Not many twenty-one-year-olds know where they’re going in life, never mind straight to the top of Australia’s biggest music countdown. Not many twenty-one-year-olds are MAY-A, though.
The Sydney star had been on the rise since 2019 when she topped triple j’s Hottest 100 in January this year, with her feature on Flume’s “Say Nothing” — but she still wasn’t prepared for the moment.
“Everyone kept saying, ‘You knew you were going to win’, and I said, ‘If I knew that, I would have started gambling for the first time in my life’,” MAY-A says humbly. “I would have put some solid money on it to fund my next project!”
It didn’t help that there was no guarantee “Say Nothing” would even be released. “When we tracked the vocals, Flume’s team were very much like, ‘We’re just testing, we’re just figuring it out’.”
It’s lucky they did. On its way to the top, the initial success of “Say Nothing” catapulted MAY-A to a new level, and saw her perform at Coachella 2022 alongside Flume.
Nine months later, she was in a German hotel surrounded by her friends and bandmates when the news broke live on-air in Australia — but the triumph didn’t sink in at first.
“I was a bit like, ‘I don’t want to take credit for this because it’s just my voice’.”
When the significance of the moment set in, her outlook changed. “There’s only been four women winners, which is crazy. I then thought, ‘Who else is openly gay?’ When I won, I was tagged in heaps of videos by people insisting it was a ‘win for the gays’. Why was everyone making it about my sexuality? I looked back and was like, ‘Oh, wait… maybe it is a win for the gays.’ That’s the thing that made me the most excited.”
While MAY-A’s first EP — 2021’s Don’t Kiss Ur Friends — was about figuring out her sexuality and growing into adulthood, her upcoming sophomore project is about solidifying her sense of self: “What artist do I want to be? What do I want to experiment with sound-wise?”
It’s an endlessly curious approach that has filtered into everything MAY-A does. She describes loving classical music, reggae, even intricate math rock; Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan, Polyphony, and Post Malone are influences.
It’s why she’s chosen collaborators as varied as DMA’S (“I’ve been a diehard fan since I was in high school”), Budjerah (“I love him so dearly”), and cites electronic trio RÜFÜS DU SOL as next on her list. “I would never make that type of music, but I would love to be a part of it.”
More than anyone though, she wants to work with Albert Hammond Jr. “We went to see The Strokes, I tagged him in a picture and he liked it!” MAY-A gushes. “I have never in my life actually lost oxygen.”
Following her Hottest 100 win, MAY-A felt extra pressure to follow it up. “The longer you wait, the more important it feels,” she concedes. “‘The songs you release after this have to be really impactful’, people kept saying.”
Her first two singles of 2023 feel like a riposte to those unduly pressuring her. First there was “Sweat You Out My System”, an alt-rock cut full of emotion, followed by the playful pop of “Your Funeral”, her conjuring of what it might sound like if “Phoebe Bridgers covered a Bo Burnham comedy song.”
“I was trying to be all sentimental and real, but I wasn’t really going through anything too much at that point in time,” MAY-A recalls. “I wasn’t debilitatingly sad or anything, so we thought, ‘Let’s write something stupid and goofy’.”
Side stepping between EDM anthem, “weird rock”, and pure pop — that’s the work of an artist perennially trying to push themselves. MAY-A says she’s constantly learning, including on her recent tours in the US, UK, and Europe. “We learned a lot about crowd control and how to really get them to be part of the experience.”
It wasn’t so long ago that she was in the crowd herself, (revelling in the Hammond Jr. and co. experience), so she knows what it means to make that connection. “Someone once told me that all live music is an exchange of energy,” she says. “I try to think about that every single time.”
After a year of firsts, and with her second EP on the way, MAY-A firmly knows what she wants. “I want this year to be about fully forming the vision of exactly where I want to be,” she declares. “This is the closest I’ve ever felt to having faith in myself and being proud of what I’m creating.”