At just 23 years old, Maeta is R&B’s next big thing – and it’s easy to see why. The infectiously enigmatic artist is equal parts hilarious and introspective. On @planetmaeta – the Instagram account she dubs her “public finsta” – she pokes fun at her fans for “yelling” at her about unreleased tracks and leaves them Taylor Swift-esque Easter eggs, but she also lets an intimate audience into the complex and turbulent relationships that inspire her music and resonate with her listeners. The rising star juxtaposes light-heartedness with vulnerability, which is just as clear whether you’re shuffling her discography or you’re chatting with her one-on-one.

“I think that it’s good to have that kind of personal relationship with your fans when they feel like they’re in on your life, which they are,” Maeta shares over Zoom.

One thing is certain – Maeta is unapologetic and doesn’t hold anything back when it comes to her art. But just when audiences thought her explosive 2021 EP “Habits” was as honest as it gets, Maeta’s latest project “When I Hear Your Name” surpasses all expectations. Inspired by a trip to an island with someone who she “just can’t get over” despite the relationship’s toxic nature, the EP is strikingly honest and soul-bearing. The lead single “Through The Night” especially leans into the tropical theme, with sounds of birds – later determined to be frogs – native to Barbados present throughout the production.  “At night, I would hear these birds, and I just remembered it, and I love them,” she gushes. “And I would listen to them after the trip to kind of bring me back to that place. So I was like, ‘Let me put them in the song.’ But I actually found out that they’re frogs! They’re not even birds, they’re literally just frogs.” We come to the consensus that frogs are still just as cute.

Throughout our conversation, Maeta sprinkles good-natured self-deprecating jokes in between bits of soul-searching over her relationship happening in real-time. It’s so authentic to how 23-year-olds talk to their best friends that it’s easy to see how she develops intimate bonds with her fans. She explains that when it comes to the EP’s muse, she still doesn’t have it all figured out. “It’s about complicated love, and me just trying to figure out what the hell love is – if I’m in real love, or if it’s just toxic. I’ve never really been in love before like this, so I’m trying to figure it out.”

“When I Hear Your Name” cements Maeta’s status not only as a vocal powerhouse but as a storyteller. Her addictingly soulful voice transports listeners to Barbados, living through her relationship as though they were there themselves. 

For more on the highly-anticipated project’s release last week, V caught up with Maeta over Zoom. She delved into her evolution as an artist in the last two years, detailed some of her “pinch me” moments, and gave us an inside scoop of what’s to come this year.

V MAGAZINE: So your second single from your highly anticipated EP just dropped after over a year of excitement building. Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like collaborating with Free Nationals and Lucky Daye?

MAETA: I wanted music to come in halfway through the song, so my A&R reached out to Free Nationals and was like, “Can you guys try something over this?” And they did it, and it was amazing. And the song kind of just naturally came together over the span of a couple months.

V: So it came about as you were recording the song that Free Nationals came onto the project? 

M: Yes, they came after the song was already recorded. I did the whole thing, and then they added all their instrumentation and stuff over it.

Courtesy of Roc Nation Records

V: Oh, wow. That’s really cool. So you mentioned that it was just a very relaxed environment, you guys were hanging out and drinking when you were recording the song. How did that affect the way the creative process developed?

M: I think that’s the best way to work, for me at least. I hate when sessions and making music, which is supposed to be creative, fun, and free – I don’t like when it feels like work or feels like school. I think the best songs come when you’re just talking about your life, and there’s no pressure, because you just feel free to have ideas and free to be open about your life. I think that the best songs for me come in those situations.

V: And speaking of production, on “Through The Night,” listeners can hear sounds of birds, in keeping with a tropical island theme consistent throughout the EP. So as far as a production level, or just on a creative level, how did you decide to go with that theme and what did that represent to you?

