“I was hiding a big part of myself”: Mae Muller on finding comfort in her biggest insecurities

After a bumper 2023 that saw her represent the UK at Eurovision, the singer-songwriter sits down with HUNGER to discuss the journey that led to her upcoming debut album, ‘Sorry I’m Late’.

It’s been just over three months since Mae Muller took to the stage in Liverpool as the UK’s Eurovision entrant, where she performed her anthemic poetic pop hit ‘I Wrote a Song’. Despite not achieving “the result we [the UK] hoped for,” the 25-year-old’s efforts exposed her to a whole new audience, resulting in Muller’s first-ever top 10 charting single. “It’s a weird feeling, but I feel positive about it, and I’m so happy I did it,” reminisces the artist. But, like always, as one chapter closes, another begins, and riding high off that performance, Muller is ready to enter the next stage of her artistic evolution. 

The Kentish Town-born singer-songwriter is gearing up to release her debut album, Sorry I’m Late, arriving September 15th. It’s an apt title for Muller: a thank-you note to her fans, showing her appreciation for their patience in what has been an intense period of soul-searching and self-discovery. Considering the project will drop in just a few weeks when Muller joins me over Zoom, there’s not one sign of nervousness. She makes for a confident figure and has the air of an artist who knows they’ve put their all into a record. Muller hasn’t been dreading this moment, she’s been revelling in it, and her excitement shines through whenever we discuss it. 

Mae wears coat and bodysuit by Florentina Leitner, shoes by Chin Chin, necklace and ring by Fabergé and earrings by Balmain

Sorry I’m Late is a pop record that doesn’t hold any punches. There’s a selection of contagious, bold and bright pop records beautifully juxtaposed with tracks showcasing Muller’s more vulnerable side. Her vocals are as emotive and crisp as ever, but it’s her highly personable approach to songwriting that really steals the show. The already released ‘Me, Myself & I’ sees Muller embrace independence, disregarding the need for external validation – a discovery aided by a 10 month period of celibacy. On the other hand, there’s ‘MTJL’ (Maybe That’s Just Life), a reeling of all of the artist’s deepest insecurities, with Muller singing, “I’m just a mess, maybe that’s just life, I guess,” whilst simultaneously battling with the thought of sounding ungrateful for the position she’s in. Despite making for a tear-jerking listen, it’s a track that Muller hopes can help others understand that they’re not alone.

Muller’s evolution as a storyteller should come as no surprise. In school, she used to spend her lunch breaks helping younger children in creative writing classes and grew up on the likes of Lily Allen. Now, all these years later, she’s ready to share her most personal and introspective stories yet – along with more than a few bangers, of course.

LEFT AND RIGHT: Mae wears top by MITHRIDATE dress by De La Vali, bracelet and necklace by Bulgari and shoes by Ami

Hey Mae, music wise, how are you feeling generally right now?

Mae: Honestly, it’s a really strange, surreal time because, for years, it’s been like a hypothetical album, like it’s never been a real actual thing. And now I get to talk about it, and it’s a tangible, real-life thing that I can hold, and I can see, and people know it exists. I feel like it’s just the right time, and I’m so excited to have people be able to really dig into like a nice juicy project. I’m excited for people to hear these different sides of me. 

READ MORE: Lily Allen on fleeing London and recovering from life in the spotlight: “People think I’m retreating, but I’m done being at the forefront”

So, just taking it back in time a bit, I read that you grew up in North London. What was the kind of music you were listening to at that point? Who were your inspirations?

Mae: I was obsessed with Lily Allen. I loved her so much. I think she really helped shape me or helped me know what I wanted to say or just how I wanted to say it. And even though I was like 10 listening to her and I didn’t fully understand all the subject matter she was talking about, I just believed everything she said, especially on Alright, Still. It was so visual, and you just believed it all. From then I just wanted to do that. Whatever I said, wrote about, or sang about, I wanted people to go, “I believe that, and I relate to it, and I can see it.” If I can achieve that, then I’ll be very happy.

Would you say authenticity is a key aspect for you and your music?

Mae: I think so, yeah. Because that’s what I seek out in my artists. I need to believe it. I need to believe what they’re saying, and if they do that, I’m captured.

Mae wears dress by David Koma, boots by Casadei and earrings by Balmain

I also read that as a kid, you were always looking for attention. Now that you’re older and you have the spotlight on you, do you like to sit back a bit more?

