In this age of self-isolation and quarantine, it's never been more important to check in on each other and to connect. This goes for artists, too, who have been social distancing alongside us: livestreaming concerts and hangouts, creating their own talk shows, and... well, that's what we want them to tell us, with Remote Access.
A year ago, U.K. singer Mahalia celebrated her 21st birthday in Cincinnati while on tour with Ella Mai. This year, things were obviously different — instead of playing a gig, Mahalia was home in London, where she'd been quarantining with her roommates, forcing them to watch Pretty Woman with her and taking her adorably tiny puppy out on long walks.
She also released a new EP on May 1, timed perfectly to drop on her 22nd birthday and fittingly titled Isolation Tapes. The three songs predate the stay-at-home orders, but as the collection's title implies, they capture an overall feeling of aimlessness that's nevertheless unique to the moment we're in. "I don't mind if you've had enough of this lonely life," she sings on "BRB," a song about missing her partner while out recording and touring. "I don't mind if you're tired of the days when we don't get to FaceTime."
To lean into the personal nature of the song, Mahalia grabbed all the old footage she could find on her phone — including some moments with her partner — and, realizing the limitations of filming proper music videos in quarantine, began compiling it all in iMovie on her laptop. The intimacy of the finished product made her a little nervous.
"I was so scared, oh my god! I was so scared," she told MTV News. "Even after, I was watching, and I was like, 'What have I done? Oh no!' My mom called me, and my mom said, 'Listen, are you sure that you're ready to be like this?' I don't even know if I was ready."
But, as she revealed to MTV News, Mahalia was ready for the EP to come out and showcase another side of herself. Along with the indelible "Plastic Plants" — a song whose indirect meaning initially "confused" her team — and the pure nostalgia of "Too Nice," "BRB" is a new look at Mahalia. Below, she breaks down its video, as well as what it's like to release a new project nearly entirely from behind a phone screen, which recipes she's digging into, and much more.
MTV News: The world was in a much different place when your album dropped last year. What do you think some of the biggest differences are now, releasing the EP under these circumstances?
Mahalia: Because we're in isolation, the interaction is so disconnected because it's on YouTube or it's on Instagram or it's on Twitter or it's on apps. You see what people are thinking through that. So I think that has been the only real huge difference, just that disconnection. When I was releasing the album, I got to have an album-release party. I got to see my friends and my family, and we got to play it in the car. Because we're not really doing that, I think that's the only part of it that I'm a bit — I feel like I'm grieving that level of connection when you get to release something. But then at the same time, I did all the promos surrounding the EP through my laptop. It was quite nice to be able to do that all from home and run this mini campaign from home.
MTV News: Apart from the release commitments and chatting with fans, how else have you been staying busy and passing the time?
Mahalia: Mostly with my dog. I bought a puppy two weeks before we went into isolation. When I found out, I was like, "Well, this is slightly amazing, because it means that I get to just chill out with my dog." I've just been, not even to sound cliché or like too much of a dog mom, but I've just been getting to know her, and that's also been really nice for me. Most of my days, everything is revolved around me and what I'm doing and my music and my life and how I'm working that. That, in itself, just mentally, can be quite tiring, because you're always focusing on yourself. So I think having a puppy and having something to focus on, and to teach, and to love, and to feed, just that kind of stuff, I think that has really helped me get through this and just feel calmer in my days. I think the fact that I have to, every day, go on an hour's dog walk, is just amazing. Because it's that one hour in the day where nobody contacts me. My phone's at the house. I just get to go out and exercise and do that.
MTV News: Has working from home made you notice a shift in your mood or any changes just in terms of self care or anything like that?
Mahalia: It's quite hard to keep focus at home, particularly because I think every artist is in a completely different scenario. I live with roommates. That's not the easiest environment to try and be creative in, because it's five other people around. I might wake up one day and my boiler be broken, or my cooker not be working, and I've got to call my landlord, right, to sort that out. Being at home, although I think it offers me so much more space to be able to do things like this and do more in a day, it's also given me a lot more distraction, which I think I find a bit frustrating, but it's OK.