M: So basically, the whole project is about this relationship that I keep going back to, and this man that I just can’t get over, I’m trying to get over, it’s very complicated. We’re very bad for each other, but I keep going back to him. So the project’s about that. But this man and I went on a trip to an island a couple years ago, which the project is inspired by. And at night, I would hear these birds, and I just remembered it, and I love them. And I would listen to them after the trip to kind of bring me back to that place. So I was like, “Let me put them in the song.” But I actually found out that they’re frogs! They’re not even birds, they’re literally just frogs. I placed them on another side of the project, too. I just wanted to place them as a little Easter egg, and put that theme in the project a little more and give people something a little different. But yeah, that’s really it.

V: That’s funny, so you found out they were frogs instead of birds?

M: Yeah, birds is cuter to say but it’s actually frogs!

V: I mean, I think both are cute! So were those like actual recordings then? From that island?

M: I wish I could say yes, but no, I literally stole it from YouTube. I was in Barbados, so I just looked up “Barbados whistling frogs,” and that’s what I got. So it sounds exactly how it sounded but it’s not it’s not an exact recording. But I should just start lying and saying it is!

V: You mentioned that it’s kind of like an Easter egg in there. I actually saw Taylor Swift this past weekend in New York, and she talks about Easter eggs a lot with fans. Is that something that you’ve started to develop with your fans as well? And do you think that fans notice that through your work? I feel like that’s such a fun process that artists can create.

M: Yeah, I think it’s fun. And it does make it just super fun. Because it’s like, I can do whatever I want with my songs. I can add these little things and have people wonder what they are. But I think that the fan relationship is so important and I love it. I have a separate Instagram account called @planetmaeta, which is like my public finsta. I talk to my fans on there, and it’s more personal. And I think that it’s good to have that kind of personal relationship with your fans when they feel like they’re in on your life, which they are. But yeah, I always knew that Taylor Swift did stuff like that. And people are always figuring out what message she’s trying to tell them. So yeah, I’m very into that.

Courtesy of Roc Nation Records
Courtesy of Roc Nation Records

V: I was actually going to ask you about your other Instagram account because I saw that it was tagged in your main Instagram bio. So did you say it’s kind of like your public finsta?

M: Yeah, I just don’t put pressure on myself on that page. It started just where I would post on my extra pictures that I didn’t feel like posting on my main page or whatever. And now it’s kind of a diary of my life because I like to look back through it and go through and be like, “Oh, I was doing this then.” Because my main Instagram is more molded as Maeta, the artist, and then that’s more just Maeta, just my life. And you just see the BTS of my artist life. But I love that account. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.

V: That’s so fun to connect with your fans in a less official format, sort of more casually, almost as friends. Since your music is so personal and you write so authentically and vulnerably about your relationships, do you feel like that resonates with fans, and you see that through those platforms like your second Instagram?

M: Oh, of course, and they’ll send me DMs, giving me critiques or telling me what songs they love and what they want me to do, that kind of stuff. So, yes, for sure.

V: They give you critiques?

M: Yeah, like the other day I went on @planetmaeta, and I posted a few stories. I played some songs that didn’t make the project and I wanted people to vote on which one they wanted. So everybody’s yelling at me about which one to put on the deluxe or whatever. So it’s a good way to kind of talk to them directly without feeling pressured, without all the extra randos on my main page. Not randos, but there’s a lot of weirdos on that page. But @planetmaeta just feels like my friends. So I go on there, and if you follow it or look at it, there’s always just random things that I’m letting people in on.

V: That’s so fun, especially the deluxe songs and unreleased tracks. Do you plan on putting those out and listening to the fan favorites?

M: Oh, for sure. Definitely, I have a lot of songs that were my favorites that just didn’t feel right for the project, but now I can just throw them on the deluxe. So we’ll see what I put on there, but I’m very excited to do that.

V: Oh, that’s so fun. I love that. Can you give us a little hint of what the deluxe might look like?