Mae: Nothing’s changed [laughs]. I’m still an attention seeker. I think I just love that feeling of getting up in front of a group of people and performing. That never filled me with dread. It filled me with excitement. Even though I was so young, I didn’t really understand what that meant, but I knew that I wanted to do it in some form. 

Moving onto the album, how did you approach this differently to your previous EPs and singles?

Mae: I think the difference is, you know, we were speaking about authenticity, and in a way, I was being really true to myself in those early days, but I still felt like I had to prove something, and I felt like as a woman I had to have this bad bitch energy. Like, you’ll not see me sweat, I’ve got this, I’ve got that, I’ve done all this for myself, no man can ever get me down. And that’s what I was putting out, and that’s all I wanted people to feel from me. I wanted that confidence, and, in a way, that was a real authentic side of myself, but also, you can’t be that all the time. So I was also hiding a big part of myself, the more vulnerable side. I do doubt myself, and I do get insecure. Instead of shying away from that, I’ve embraced it a bit more, and I’ve approached it in such a different way. I’ve found strength in vulnerability, and it feels like the right time to do that because I feel confident. I feel truly confident in myself, and I’ve been through things that have made me feel stronger, so I don’t have to put up that front. It’s actually fine not to feel fine for a second. I think that is why this album is so important to me. And that’s kind of what I wanna show, that not just in music, but women in general, we all feel like we have to put on this front and be the strength and be super all the time and be the fixer. I just think this album was a way to show we can’t be that all the time, and that’s OK.

LEFT: Mae wears coat and trousers by Buerlangma, dress and bag by Dsqaured2, jewellery by Bulgari, and boots by Aeyde
RIGHT: Mae wears coat and mask by Buerlangma and jewellery by Bulgari

Obviously, this is your debut album. How do you feel about the title of it being your debut album? Do you think about that at all? Does it add more pressure, or is it just another project for you?

Mae: It definitely doesn’t feel like just another project just because so much has gone into it over the past five years of my life. It’s not just like, ‘oh, let’s just whip up some songs I’ve done recently, get the album out and let’s be done with it’. It’s really been a lengthy process and the fact that it’s my debut album, I’m trying not to put so much pressure on myself. Usually, I’d be like, ‘Oh my God, I need it to chart, and I need it to do this’ for me to feel validated in it. But I’m actually separating myself from that. Obviously, I want it to do well, and I want it to get the reception it deserves, but I think that all I’m focusing on is how proud I am of it. And, you know, the people that are meant to hear it will hear it.

A major theme of the project is the celebration of independence and accepting who you are entirely without the need for external validation. How did you get to a point of having that level of acceptance?

Mae: I think that’s something that I’ve always liked to put forward in my music, that I’m independent and that I don’t need somebody else to make me happy because I’ve got enough in my life and I’ve done enough for myself. But it’s a journey and I still feel like you can’t just wake up one day and feel like that. I’m still learning that every day, but hopefully this album can maybe help people feel like they are enough on their own. But there are also a lot of songs on the album about loss of love and relationships and more of this vulnerable sad side of that. But to get to that level of self-worth and independence, you have to go through the rubbish stuff. On this album, I’ve touched on the rubbish stuff a little bit which I’m actually really happy about because I feel like it shows people the journey. You know, you don’t just wake up one day and go, ‘Oh my God, I’m full of self-worth and confidence, I love myself so much.’ You have to go through things to get to that point.

Mae wears coat by Buerlangma, dress by DSQUARED2 and jewellery by Bulgari

One track that I wanted to talk about was ‘Porn Lied To Us’, where you’re singing about feeling pressured to act certain ways sexually and the idea of sex today being more of a performance than something intimate. How did the concept for that come about? 

Mae: I feel like for me, and I’m not alone in this, but I think through the media and pornography, I just think sex is portrayed in such a way that it’s obviously not real. And I think growing up and digesting that all the time, when it does get to the point where you are ready to be intimate with someone and you are exploring, there is this pressure of it being a performance. I have to perform in a certain way so that this other person is happy and I’m not embarrassed. And that is not actually what being intimate is about. I’ve gone through that a lot where there’s one line where it’s like ‘We can’t be ourselves unless the lights are off.’ And I think that a lot of people can relate to that. For such a long time, and not even in just sexual terms, I found it really hard to just be myself in front of other people. I think that line can be just taken in so many different ways. It’s really hard to be our true, authentic selves in a vulnerable position.

