Miraa May: 'Women in music are sexualised so much. I find it disrespectful'

The Tottenham-raised singer-songwriter on female self-worth, pregnancy, and working with Amy Winehouse’s producer

Miraa May’s pop preaches unshakeable self-love (“Tell ’em I don’t bow down to nobody,” goes one hook). But curled up on her sofa, bare-faced and dressed in black, the singer-songwriter says it is her way of putting on a front. “I don’t feel like I’m a confident person,” she says, clacking her pink, acrylic nails on her phone case. “I’m very insecure. A lot of women feel like that; that’s why they get into dire situations. They feel like they don’t deserve the best. But with my music, I don’t have that; I can do whatever I want.”

May is a rare force in the music industry. The 24-year-old’s summery, Afrobeats-tinged R&B tackles subjects such as consent (Make Room) and body positivity (Regardless) with the same natural, authentic passion as girls giving each other pep talks in a nightclub toilet. As a working-class, Muslim, Algerian-immigrant woman who grew up in Tottenham, her DIY attitude has more in common with grime artists from her area who worked their way up (like JME, who is “brotherly” to her, and features on her song Angles) than with her pop peers. She started making music at 17, juggling waitressing and cleaning jobs. After meeting a manager and signing a development deal, she took her first ever international flight to meet the producer Salaam Remi – known for his work with Amy Winehouse – in Miami. “It was really overwhelming,” she recalls. “Walking into a house with hella plaques everywhere ... You’re like: ‘What am I doing here?’”

After the release of a soulful EP, N15, May lost her manager and had to return to work. But she kept writing songs, hiring her childhood best friend and flatmate as her new manager, and eventually “finessing” a deal with Island Records. She has dropped two irresistible EPs since then. Now, her debut album is “in its first trimester”.

May herself is currently in her third trimester; her baby is due in May. “When I first got pregnant, I was like: ‘Is this gonna end my career?’” she reflects. Her team have been supportive, but after an Instagram commenter sexualised her under a post announcing her pregnancy, she felt more acutely than ever the pressure female pop artists are under. “The industry I work in, it’s full of men,” she says. “Women are sexualised so much. I find it intrusive and disrespectful. For me to do a show, I have to do my makeup, find a stylist. I can’t go and do a show like this,” – she gestures to her baggy Balenciaga T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms – “but every [male] rapper can.”

Whether or not she is doing the singing, May’s voice is set to be heard in UK pop for years to come. She recently co-wrote the lilting Top 10 hit Be Honest for Jorja Smith. “My talent really is my pen,” she says. “I’ve never really cared about awards or statistics. I get messages from people every day saying that my music uplifts them; I’m good with that.”

Contributor

Aimee Cliff

The GuardianTramp

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