M: I’m definitely just going to add probably three or four songs. I have some favorite songs that I’ve done years ago that I’ve been begging to put out, but it just never made sense. And songs that I’ve teased that people still bug me about. So those will definitely be on there. And then after the deluxe, I’m also doing a project with KAYTRANADA in August, which I’m also so excited about, that people keep bugging me for. But that’s a whole different thing.

V: Oh, that’s so cool. I was actually going to ask you about that project! Can you tell us a little bit more about how that came about?

M: Yeah, so KAYTRANADA did my biggest song, “Teen Scene,” and he has one song on my project coming up. And I think that we just work well together, I think that my voice sounds good on his beats, it kind of just flows really well. And every time we work, it’s just very easy. People love when we collaborate. So we had a lot of extra songs, and my A&R was like, “Let’s just put out a project for the summer.” So the whole idea is, this project that I’m about to put out – the EP – it’s about this complicated relationship, all this deep stuff. And then for the KAYTRANADA project, it’s like, “I’m done with that stuff. I just want to dance and have fun.” So it’s a dancey, fun, summer project, and I’m excited to let all the deep stuff go and get into that. But I haven’t even put the project out yet, so I’ll be a little more patient.

V: I love that, I feel like that’s something I’ve noticed, that I’m sure all of your fans appreciate, about your music – it’s so multifaceted. Like you said, there’s so many deep themes and messages and it can be very vulnerable. And at the same time, it can also be very light-hearted and dancey and fun and catchy. There’s just different elements to it, which I love, throughout your career. And you’ve had a big year. So you were named one of TIDAL’s “Artists to Watch” this year, you performed on MTV’s “Fresh Out Live,” and you’ve even been dubbed as “R&B’s latest powerhouse,” both with your storytelling abilities, your lyrics, and then also your vocal talents. So what has all of that success meant to you so early in your career, and what do you envision going forward as your latest body of work releases?

M: Ah, it’s been so much fun. I think that I’m gonna look back on these times when I’m older and just remember being with my team and traveling the world – I did a Europe tour this year back in February. I’m just amazed at my life and how I get to live this life all because I was gifted with a voice. I was talking about this last night – I’m just blessed. I get to do so many amazing things just because I can sing. I get to sing for a living and get paid to sing and just do what I love. So, all I can say is that I’m blessed and I can’t wait to keep going. I just take each challenge and hurdle as it comes. That’s what I’m learning.

V: I love that. And yeah, speaking of amazing opportunities, you are also on the radar of Jean Paul Gaultier and performed in Paris for the first time at an event for them, wearing their latest collection. That’s such an iconic fashion house! How did it feel getting to do all of that?

M: Amazing! When we were in Paris, I didn’t realize they were dressing me and that I was performing at their event until I got to the fitting and I saw the clothes. And I was like, “Oh my God.” Because I love Jean Paul Gaultier – people always ask me my favorite fashion brands and I always say them. So then to be getting a fitting from them, and they’re dressing me…I was thanking God, like, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” It was amazing. I love their clothes. And Paris was the best audience I’ve ever performed for. I don’t even think they knew who I was, but they were all screaming and recording me. And I remember thinking, “Is this audience like a paid audience? Because there’s no way that they’re this amazing of an audience,” but I guess they just were. So hopefully I’ll go back to Paris soon and perform. But yeah, the whole thing was amazing. I was pinching myself.

V: That sounds so fun. And it must have been amazing to see, moving beyond the US to an international sphere, that the audience was just as excited and even your best one yet. That’s so cool.

M: My mind was blown.

V: Speaking of clothes as well, you were saying Jean Paul Gaultier is one of your favorite brands and they got to dress you. Is that a part of your creative process? How do you factor in your style and that element into your art and your music?