Another track that left an impact on me was ‘MTJL’, which is one of the more vulnerable tracks. Were you reluctant to get so honest? Or was that something that you just had to get out there?

Mae: I think honesty has always been something that I’ve strived for. And I think maybe subconsciously like the vulnerable side of things I’ve not put out more of like as a protection of myself, and I think a lot of my music has been like armour in a way and making up for things when I was younger. I didn’t really stick up for myself, and I let a lot of people walk all over me. Music was my way of going, ‘I’m not that person anymore, and you can’t walk all over me because look who I am now.’ But I think now, with songs like ‘MTJL’, it was more like a diary entry for me, and the second I started writing it, it fell out because I’d been putting on a front for so long. It’s kind of scary, but also, I don’t really feel scared because I know that I’m not alone in that feeling. When people listen to your music, and you hear people go, ‘You helped me through this, and now I don’t feel so alone,’ it’s exactly the same for me. When I write something, which I feel is quite vulnerable, and then I hear people go, ‘Oh my gosh, I feel the same way,’ I know I’m not alone in that too. It really works both ways, actually. And I think songs like that really connect with people, even though it’s quite an isolating feeling.

The songs are very personal, about specific situations and people in your life. Has anyone ever clocked that a song is mentioning them or about them?

Mae: I mean, I’m sure they have, or I’m sure what’s happened is they think it’s about them, and it’s actually not. But no one’s pulled me up on it yet. I’ve always said that if you can treat a person terribly, you have to deal with the consequences. And it’s therapeutic, you know? It’s just my process.

LEFT: Mae wears jumper by Natasha Zinko
RIGHT: Mae wears jumper by Natasha Zinko, necklace by Hatton Labs and ring by Tory Burch

Another big moment for you this year was Eurovision. Now that it’s been a few months since that experience, how do you feel about it looking back? 

Mae: It’s a weird feeling, but I feel positive about it, and I’m so happy I did it. I think the main thing that I can take from it is that I met so many amazing people, and now so many more people are on this journey with me. That’s all I wanted – I just wanna connect with people. I was really, really lucky that I got to do that. I think the song resonated with people, and I saw how much joy it brought, and I’ll keep that with me for the rest of my life. It was definitely intense, and there were some moments which were difficult, but I wouldn’t change a thing. 

How do you feel your younger self would feel about the position you’re in now and the person you are and everything you’ve already achieved? 

Mae: I try to think of that often when I’m feeling a bit hard on myself or down in the dumps. I do think back to when I was younger, and she definitely wouldn’t believe it, especially because when I was younger, TikTok and social media weren’t really a thing. So being an artist and a pop star was such an unobtainable, far-away dream. I didn’t even know what that looked like, what that would even mean. I just knew that I wanted to do it in some way or form, but I just couldn’t see it. So now that I’m doing it and this is what I do for a living, I think she wouldn’t believe it.

Are you glad you came up in the era that you did where social media wasn’t as prominent, compared to TikTok now and how the industry is so intertwined with that?

Mae: It’s crazy to see how much it’s changed just in the past four years. Some parts of me are like, ‘If I had come up in the TikTok era, things wouldn’t be as difficult.’ I love TikTok, but it doesn’t come as naturally for me because I’ve had to adapt to that. Before, it was just like you post a little picture on Instagram, and that’s enough, you know? But I think there’s a lot of pressure on artists to constantly post and make engaging and relatable content. To some people, that is easy and comes naturally and to others, it’s hard. There are a lot of introverted artists, and it is hard because not every artist is willing to post about their life or post themselves all the time. I think it is really, really hard, but it’s just the way it’s now. There’s always something new in music or in the creative industry that you either get on or you get, or you get off. So I’m just along for the ride.

What would you say is the kind of overall goal for you in music?

Mae: I just want to do shows across the world for people to listen to the music, and anything that comes with that is an amazing bonus. There’s no ceiling for me. There’s the Brits and the Grammys, and those are goals for sure, but I think at my core, I just wanna perform. That is what brings me joy.

PhotographerAlex Rorison
Producer & Deputy EditorNessa Humayun
StylistBen James Adams
MakeupZara Ali
WriterChris Saunders