How Mae Stephens Went From Grocery Store Worker To Rising Pop Star

A trip to The Netherlands changed everything.

Mae Stephens used to be bullied for chasing an impossible dream. Now, the If We Ever Broke Up hitmaker is living it.

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When I caught up with Mae Stephens over Zoom recently, she was chatting from her bedroom as rows of colorful backpacks in her wall caught my attention. Fresh from performing at a handful of festivals, Mae was back home for a short but needed rest from a life she could have ever only dreamed of.


The UK-based act has always loved music, and it became an even more integral part of her life when she went through severe bullying in school. The Gen Z musician was the target of harassment and bullying at school all because she wanted to become a musician when she got older. Mae turned to music as her source of healing.

But it seemed as if life in the spotlight was a ways of, with her day-to-day job at her local Asda (a grocery chain in the UK) seemingly confirming that. Then, a movie-worthy plot twist kicked in when she dropped the single If We Ever Broke Up, her anthem dedicated to her ex and how she’s ready to move on with her life.

With her songs up until that point being ballads, a foray into pop was anything but a guarantee for the rookie artist. But thanks to the power of TikTok, the uber catchy song became a global smash to the tune of over 300 million streams and one of the most viral songs on the platform this year so far. Mae even dropped a remix of the track featuring Zack Tabudlo.

It was an impressive feat that was followed by another milestone, a pop-disco number, Mr. Right, featuring Meghan Trainor. Not too bad for a musician who was relatively unknown just a year prior. Get to know more about Mae Stephens as she opens up about her life, finding her voice, going viral, and more in our interview below.

How would you describe your relationship with music?

I have a massive emotional connection with music. I mean, it got me through very hard times at school. It got me through relationship problems, family problems. It’s the biggest therapy I have. If I’m having a bad day, I play or write something. It’s the thing that keeps me alive and going.

You’re vocal about your past bullying in school. Could you talk about how you were able to overcome those challenges?

I had a very rough time. You know, I got kicked down flights of stairs, I had my shoes filled with water. I was deemed as someone who was chasing an impossible dream. And my coping mechanism was music, finding a way to cope emotionally that was healthy, as opposed to getting angry and punching stuff. I went and wrote a song. And then I banked it.

I got to a point where every day I’d come home from school, and I wrote a song and I did that relentlessly, and especially through lockdown as well. I could look back through those songs and through all this trauma and watch myself heal through that music.

So how did If We Ever Broke Up come into fruition?

So I did like a week in Amsterdam where I wrote with a load of different producers and writers. And it was the last session before I had to go. Like we had three hours before I had to go to the airport. And I was a ballad artist before all of this, so I wasn’t too keen on the idea of doing a pop song. And it kind of turned in to me ranting about my ex boyfriend from when I was a kid, being naive and all of this stuff.

My dad kind of has always been involved in my music and he has a specific thing like if I show him a demo and it’s good, he’ll pull this smile and so I played him If We Ever Broke Up and he just went ‘oh my god we have to put this on TikTok’. And so I got the demo on TikTok, and here we are.

Has it sunk in yet just how big the song became?

I still feel like I’m almost living someone else’s life. It’s a strange feeling of this is actually happening every day for me. Even if I’m doing interviews or I’m doing promo or festivals, it still feels really surreal. It’s a very strange feeling. I can’t quite describe it, but I’m very lucky to have it.

You also released a remix of the track with Zack Tabudlo. How did that collaboration come about?

He is so sweet. I spoke to him on Zoom, and I related with him quite a lot. Speaking to me, he’s such a sweet person. And he was telling me about how he got into music and we kind of we had some similarities. And then hearing the actual track and his verse, I kind of sat there and was like, he has the most incredible voice. I think he’s ever so sweet and it was really a pleasure to work with him. And his boss is just amazing.

After having the big success with your first single, followed up with another single featuring Meghan Trainor. So what was it like to get to work with Meghan for Mr. Right?

I mean, the initial shock of Meghan Trainor commenting on my video and I’m now on a FaceTime call with her is obviously quite grand, because she’s a massive artist. And you know, I’m just starting, but working with her was so nice. She’s so accommodating, so humble and down to earth, which is something I’m sure you wouldn’t really expect from an artist that high up in the industry.

She made it feel effortless and she’s just such a kind person to work with. And for my first collaboration, like doing a song with an artist and putting it out to the world, it was a very special thing for me and I’m very lucky to work with her. Fingers crossed I get to meet her in person soon.

What’s next for you as a musician?

I’d love to get an album out we’re already planning the next single as well. You know, I’ve got a merch drop coming. Fingers crossed, I can get a tour. I’m kind of taking every day as it comes because I came from a day-to-day job and this is something I’ve wanted for a while

What do you think is easier: your day-to-day job or being a rising pop star?

Oh, scanning apples or music? I mean, scanning apples is easy, but I think I’ve got to say being an artist, it is busy. And you know, I’m still adjusting to it. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love my job and the people that support me are amazing. And so I will continue to do a better job.

How do you handle criticism whenever people say that you’re just a girl with a viral song on TikTok?

I’m almost used to confrontation and people trying to put me down. So as far as hate comments and stuff, it doesn’t really faze me. I’ve had worse said to me so I do want to be not just known from TikTok but also building a good catalog of songs and kind of moving away and hopefully not being seen as a one hit wonder. But I’m glad I came from TikTok. As much as it is a platform filled with very weird videos, it is a very good platform for musicians.

What advice would you give to other young people who may be having a hard time or going through challenges?

It gets easier. I think when you get out of school and you find yourself and find the right people, it gets a lot easier. But I think the most important thing about growing up is what my parents said is finding your spark. And that could be art, dance, or music. I feel like every person has to find their spark, and when they do, they have to go for it. Because I went from working a minimal pay day-to-day job to doing what I dreamed of since I was a kid. You just have to love something enough find your spark and go and get it and achieve what you want.

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