M: I think style is very important for me. I’m very picky, and I’m a little bit of a control freak. So when it comes to who’s styling me, it’s always a very important thing. I don’t just choose easily – I like to trust the stylists, too. I just started working with Scott Louis, and he just gets me. He puts me in cool stuff and colorful stuff. I like when people push me out of my comfort zone. As Maeta – not “Artist Maeta” – I’m so basic. I wear tank tops, kitten heels, and baggy jeans every single day, and I’m fine with that. But I think as an artist, I need somebody to push me to wear cooler stuff, which I just don’t know how to do by myself. So I definitely need a stylist. But yeah, it’s very important to me. I have Pinterest boards of clothes and patterns and textures I like, so it’s a big deal to me. But I love the collaborative part of it. I don’t know how to style myself, and I never would want to.

V: Yeah, it must be nice to have somebody to collaborate with on your style as an artist. It’s interesting that you made a distinction between Maeta, your personal style, and the artist Maeta’s style. There’s a distinct line there. So how would you describe what encompasses your style as the artist Maeta? Is that always evolving, or do you have an idea that you and your stylist come together to create?

M: Yeah, I think that it kind of depends on the project. Right now I’m wearing simple stuff, because the whole idea is the beach, and I was on this island. So I’m wearing those vibes – simple pieces, neutral colors, things that frame my body well…I like sexy stuff. I like mesh. I like being naked – I get yelled at for it all the time! But that’s my vibe right now, just sexy and simple. But it’ll definitely change, because I want to wear some crazy stuff one day. I just don’t feel like that’s the project yet, but it’ll evolve. I don’t think it’ll ever be stuck in one place.

V: Yeah, that’s so fun and definitely goes with the island theme. Matching your style as an artist to your current project is really cool. So your “Habits” EP, your previous project, caught the attention of some pretty major celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Demi Lovato, and it also secured you your national television debut on The Kelly Clarkson Show last September. I know obviously there’s so much anticipation about your upcoming project, but I was interested in your evolution as an artist from your “Habits” EP, which I love. How do you feel like your artistry has shifted and evolved from then to now?

M: I think that musically, I’ve just challenged myself so much. I don’t think any of those songs on “Habits”…I mean, “Bitch Don’t Be Mad” was kind of a challenge. But those are all easy for me. I recorded them in a couple of days, none of them were challenging. This next project I’ve worked on for two years, and I’ve cried recording these songs. I’ve been spiting my A&R because he wants to use less autotune and sing harder and sing higher. I have to be pushed, and I love to be pushed. But I was definitely challenged on this project and worked with incredible people. I’ve spent months working on each song, and they’re all so musically amazing. I’ve just evolved a lot since the last project, and I’m very proud of this project. It’s just great music to me – I listen back to “Habits,” and I’m proud of it, but this new project is in a whole different lane than that one. It’s definitely musically a lot better, but also, as a person, I’ve just grown. I’ve gone through a lot of life lessons and learned about the music industry. And I’m handling myself in a different way and moving a little differently. So a lot of life lessons have happened since then, and love – the whole project is about a deeper, more painful part of myself that I didn’t know during “Habits.” So, yeah, just deeper.

V: It’s interesting to hear you say that. “Habits” was 2021, so of course, in two years, there’s a lot of evolution and growth that happens. But to me, “Habits” is still so vulnerable – I feel like you already surpassed expectations on that project. So to hear that your forthcoming project cuts that much deeper is so exciting. Is there anything that I didn’t ask you about that you wanted to mention about the EP or your upcoming year?

M: It’s about complicated love, and me just trying to figure out what the hell love is – if I’m in real love, or if it’s just toxic. I’ve never really been in love before like this, so I’m trying to figure it out. But I worked with amazing bucket list people. I worked with The-Dream, Kehlani, Lucky Daye. I started working with Pharrell recently, which was amazing. So there’s all those big names in the project. Coming up, I’m going on tour. We’re auditioning for background singers, which I’ve never done before, and these auditions are hilarious. So I’m having the time of my life. So the tour’s coming soon, KAYTRANADA’s coming in August…I took a break for a couple years and now it’s music, music, music. I’m not stopping. Every six months, there’s going to be some sort of project, music, single, collaboration.

Discover More