Mabel: Music for a Love-Wary Generation
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because being in love is universally … (you finish that sentence)
By Kristen Zwicker
Love isn’t easy in 2016. People ceaselessly peddle their digital effigies, constructed and distributed with mechanical precision via slickly designed interfaces, browsing through potential partners like items on a takeout menu. Let’s say, against all odds, you successfully navigate the dating app du jour and find yourself in the company of a person with whom you feel a genuine connection. Now the real struggle begins.
Hope, reckless little jerk that it is, runs dumbly ahead with arms trailing behind like some idiot in a sunny field excitedly spewing fantasies and their byproducts, expectations, which now lie in wait like unsprung bear traps. There is but one rational response to the flight of such an impulsive twit as hope: fear. You must protect yourself. It’s time to put up those walls.
This is the moment when Mabel comes in like a ponytailed sledgehammer and knocks them to the ground. With her first two singles, the British singer-songwriter has issued a public appeal for vulnerability, a sincere missive in the form of dreamy, emotive R&B. In her debut single, “Get to Know Me,” released last July, she coos sweetly over an ascetic hip-hop drum break, encouraging a new lover to “Take it off / Tell me everything.” Her second offering, “My Boy My Town,” finds Mabel making a heartfelt — and rather heartbreaking — attempt to restore communication in a fractured relationship. Both songs are poignant, tender and remarkably self-assured for someone who is just 19.
Growing up, Mabel divided her time between Spain, London and Stockholm, in addition to accompanying her parents on tour. It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that her folks are ’80s pop legend Neneh Cherry and Massive Attack producer Cameron McVey. With such a pedigree, a career in music might seem a foregone conclusion, but Mabel initially resisted. Even after succumbing and attending music-production school in Stockholm, she refused to play her music for anyone but close friends until she was 16. Her secrecy was partially motivated by a desire to do it on her own, without the help of her parents, but she admits that she was also scared. Given mom and dad’s international renown, it’s understandable that Mabel would have felt a little added pressure, though she now realizes that her fears were unfounded. Whenever she plays a new song for her mother, Cherry is reduced to tears.
Mabel’s music isn’t just plucking the heartstrings of her legendary mum, as evidenced by the amount of attention she’s generated so quickly. Judging by her success, it could be that her music is just what this jaded, love-wary generation needs. While so many of us hide behind walls of both digital and emotional construct, Mabel gently reminds us that it’s OK to let our guard down.
- Kristen Zwicker, OZY Author Contact Kristen Zwicker