For the past several years in R&B, it’s taken some scouring to find new artists who aren’t either humping the submerged-underwater style of the Weeknd or diving ever-further into the scrubbed annals of pop. Luckily this wave is passing, and more and more artists—particularly young women—are getting back to brass tacks, making music that showcases strong vocals more than wobbly production, and modernizing classic subjects of the genre (heartbreak, sex, etc) for a new and vibrant audience.
Count Mabel McVey among the promising new greats. A 21-year-old Londoner on the rise, she’s got a knack for making songs that are smart, sweet and intoxicated with a tinge of nostalgia. Last summer’s sumptuous “Thinking of You” was the strongest example of her ability to look back, a breezy love ode that conjured the sugariest of ‘90s teen R&B.
Her power is in the solidness of her songwriting, and she’s as assertive and self-reliant as the best of her predecessors. Her latest single, “Bedroom,” off her forthcoming Bedroom EP (out May 30), is a call-out to a lover who is just interested in her sexual dimension, but an admittance—even as she breaks his dishes—that she is nevertheless, conflictedly, addicted to the lust.
Mabel comes from a long pedigree of musicians: her mother is the iconic rapper-singer Neneh Cherry, and her father is producer Cameron McVey, of trip-hop legends Massive Attack. (She still lives with her parents in London.) When she visited our office in April, she said was initially shy to release her music, but she was always writing it from a very young age, having attended music school in Stockholm, where she spent her youth. Her travels and heritage inspire her music now, as does her self-motivated approach to the music industry; friends with many of her woman peers in R&B, she recently devoted much of a guest spot on London’s Rinse FM to playing their music, bigging up the likes of her friend Raye, Sinead Harnett, Ray BLK, and Kehlani. “I’ve been thinking a lot about lyrics,” she said, “and why can’t a girl say what a male rapper does? If Kanye can say it, why can’t I?” We asked Mabel about that and more in our chat on our roof overlooking Manhattan, above.