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Mahalia Returns To Real Life With 'IRL': 'It's A Love Letter To Myself'

14 July 2023 | 1:59 pm | Jessie Lynch

"I lost myself in the pandemic, and I just wanted to see my friends, go through real emotions, and have some real, normal experiences."


Mahalia (Supplied)

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Talented UK singer-songwriter Mahalia has today released her highly anticipated second album, IRL, delivering a beautiful classic that fans are bound to get behind.

IRL showcases Mahalia's versatility as an artist, seamlessly blending various styles and genres like Pop, Soul, and R&B while representing a bold leap forward from her debut album, Love and Compromise, and serves as a reflection of where she is musically and emotionally in her career.

The record features nine brand-new tracks that have never been heard before, along with previously released singles such as Terms & Conditions, In My Bag, Readyand Cheatwhich features pop powerhouse JoJo.

The album also boasts an impressive lineup of guest appearances, including Stormzy, Joyce Wrice, Destin Conrad, Kojey Radical, and more.

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Mahalia’s latest tunes highlight how she’s become a shining beacon of light in the music industry, captivating listeners and inspiring them effortlessly as she continues to showcase her immense talent and musical growth.

In celebration of the release of IRL, we had a chat down with Mahalia to talk about the new album, returning to real life post-lockdown, which Aussie artists she’s keen to collab with, and everything in between.

First of all, congratulations on the release of IRL! Can you tell us a bit about the album and how does this album differ from your previous works?

This was an album that kind of came post-pandemic because I wasn’t creative [during lockdown] and trying to work within the four walls of my apartment and I completely shut down.

But then, coming out of the pandemic, I just desperately wanted to experience IRL scenarios and stuff. So the whole record really was about me finding myself again after I lost myself in the pandemic, and I just wanted to see my friends, go through real emotions, and just have some real, normal experiences and talk about it again.

I think it differs from my last album because, at that time, I didn't really get the time to sit and really work on it - I basically was touring in the middle of writing it. So I didn't really get the time to focus on what I wanted to talk about, and like and really develop music and some of the songs and some of the concepts.

Whereas with this record, we weren't allowed to travel, we weren't allowed to fly anywhere. I basically got the chance to just sit and really, really delve into concepts that I wanted to get out of myself. 

I love that. You mentioned returning to “real life”, and obviously the album's called IRL and goes back to lockdown. Was that the thought process - that we're finally “in IRL”?

Yes. So we had written a song called IRL - when I say we, I mean a producer called JD Reid, an amazing artist called Max Payne, and another artist called Heart, who happens to be my boyfriend.

I was kind of going through it, I think I was having a bit of an identity crisis - I was feeling a little bit like an imposter and just kind of not really like not really being able to take in exactly how much I've done in my short career. So it became a very reflective song.

I think the album itself is very reflective, and I remember when we made it and had the title IRL, I was like, “I think that's what the album's called” because I think that song perfectly explains kind of how I got here. It just felt like it all came together really easily.

Can you share some insights into the themes explored on IRL and where you drew your inspiration from?

I think the whole kind of theme in IRL, for me, was independence. It was kind of about figuring out what kind of woman I am now, and I've been describing it as a love letter to myself.

It’s very reflective of my career and how I started and how I got here. There's one song on there called Isn't That Strange, which is basically all about me kind of seeing myself as a bit of a hypocrite, you know, coming from a really small town, coming from humble beginnings and then starting my career this career and living in London and drinking expensive cocktails and going out for nice dinners and being confused about that feeling.

There's a lot of stuff on relationships and heartbreak. I think heartbreak was a theme for me because when I started writing, I had a broken heart - but I feel like the main kind of the main concept that I think weaves through the record is gaining a sense of independence and strength.

We love your collaboration with JoJo on the single Cheat. How did this collaboration come about and what was it like working with her on the track?

I actually just Dm’d her! I’m always scared to DM artists because I probably have a little fear of rejection. So I was kind of nervous, but we had chatted before and part of me felt like she was going to get back to me.

We never actually got to get in the studio together, because I still wasn't able to fly to the US. But we did a lot of talking over email over WhatsApp sharing voice notes, and just figuring out how the song should be.

It all came together really easily and it felt really organic. I think it was nice that we were able to have most of the conversations because we both have busy schedules and usually this stuff is handled through management or labels. So it was really nice for us to be able to have that together.

When we finally got to shoot the videos together in New York, we just really, really, really got on, which is always lovely.

You’ve already been nominated for a Grammy, a Brit Award and countless other accolades. What does that recognition mean to you?

Well, I think I think we can probably all agree that like, winning awards isn't the be-all and end-all. But the recognition definitely feels nice.

I think it's a lovely thing to be recognised. I think all of us artists kind of do this because we love it. But having somebody say “You're amazing at this, and we want to give you something because of it” is pretty special.

Your music often tackles personal experiences and relationships. How do you navigate the fine line between vulnerability and maintaining your privacy as an artist as well?

Well, I don't have a lot of privacy and obviously, I don't share all of the kind of crazy parts. But I always wanted to be an honest artist, and I kind of think we can't relate to each other as humans if we don't share.

I also have always felt like kind of a mentor. If I wasn't an artist, I probably would have been a teacher. I think I naturally want to share my experience to allow people to connect and feel like they're not alone in it.

I wanted to create things that other people heard, and read and felt that so. But for me, keeping things private is pretty easy, because I don't have that much that I feel like I need to keep private. So yeah, I don't find that line difficult to like not cross, to be honest.

You've collaborated with a number of artists like Ella Mae and Jojo, and are there any Australian artists you're you'd love to collaborate with at some point?

I haven't actually really delved into a lot of Australian artists - I usually only come to Australia for the summer, and I never really get the chance to really throw myself into the music and the culture and everything. I’ll tell you who I do love, though - Tkay Maidza. I love that we were on the same festivals like four years ago and I just think she's absolutely brilliant.

In addition to your music, we’re big fans of your style! It's very 90s r&b vibes. How do you express your creativity through fashion and does it influence your music in any way?

I think I just wear what I like. I'm definitely not a trendsetter, but I'm just heavily inspired by things that feel nostalgic. 

I think we all kind of crave a little bit of nostalgia and crave simpler times and smaller tops. I feel like there is something about the kind of early noughties, or even as far back as the 80s that just felt a little bit freer. 

I feel like for women, it didn't matter what your shape or your size was, you could wear whatever you wanted and I really love that. I think women generally were much more free with fashion and style, and now people are very scared of anything different.