19-year-old Australian singer-songwriter MAY-A has a whirlwind year and a half. Having regularly written songs since her pre-teen years, she only started sharing her music publicly last year. Since then, she has rocketed into the world of pop music, racking up millions of streams, signing to a major label, touring across her home continent in support of big-name acts, and now releasing her first EP, Don’t Kiss Ur Friends.
Bringing together previously released singles, new music, and one recent remix, Don’t Kiss Ur Friends establishes MAY-A’s signature sound and savvy songwriting, both extremely well-honed for a debut record. Her music is a blend of melodic pop-punk and woozy alternative that is ready-made for the pop tastes of Gen Z, with subject matter well-suited to their 21st-century adolescent struggles. Much like breakout generational superstar Olivia Rodrigo’s debut, relationships are a central theme here, but queer identity is a large factor as well, and MAY-A has a much more introspective and less vengeful outlook than Rodrigo.
She also has hooks galore. MAY-A fully understands the art of the pop song; her verses start small, setting scenes with simple melodies and sparse arrangements, with momentum-building pre-choruses that lead into epic refrains. Every song is propelled by a giant chorus that is sure to sail out of car speakers and stadium sound systems. She can even afford to nonchalantly deliver several of her most interesting melodic ideas, like on “Amiinmyhead” and “Swing of Things” in the pre-chorus without making the refrain feel boring by comparison. In fact, these extra hooks draw the listener in even further, keeping them waiting for another quick hit of the irresistible hook.
The guitar-driven “Apricots” starts out as a romantic ballad, with a gentle melody and fingerpicked guitar. But in the second half of the verse, MAY-A pivots, revealing that it is an imagined relationship with a girl who is actually not interested. The arrangement mimics this shift, as drums kick in and the guitar moves to angsty chords punctuated with melody lines. The song kicks into a steady groove when the chorus hits, never going to the anthemic heights of the more upbeat tracks on the album, but still providing an emotional complexity worthy of the theme of unreciprocated queer desire. Her careful arrangement gives further growth in the second verse, with click and snap percussion growing through the verse into the chorus.
“Swing of Things,” included both in its original form and as a remix featuring “death bed (coffee for your head)” rapper Powfu, boasts the most explosive arrangement on the album, pairing guitar strums with a dusty breakbeat before blowing open into an anthemic pop-rock chorus. In the remix, Powfu contributes a solid verse with a strong melody to complement MAY-A’s original, before adding in harmonies on the second chorus.
We spoke to MAY-A about her experiences and Don’t Kiss Ur Friends:
You have been writing music for a long time, but you only started releasing it publicly last year. What changed and made you decide that you were ready to share it with the world?
Honestly, I was so beyond ready for a long time. I wanted to wait until I was out of high school so I could be fully immersed in the creative and not spread too thin, and then it was just a plan of spreading out a few singles before releasing the EP. (I would’ve happily dropped a whole album if I could).
Do you have a favorite song on this new EP, and if so what makes it your favorite?
I love Daffodils. It feels the most honest to me. I loved putting together all the harmonies and yelling in the bridge. It turned out exactly as it sounded in my brain. The song kind of just fell out of me, it was written so fast and felt the best to get out of my system.
What was your songwriting process like for the songs on this record?
Very stream-of-consciousness. All of these songs were written in a few hours each. This EP feels a lot like a diary to me. Because I was writing so much, I wasn’t really thinking about how people would be listening to them or the fact that people would have opinions- it was more about me processing my emotions and hanging out with my producer. I know I’ll look back on that writing process and envy my younger self.
You are very vocal about your queer identity, and it comes through on the record. Was it scary to share something like that on your major label debut?
Not at all. It’s simply who I am. If someone doesn’t support me and my music because of my sexual identity then that has nothing to do with me.
“Central Station” is one of the songs on your EP that you hadn’t already put out as a single. What is the story behind that song?
I was “on the rocks” with my girlfriend at the time and really questioning the relationship. I got on this train and saw this beautiful girl and had one of those universal moments where you picture your entire life with a stranger. The song is about escaping your own reality and slipping into your subconscious for a little while.
You recently wrapped up your first big tour. What was that experience like, and was it overwhelming after having spent so much time in lockdown during the pandemic?
I was so ready to get on that stage hahaha. My band and I have been rehearsing for a while so being able to get up on a stage with an all-female line up was so empowering.
You are very active on social media, especially on TikTok. How do you make these mediums part of your artistic expression?
I try to keep everything as authentic as I can. Keep social media honest. Of course, there are heaps of press shots and music video shoots, etc. But I’m also just sitting at home with my dog and my housemates- I think that stuff says more than anything. I love sharing sketches and comics and collages of all the stuff I’ve been doing. Without art I wouldn’t really have a purpose so I try keeping up with it.
Does it feel weird to be putting songs that you wrote three years ago, and what do those songs mean to you today?
Very weird. In my brain, these songs have been out for years. I’ve also grown so much as a songwriter, as a person, as a partner since these songs were written. It’s awesome having these little time capsules of my teen years but I’ve definitely moved on. I hope people can see pieces of their present, past, and future in these songs.
If you could say one thing to 12-year-old Maya writing her first song, what would it be?
To have more faith in myself. That I’m okay, I’m alive and I’m really happy and content with life right now and I can slow down and let myself just be a child.
What are you planning to do next as an artist after this EP drops?
To write more music, grow more as an artist, experiment with more sounds, different songwriting processes, and discover more about myself and my sound.