Mae Stephens: The story behind local popstar

Posted 6th June 2024

Her debut single has been viewed millions of times on TikTok, Meghan Trainor called on her talent for a collaboration, and she has stage-shared with P!nk. Not bad for a girl who was the target of cruel bullies and told she would never amount to anything.

As she prepares to play for the home crowd with a summer festival billing, Pulse’s Sammy Jones checks in with Kettering’s sizzling hot pop success, Mae Stephens.

The past 18 months have been a blur of bonkers experiences for Mae who left her role in a local supermarket at the start of last year, and before the summer was out, was stage sharing with P!nk.

Oh, and let’s not forget a Glastonbury appearance, that single collaboration with Meghan Trainor and the track that started it all, If We Ever Broke Up.
It was the second most popular song on TikTok globally in 2023 with millions of views. And counting.

“Even now, I’m wondering where in the universe they decided to give me this opportunity,” she says, although it feels a little bit like a question, “I will always be so thankful to be able to pursue something I’d dreamed about since I was a little girl. I feel very lucky…”

On paper, Mae has it all going on, but the colourful, confident girl who strutted her very unique style on the red carpet at this year’s Brit Awards has had more than her fair share of difficult times to deal with.

If school was a jigsaw, she was the bit that didn’t fit, and her learning days were miserable. “I had a crappy time, kids can be horrible and being the weird kid meant immediate social outcast. I didn’t really have many friends and was floating between friendship groups,” she says.

“If you weren’t wearing the same thing as every other girl, or you didn’t have that River Island bag, or that specific lipgloss you weren’t even remotely relevant,” she recalled, “I had my shoes filled with water, my hair cut, my bag nicked, stuff nicked out of my bag, toilet doors kicked down on me…it was a difficult time.

“I was brought up in a family that believed in proper values; in kindness, respect and sharing. To other kids being nice was a sign of weakness.

“You had to be mean to get anywhere and so I found myself in this situation of not being able to hold a friend group because I was too weird, or too loud, or too extravagant to fit in. I never really had a solid group of friends until I went to college.”

There are specific memories that stand out against the backdrop of daily difficulties. Being at school on her birthday is one of them.

“I spent the whole day being berated and belittled. I went home, cried and then wrote a good couple of songs and it made me feel immediately better. It was therapy.
“Every time I came home from school my mum would say, ‘You’ve got a year left, you’ve got six months left, you’ve got three months left…’

“The only reason I had to keep going was my mum giving me that countdown and my brother speaking to me after school. “It was a difficult time, but I never let it beat me down.”

During our chat, Mae’s parents, both ex-soldiers, and brother are mentioned more than once. Family means the world to her, and their belief and support kept her solid and focused.

“My mum got diagnosed with MS a couple of years ago, and she has always been an incredibly strong role model in my life. No matter what she is going through, especially with a massive autoimmune disease, she is still enjoying her life. I took a massive leaf out of her book to understand that stuff in my life is going to go wrong, and there will always be people that don’t like what I’m doing, but as long as I enjoy it and I am helping people, then I am doing something right.”
As a youngster, music became her passion and her friend, even though it took a while for her to realise as much.

“Music would become this after school therapy,” she says with hindsight, “I didn’t really notice it become a hobby, but I was playing four or five hours a day, seven days a week for about four years; “I was playing after school, in the mornings and whenever I got a spare moment to sit down and give myself some self therapy with this piano, it kept me going in my childhood.”

Diagnosed with ADHD (her recent single about living with the condition is catchier than the common cold, but decidedly more pleasant) she had struggled to find that thing that would ignite her: “I’d done martial arts clubs, arts things, I did loads of different outside hobbies.

“Then I played this song to my dad that I’d written on guitar about a mother wolf and her cubs and my dad turned around to me and said, ‘I think we’ve finally found what you’re good at.’

“Those words solidified in my brain and altered my brain chemistry,” she remembers, “It gave me that drive to succeed and from that point on my parents were the most incredible… They are the most incredible people, they took on everything.

“I could have said ‘I want to be a doctor’ or ‘I want to be someone academic.’ I said, ‘I want to be a musician’ which felt like chasing an impossible dream, but my parents both went, ‘Yeah, OK. If that’s what you want, let’s do it.’

“I am so thankful to have two people like that in my life. They made it possible, and I would not be here without them.” Writing and playing was her outlet, her safe space and expressive place, and the more she practiced, the more Mae shone.

And while she might be young, don’t confuse her current standing with overnight success – she’s been writing her own songs for nearly a decade and was a fixture on the pub circuit in her area.