MTV News: Obviously also part of that is putting together a little homemade video for "BRB." Can you tell me a little bit about how that video came together?
Mahalia: Basically, I was looking through all the videos on my phone from the past six or seven months. I guess my album tour was six months starting from September. I think I was probably just being a bit nostalgic, and I was probably just missing being on the road. I was looking at all this footage. In my head, I just was slotting it next to the song because it made so much sense. I wrote that song about going away and missing my partner and wanting to be at home. I had all this footage of me away, having a good time. So I just got onto iMovie on my laptop, and I just started putting them together. Then it just became a thing. I texted everybody just saying, "Guys, I'm going to make this video myself." I literally made it on iMovie. People use really amazing technology for that shit, and I literally just used iMovie. Just put the song in there and just chopped it up. I loved every second of it. I love being able to create things in a way that I wouldn't normally do that.
MTV News: Were you scared at all to go that personal and to share that much?
Mahalia: I was so scared. When I was making the video, even with my boyfriend, I was trying to work out, "Should I put these clips in there? Should I not? Was he comfortable?" He's somebody, I don't think he wants to be anywhere near the limelight or anywhere near that. Even for him, it was a big thing to allow me to do that. I think I am an honest person, and I am an open person. So I don't think it will harm me to allow people to come into this part of my life. But it's nerve-racking for me, of course. I'm definitely scared that six months down the line this guy's going to dump me and I'm going to be here like, "For fuck's sake, I put this video online, and everyone can see now." If anything, I'm quite proud of how vulnerable I've been with it, because I've definitely struggled with that in the past. I'm actually quite proud of myself for just going, "Here you go. Have it. This is what's going on."
MTV News: How are you balancing doing a little bit of writing on your own terms over the past few months with trying to use this time for yourself?
Mahalia: That's the part that I'm loving. I haven't been able to sit on my own with my guitar in nearly a year. Just been able to sit and just play with chords, and teach myself new things and just write about things that no one else even know what I'm talking about. So actually, I think that part of it is sparkly and magic to me because it reminds me of being a kid and it reminds me of growing up in my house and playing my guitar all the time. ... I mean, there's talks in my head going on about maybe an Isolation Tapes 2, but [ones] that's solely acoustic, because I've been revisiting so many of my old acoustic songs. I'm almost like, "Maybe this could be a vibe." But I think people have to let go of that pressure.
MTV News: Is there a favorite recipe or something new you've tried while isolating?
Mahalia: Oh, do you know what I did? I made fried chicken for the first time three weeks ago. That was the only new recipe that I was desperate to try because all my brothers can do it, my mom can do it, everybody can do it. They're all amazing and Jamaican and fantastic. I just felt like I was the little runt in the corner, not knowing what to do. So I was like, "I need to do this shit. I need to be my best, but my best, best, best self." So I learned to cook fried chicken with my brother's recipe, and it was great.
I've been cooking a lot of pasta. But, to be honest, mainly, do you know what's really funny? I can cook anything to feed myself. I'm less good at cooking purely just to cook, just to try new things. I've never — please don't let anybody laugh at me for this — but I've never scrambled an egg. I realized it a week ago. I was like, "In my 22 years of living, how could I have never scrambled an egg?" I've never made guacamole, and I've seen my mom make guacamole a million times. It's things like that, that I've been trying to do, just those really simple, easy recipes that you can put with anything, that I know I could make easily. I think that's been my biggest challenge. It's made me realize how much time I've spent on the road, not cooking. I don't think I've had a home-cooked breakfast in three years. That's so crazy. Even thinking about it now, that's crazy.
MTV News: Is there something specifically that you're really looking forward to, and something that keeps you positive?
Mahalia: I think my first show back. It's really funny because I can't think about live shows without getting extremely emotional. When I get to walk out onstage and stand there and have that moment, I think... I'm 100 percent sure that I'll cry.