Feeling The Fantasy: Mabel
Based around the highs and lows of one big party, Mabel’s forthcoming second LP ‘About Last Night…’ started as fantastical escapism but wound up connecting the singer to her past.
Stuck indoors for two years, we often relied on our imaginations to weather the heaviness of it all. We imagined travelling, seeing friends, kissing strangers. We immersed ourselves in fantasies of things we used to take for granted. For award-winning, platinum-charting singer Mabel, that fantasy was of an incredible party. “I started daydreaming, all the time, about throwing the ultimate fantasy house party, where I could invite everybody in the whole world to literally just come and escape everything happening around us,” she begins.
And so she dreamed up ‘About Last Night…’: a dance-pop concept album charting a fantastical night out from start to finish, an album brought to life “like a house party, where every song is a room of its own.” Fleshing out the vision, Mabel concocted an elaborate, electrifying universe surrounding all the beautiful details of going out, from the heady, intoxicating feeling of getting ready with the girls, to bursting into tears on the dance floor, to picking yourself back up and trying it all again for the next time. “My craziest nights have always been fuelled with drama, whether that’s crying in the bathroom, or having heart to hearts with girls I’ve just met and then never see again. Those moments are so special,” she recalls with a twinkle in her eye.
Breaking away from the sterling success of 2019’s R&B-fuelled debut ‘High Expectations’, Mabel’s second delves boldly, and with reverence, into dance and ballroom culture. “I started going back and listening to CeCe Peniston, old Kylie and old Madonna - all this music that just made me want to dance,” she explains. “I figured out that I could use my soulful, R&B top line attack on these kinds of records too, like Whitney Houston did on her dancey stuff in the ‘90s.” Mabel also notes, with emphasis, that she is trying to curb her use of the word “success” when talking about high streaming numbers and standing on big stages. “It may have looked like ‘success’ from the outside when I was busy and doing big numbers, but I was struggling a lot internally at that time,” she notes. “The climate for music is different now, and even more focused on these things. I’m trying not to be disheartened by it, hence working on redefining ‘success’ internally and in the way I speak.”
‘About Last Night’ is built less around genre than a central idea - that one night on the town can contain a multitude of universes and experiences, reflecting the world back to us on the dance floor. The album plays in the sonic realm of dance music, but journeys through euphoria, love, anxiety and heartbreak in full detail and technicolour, interrogating these universal highs and lows with the open-hearted candour of a pop ballad.
“People can underestimate female pop artists, but we aren’t just bubblegum pop puppets for people’s viewing pleasure.”
On melancholic interlude ‘Take Your Name’, she laments: “I was ready to take your name / I was ready to switch my initials round and merge them into yours.” “When you first have your heart properly broken, you might tell all your girlfriends, ‘Screw him! I’m going out, I’m gonna look great, and I’m gonna post everything on my Instagram story!’” Mabel giggles. “But somehow, still, that sadness will find you on the dance floor. It hits you out of nowhere and punches you in the stomach. That’s the feeling I wanted to capture on that track. I started imagining the dance floor almost like an altar.”
That space is also the subject of standout song ‘Crying on the Dance Floor’, a warm, delicious and effervescent pop treat reminiscent of Carly Rae Jepsen’s synth-pop highlights on ‘Emotion’. It reminds us that the greatest love stories sometimes aren’t with strangers or the boys in our phone, but with the friends who “picked us up at 9” and stumbled with us to the club in the first place.
Mabel found inspiration for the album, and profound connection to her family’s history, in watching TV’s Pose with her mum - Swedish pop icon Neneh Cherry - over lockdown. “Watching Pose gave me so much musical and visual inspiration, but importantly was also the first time that my mum and I really started talking about the death of my godfather, Judy Blame. He was the most amazing stylist and collaborator to my mum, from when she started her career up until he died. I remember watching JLo and Beyoncé videos, and he would tell me ‘None of your idols would be who they are without the queens’.
“My mum’s always been immersed in ballroom culture and has always been an ally, as have I. Really understanding ballroom culture and taking it all in, I felt it was important to bring a culture that meant a lot to me into the light, and pay respect to it,” she continues. “It’s true none of our pop divas would exist without the queens, and neither would I. In fact, my parents actually got married because in the ‘80s and ‘90s, their friends were only getting together for funerals. They lost some of their best friends to the AIDS crisis. My parents wanted to have a celebration of love and life, and so put on their wedding.”
Feeling more empowered and assured than ever in her own performance, writing and artistic abilities, Mabel is excited to take the drivers’ seat on ‘About Last Night…’. “Sometimes - and particularly for female pop artists - people can underestimate us. They might think our songs are written for us, and that we just get up on stage and perform them. But we are intelligent, and we are talented. We aren’t just bubblegum pop puppets for people’s viewing pleasure. I am a songwriter and a storyteller, and I have a strong vision.”
She finishes, with a hopeful smile: “What I want to say with this album is, ‘Don’t underestimate me’.”
‘About Last Night…’ is out 15th July via Polydor.
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Records & Merch
Mabel - High Expectations Double LP
Mabel - High Expectations CD