ‘Don’t Call Me Up,’ and instead of doing ‘Don’t Call Me Up Pt. II,’ I wanted to capture that beautiful and simple time when you like someone and they like you. Often girls are expected to wait for the guys, but here I just wanted to get the message across that it’s important to go ahead and get what you want.” “Trouble” “’Trouble’ is about drawing a line between passion and drama. Like, is this relationship dramatic because we’re just so passionate and love each other so much, and it’s twisted because there’s just so much love? Or is it literally just drama that I do not need in my life? I think I find it quite hard to draw that line, so I wanted to write a song to help me figure it out.” “Put Your Name on It” “One of the first tracks that I wrote after I nailed the album concept. It’s about setting the bar high and asserting that I know how I deserve to be treated. Telling the guy: ‘Stop messing around. I’m right here. I’m ready for you. What are you waiting for? And if you can’t give it to me, then don’t waste my time.’ I think that’s obviously a really important message to send young women. People will really try to take the piss and try and fuck you about, and actually, life’s too short. It’s too short to have someone string you along.” “Stckhlm Syndrome (Interlude)” “Stockholm is obviously somewhere very important to me. I grew up there [McVey’s mother is Swedish artist Neneh Cherry], and lots of cool things happened to me there to help shape me as a person. But there were also certain things about it that I needed to express. I did feel quite trapped growing up there at times. It’s beautiful but it’s also tiny, especially as a teenager when you’re trying to find yourself. I felt like I needed diversity and I needed some madness. I tried to write this where the city becomes the toxic relationship and you realize that the person is basically holding you hostage. But you’ve also fallen in love with your captor. You really can hold so many different emotions to the place you grew up in.” “OK (Anxiety Anthem)” “My hardest song to write. I pride myself as an honest writer and felt I had a responsibility to be as honest about this side of me as I am with relationships and other things that happen in my life. I’ve experienced anxiety my whole life—that little voice in my head—and so it’s very, very, very important to talk about. It took me a long time to figure out how to write about it, because I had to understand how I really felt about it. I think I was so ashamed of it, and so it was embarrassing to talk about. It felt weak. Then, last year, after going through a bit of a hard time, I realized that [my anxiety] doesn’t reflect weakness and that instead of being embarrassed, I’m just going to tell people about what I experience, and maybe that’ll encourage others to be open too. Even on the day of the session, I woke up and thought I either get up, get dressed, put makeup on, and then struggle for eight hours or I just cancel the session. And then I realized that I did have a magical third option which I’d never thought about before: just go with my feelings and be honest." “I Belong to Me” “It was important to end on this note. Because after all those experiences that I've been through and sing about on the album—the positive ones, the negative ones—I’ve come out the other side and I'm okay with all of it. I'm happy as I am. And I think that is a really important message to send: ‘At the end of the day, I am all I have. I am going to try my best to love what that is, and you should too, because we’re all gonna fuck up relationships and screw everything up otherwise.’ So it was a fun song to write, actually. We had so much fun doing all the harmonies, too. Hours and hours just tracking all the vocals. I could do that for days.” “High Expectations (Outro)” “I loved the idea of taking it back. And also, if you want to listen to the album on repeat—which I’d really love you to do!—it’s a good way to back into it. It’s a classic way to end and start an album. I loved the idea of it being so simple.” Bonus Tracks! “Finders Keepers” (feat. Kojo Funds) “The song where I really found my confidence. I have no regrets about the music that came before, but it was definitely at this point that I felt I was owning it. And I'm very grateful for Kojo as well. I was a big fan, and I think he did such a good job on the track. It wouldn't have been the same without him.” “Fine Line” “‘Finders Keepers’ was my first experience of having a song that gets played in clubs and makes people dance. So I wanted another song like that. ‘Fine Line’ is about that sort of exciting time in a relationship where you’re like, ‘Is this great, or is this all going to go to shit?’” “My Lover” (Mabel & Not3s) “Not3s taught me so much in terms of my writing process. We grew so much together. Lots of the songs on the album wouldn’t have turned out the way they had without him, because he taught me how to be fearless in the studio. He will always just go into the booth to figure out his shit. He’s not afraid of doing 20 minutes with no words and mumbling shit and making mistakes and laughing. I would tell him I’d be too scared to do that as people are listening and I wouldn’t want to look stupid. So he’d come into the booth and we’d do silly shit together to keep it fun.” “Ring Ring” (Mabel & Jax Jones feat. Rich The Kid) “Without Not3s coaching me to be more bold in the booth, this song wouldn’t have come about. It was a freestyle, basically. It had been a difficult session with Jax initially because we come from different musical backgrounds. But I trusted he was an incredible musician and an amazing person and when you have a connection, something will come. However, first day in the studio: nothing. At the end of the second day, I freestyled for half an hour and then Jax sent me the track. He cut up the different sections and turned it into a song. I also appreciate that I’m sending very mixed messages about mobile phones with my music. I don’t want people calling me up one minute [on “Don’t Call Me Up”] and now I’m desperate for people to pick up. [laughs]” “Cigarette” “This was the most fun. RAYE is an incredible singer and songwriter, and Steff [UK rapper Stefflon Don] is a force of nature. I think the song feels authentic because we’re actually friends. And we actually recorded it all together in the studio at the same time, which is quite unusual. I think you can hear that—we’re all vibing off each other’s ad libs.” 
“Not Sayin'” “This is about being a bit cheeky and saying, ‘I’m not 100% sure how I feel about you yet, but stick around and let’s see what happens.’”

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