It’s hard work fused with talent that has got her where she is. As we mentioned earlier, it’s not so long ago that she was still working a job in her local ASDA – she inked a record deal on January 25, 2023 and then worked out her notice. By the summer she was performing on the Main Stage at Hyde Park.

“That was insane,” she says, with a little laugh, “I’d not been on a stage that big so it was very nerve-wracking but the crowd were amazing. It was one of those gigs when I walked off and went, ‘That’s why I do it.’ Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds also received her.

“To spend the first year of my career carting around the UK doing all these events was the best season of my life.

“I was told for many years that I was never going to amount to anything and I got told by a teacher or two that I wasn’t going to pass my GCSEs and wasn’t going to get a good job, because I wasn’t going to University. At college they said there wasn’t much hope.” So says the girl who Meghan Trainor got in touch with because she wanted to work with her.

“She commented on a TikTok I had posted,” Mae says, still buzzing at the recollection, “It was so quick. The next thing I know I’m texting her and then I’m on a call with her.

“It was the biggest shock of my life, you don’t think you are going to be sat on a FaceTime call with Meghan Trainor, let alone doing a song with her! It was one of the best things to come out of last year. She is an incredible artist and made my year.”

While clearly holding her parents up as heroes, this rising Queen of pop looked to Queen frontman Freddie Mercury for further inspiration. “I just fell in love with Queen through my teenage years and Freddie became a massive idol, not only for his voice, but also his attitude as a person.

“All he wanted to do was help people and he did not care what people thought of him; he was unapologetically him, and that is what I am trying to instil in me.
“I have only just got into a period of time where I feel confident wearing what I want to wear and being the artist I want to be.

“Freddie Mercury is such a timeless role model for those kids to say, ‘You shouldn’t listen to what other people say, you need to be yourself and be unapologetically you’ – as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, be you.”

Mae’s music is upbeat and fun, but doesn’t shy away from serious subjects – and her words are resonating with others.
“I had a lady message me not long after If We Ever Broke Up had come out to say she had gone through quite a rough break-up and the song had given her a reason to feel empowered, and basically hold her crown up.

“I said to her, ‘this is the secret message behind the song.’ Yes, the song has got those jokey aspects – but the hidden reason behind it was a way to tell people that you shouldn’t walk out of a relationship feeling deflated, or that you’ve lost pieces of yourself.

“You need to walk out feeling strong and that you are going to move forward and feel happy again. That’s all I ever wanted people to feel with the song – enjoy the jokey side of it, but understand that it’s a song of empowerment.” If the music ever goes quiet, there’s a therapist in the making right here, I venture.

“I would love to. I’ve always said to my friends, ‘If you ever need to talk about something, even if I’m uneducated in that situation, I will help as much as I can.
“All I want to do is help people,” she says, resolutely, “I’m not money driven, and I didn’t have much when I was a kid, so I’ve never been money orientated.

“I’m here to show all those kids that don’t feel like they fit anywhere, or feel like they can’t sit in a friend group, or are being cyber bullied… I want to show them that I came from being a weird kid, and came from the bottom. No matter where you come from or what background you are from, you can shine – you can get there, and you can achieve what you want to achieve.”

With so much on in Mae’s world, questions are being asked about her making the move to the big smoke, but she is in no rush to swap us for London.
“So many people have said to me ‘Are you going to move away? Are you going to move to London?’ but I want to hold off as long as possible.
“I’ve grown up here, and it’s my small town and it’s home for me. I don’t want to leave my home just yet, I love it. A lot.”

And she wants to delve deeper into the music scene that she inhabits: “In the midst of the chaos I’ve not had a moment to sit down and get into the scene properly, but this year is my year to show Northampton that I am a great supporter of their scene and that I want to be a part of it.”

Fans can expect to learn more about Mae too, who will be revealing more of herself through her new material.

“Over the past year I have been able to introduce my story to people, but this year I need to show the fans a little bit more of who I actually am, so I think there will be some ballad releases.

“I have shown I can do funk, but I’ve written ballads since I was 12 and I’ve got all these songs sitting in my catalogue. Why not release them and allow people to learn a bit more about me and what I stand for and where I came from?

“I’ve struggled to do that before, but I think I’m now ready to show the world.” Oh, and there is a message for those bullies who made school difficult. “Thank you for not believing in me,” she says, quietly, but firmly, “…because you gave me the determination to succeed.”

Mae Stephens plays A Perfect Day Festival in Northampton on Sunday, June 16. The bill also includes James Arthur, Billy Lockett, Andy Crofts, Charlotte Carpenter and Balter. To book tickets visit