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Just before the world stopped, Mabel McVey was Britain’s hottest new pop star. In February 2020 she opened the BRIT Awards ceremony with Don’t Call Me Up, the biggest of her nine platinum-selling singles, a sassy dismissal of an ex that spent four months inside the top 40 in 2019. Then she won the prize for British Female Solo Artist.
Despite an unorthodox upbringing as the youngest child of Swedish star Neneh Cherry and the producer Cameron McVey, born in Spain and raised between London and Stockholm, she triumphed as an everywoman articulator of the concerns of the glamorous young woman about town. Anthems of strutting self-worth just about outweighed expressions of disappointment in various men, as well as reassurances that your anxiety is normal and everything will be fine.
She began the process of following up her big-selling debut, High Expectations, in very different circumstances: moving back in with her parents, reading, taking a few deep necessary breaths. But the outcome is much the same: big, confident pop songs that express her success and desirability in myriad ways, while brushing off romantic disappointments to head back to the middle of the dancefloor.
This one is a concept album, of sorts, in that the songs taken in order tell the story of a night out. She’s getting ready on Let Them Know, which sounds time consuming: “Nails shine like Christmas/Heels on, six inches/Waist cinched, Mugler fit.” Later, on Good Luck and Take Your Name, an encounter with an ex prompts the party mood to falter briefly, but the song Crying on the Dancefloor is titled to show the way this evening isn’t going to end: “No drama in the bathroom, not tonight/That would be so typical, yeah/Know your worth, you deserve/Every single star that’s in the sky.”
So far, so H&M changing rooms. The production is classy, with strings sweeping around the house beats on Let Love Go and Animal, and the melodies as catchy as you’d expect from a contributing backroom team that includes seasoned pop writers such as MNEK, Stargate and Steve Mac. But there isn’t enough that’s distinctively her own, especially when Overthinking arrives sounding way too much like the Eighties gloss of The Weeknd’s megahit Blinding Lights.
The public doesn’t seem to have connected either – five singles so far haven’t come close to her early chart success. That may change now the sun’s out. These songs are fun for a summer fling but not worthy of a long-term relationship.