PRESENTED BY: ALLY
The following profile is from “Vocally,” a new content series from Billboard and Ally. Each episode retraces the stories of music’s rising stars, covering their respective paths to the spotlight and the family members, friends, collaborators and other allies that supported them along the way. Click HERE to learn more about how Ally is helping musicians pursue their artistic endeavors
Shouting her diary entries into the internet void, a middle-school mxmtoon never expected anyone to listen. Now, at 21, over three million followers do, and all it took was for her to trust the first people who heard her. Those listeners were some of her earliest online allies.
The Oakland native, whose stage name started as an Instagram handle, had always been in search of people who might understand her. At 12, the classically trained musician found connection on YouTube, where she saw herself—queer, mixed-race, Asian American—reflected to her for the first time, giving her the courage to share her feelings behind musical covers.
“Even though I’m a huge introvert, it made sense to me to have the kind of buffer of being somebody online while still connecting with a community of people in the safety of my own room,” the indie icon says, “It felt human, and I wanted to be a part of something where I could talk about myself and inspire [others] to feel the same way that I did.”
By high school, she was writing original music, and soon after, she would begin posting her own ukulele-centric bedroom pop songs. She did so in secret because the self-professed good kid was still fearful of being found out and rejected, especially by her parents. Following the release of her delightful first demo, “1-800-DATEME,” and the 10,000 YouTube subscribers that followed, it was clear to mxmtoon that her secret was no longer safe.
“Up until then, I had really functioned off of this feeling that the number [of followers] on my screen isn’t real,” she says. “But the anxiety that I felt in sharing this world that I had created with my parents helped me fully grasp the fact that no, these are real individuals.”
Those individuals were the early adopters in mxmtoon’s burgeoning online music community. They were some of the most pivotal allies in the early stages of her career and the reciprocal relationship they share is one that she doesn’t take for granted. “I started doing this when I was 17…every person at that point in their life is trying to figure out who they are as a person. I just have to do that in front of thousands of people. She continued, “I feel really thankful that I’m growing up alongside my audience.”
Offline , her family’s support pushed her to embrace herself as an artist; in essence, they were her team before she even had one. Mxmtoon navigated the stresses of her senior year and a steadily rising Soundcloud listenership while fielding PR and management requests in class.
One of the emails came from her now managers, Max Gredinger and Kirk Ellis, who offered to meet with her family, an encouraging sign that led to her taking the call. “My family means more to me than anything else in the world. And so, for them to be a part of the conversation of what their daughter was going to do next was really meaningful. That was the first step into mxmtoon.”
The formation of the mxmtoon crew quickly followed as the singer-songwriter surrounded herself with allies that would help her dreams materialize. Notable contributors included her producer Robin Skinner (p/k/a Cavetown) and vocal coach Libby Lavella. In their unique ways, the pair helped mxmtoon own her vulnerability on her first records, the 2018 EP plum blossom, and her long-awaited 2019 debut album, the masquerade. “I met all of these people that would help build me up, help me understand what my goals were, and helped me achieve them,” she says.
Libby, in particular, became a source of inspiration. “Libby changed my mind about what it meant to be a student. It wasn’t a judgmental environment. It was solely about helping me build confidence in myself. It wasn’t just about singing. It was also about building me up as a person.”
With the masquerade, she was emboldened by her online community’s embrace of her penchant for musical experimentation. “My audience has always been really nice in allowing me to take creative liberties and do what I wanted with an album,“ she says. “People were just happy that I was happy and [they were] really excited for me about releasing this project in a way that I don’t think I’ve necessarily always seen.”
The relationship is one that she hopes is always rooted in allyship. “For years, I’ve watched the mxmtoon community graduate high school. I’ve watched them start their majors in college. I’ve seen these huge milestones in their [lives]. I made a conscious effort to really connect and learn about these individuals,” mxmtoon says. “If I can have glances at their life stories, that means everything to me. They’re celebrating my victories, so why shouldn’t I celebrate theirs?”
Though her story is only in its beginning stages, mxmtoon has her eyes set on impact. She hopes her success can open doors for even more diverse voices when it’s all said and done. “That I’m able to be a person in the music industry and effectively share my story is emblematic of the fact that we are making steps forward. But I think if I’m looking towards lasting impact, I hope that I’m not the last one. I hope we keep inspiring young people to look online and find versions of themselves, to find pieces of themselves and know that they can also do those exact same things.”
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