A few nights ago, Maisie Peters stumbled across an old notebook from 2009 that had a song called “Sandcastles” in it. It was one of the first songs the 21-year-old pop star had written, and what she describes as one of many “Taylor Swift-wannabe songs” that she penned in her teenage bedroom while growing up. “I remember a lot of the songs I wrote when I was super-young – they all really stick in my head for some reason,” says the Brighton-born singer-songwriter, who can now count Swift as one of her fans. “There was one called ‘Green Leaf’ and another called ‘Hidden by the Trees’. They were all really terrible.”
Peters’ journey is both remarkable yet conventional for the current generation of pop stars. She spent her early teens playing beer festivals and open-mic nights in her small seaside village before plucking up the courage to launch a YouTube channel at 15, a decision that – similar to what happened with Swift, Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber – changed her life when the right person discovered her. “My current manager found me on YouTube back when I first launched the channel. He came across my videos and we’ve been working together ever since,” she says. Two independent releases followed: the soft and sultry “Place We Were Made” and piano ballad “Birthday”. It wasn’t long before major record labels came knocking (she eventually went with Atlantic Records).
Her big break, however, arrived in 2019, when her tracks “Favourite Ex” and “Feels Like This” were played on ITV’s Love Island, transforming her intimate fanbase into a mass nationwide following. A couple of months later, Peters had sold out her first headlining show at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire, earned a quarter of a billion streams and featured on the soundtrack of Margot Robbie’s Hollywood blockbuster Birds of Prey. She was all set for a European tour with Niall Horan when the pandemic hit. “That was definitely a really difficult time,” she admits, reflecting on the world’s sudden pause. “There was a lot of momentum and I was really excited for what was ahead, like the tour and what we had planned, but then it all came to a really abrupt stop. Everyone moved home to their parents’ houses and you couldn’t really make any music with other people for months. It was all very much back to basics.” Fortunately, “basics” is where Peters thrives.
With studios and songwriting sessions on hiatus, she found herself back in her natural habitat: her teenage bedroom, pen and paper in hand. Though this time she wasn’t fantasising about what could be, she was living it. She spent the majority of lockdown writing material for her newly released debut album, You Signed Up for This. “It was actually really nice to just be on my own and make music at home again,” she says. It was here that she put the finishing touches to tracks including “John Hughes Movie”, an anecdotal 80s-inspired pop track about a teenage love story gone wrong. The lyrics feel nostalgic and inherently relatable – “This wasn’t how it’s supposed to go/ I should be the one you’re dancing with/ Spinning with a vodka Coke.” The song went straight to number one on iTunes when it was released earlier this year and has currently been streamed more than 11 million times, while the video (a prom-night-themed spectacle) has so far hit 1.1 million views.
“It’s been such an honour and an experience to get to work on my own songs and my own stories with Ed [Sheeran]. It was so amazing to be able to combine our worlds to make something so special.”
Candid storytelling and lyrical vulnerability are where Peters’ strengths lie, something she has in common with her mentor, Ed Sheeran, who recently signed her to his label Gingerbread Man Records. Last summer, Peters spent a month in Suffolk (Sheeran’s home county), where the two worked together, writing the second quarter of the album, including her latest single, “Psycho” – an infectious dance track about a toxic ex – as well as the heartbreak ballad “Hollow” and the punchy “Boy”, where Sheeran’s influence is heard the most. “It’s been such an honour and an experience to get to work on my own songs and my own stories with Ed. It was so amazing to be able to combine our worlds to make something so special,” she says. “As a mentor and an A&R too, he’s been super-supportive and just happy for me to make the album that I want while being there to offer occasional advice and insights.”
Peters first met Sheeran, who is also signed to Atlantic, during a studio session. “I think he’d known my music for a while at the time because we both worked with very similar producers and writers and were signed to the same label. So he’d heard my music and then he reached out about writing together.”
Sheeran isn’t the only megastar to be a Maisie Peters fan. One night during lockdown, she picked up her phone to find hundreds of notifications and messages from friends – Taylor Swift had commented on a video of her covering Swift’s 2010 song “Enchanted” with one simple word: “Heavenly.” Peters and her twin sister, Ellen, were in disbelief. Then it happened again. This time, Swift had responded to Peters’ cover of her track “Betty” from her most recent album, Folklore, sending Peters into a frenzy, as it would when your idol fangirls over you. “It was really wild. I’m the biggest Taylor Swift fan, so it was the coolest moment to see that she even vaguely knew who I was,” she says. “She hasn’t reached out to me for a collaboration yet but she’s a busy woman, so I forgive her,” she adds with a laugh. Peters credits both Swift and Lily Allen for inspiring her conversational approach to songwriting and her ability to be vulnerable in her music.
“Lily Allen’s first album [Alright, Still] was really important to me. She’s still a massive inspiration to me now as someone who refuses to let the industry or the world shut her down. She comes out on top time and time again. She’s a real example of a woman who has kept it moving and become a master of her craft and is still creating amazin things 10 or 15 years into her career.”
It’s not hard to imagine Peters following in the footsteps of her idols, especially with the success she has already achieved pre debut album. In the words of Sheeran, she’s a “special artist”. The kind that lets the music do the talking, and talk it does. As for now, she’s got a tour in her sights. “It’s my dream to be able to bring all of the songs from my album to life and perform them for my fans. It may be a long shot this year but that’s my goal.”
This interview is taken from our Taking Back Control issue. Order your copy here.