Two of Anne-Marie‘s biggest songs, “Alarm” and “Ciao Adios,” are all about exposing a cheating boyfriend and moving on. But on her latest release, Marshmello collaboration “Friends,” the British singer-songwriter is keeping her sassiness alive — but this time, it’s by putting the subject in the friend zone.
“I was thinking about something I’d been through. I write [songs] as if I’m writing a book or a chapter of a book explaining what happened,” Anne-Marie tells Billboard of writing “Friends,” adding with a laugh, “I keep saying to everyone that one day I’ll write a love song.”
Currently sitting at No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100 (chart dated March 10), “Friends” marks Anne-Marie’s second time on the chart, following last year’s smash “Rockabye,” her collaboration with Clean Bandit and Sean Paul. Although the singer has seen the most success with her dance team-ups, she’s ready to show the world what she’s capable of on her own with her forthcoming album Speak Your Mind, due April 27.
As “Friends” continues to gain speed, Anne-Marie chatted with Billboard about how her latest collab came together and the impact working with DJs like Marshmello — masked or not — has had on the material she’s getting ready to share with fans old and new.
Marshmello remixed your 2016 hit “Alarm.” How did you end up collaborating now?
It wasn’t until he was in London last year and I was like, “I’m going to go to the studio and say, ‘Thanks for doing that remix.’” It wasn’t even meant to be a session. While he was there, he brought his laptop out and started playing some riffs he had done recently. That little guitar riff you hear in the song — he started playing that, and I was like, “OK, I need to write a song right now.” We literally wrote it that night, and he worked on it for the next three days in LA, and it was done.
We wrote it to the guitar riff, and it was kind of a Spanish vibe. And then he came back and it was kind of like hip-hoppy — I couldn’t believe what he had done to it.
What is Marshmello like as a collaborator? Did you get to see him without the mask?
He wears the mask [in the studio]. It must be made really well. [Laughs] I think over time he wore it less and less, but at the start he wore it. It’s exactly how I am with sunglasses — I always wear sunglasses when I go in to the studio if I’ve never worked with them before. And then when I get comfortable I take them off.
The thing I love about Marshmello is that he caters to individual songs as a producer. He has his vibe, but he also really puts something on the song that the song needs, instead of having his thing and everything sounding like him. I feel like “Friends” has a lot of me in it, a lot of my personality. I’m quite cheeky. [Laughs]
If you didn’t have this song to do the job, how would you go about friend-zoning someone?
I think I’d just try and make it really obvious. I wouldn’t say it straight out, first of all. I’d just not pay that much attention. Maybe eventually [I’d spell it out] if they kept trying, like, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here to show you that I’m not interested.” If they kept going, I’d just be like, “You know we’re just friends, right?” Some people just can’t take the hint and you’ve got to spell it out for them.
Is that kind of what made you think to literally spell out the word in the song?
I think it just came into my head, like “F-R-I-E-N-D-S,” and everyone went mad, so we ended up sticking with it. It’s fun, although people do think I’m spelling it wrong [Laughs], so I have to make it clear that I am spelling it “F-R-I-E-N-D-S” — I think they can’t hear the “E.” But then some people say it actually helps them to spell “friends” because it’s quite difficult. I’ve read a few tweets thanking me for helping them spell it out.
You’re releasing your debut album in April. How has working with dance artists shaped your sound?
I actually have been really influenced by dance music. When I first started writing, I wrote really sad, emotional songs which were all slow. And it wasn’t until I toured with Rudimental or did a song with Clean Bandit or more uptempo songs that I realized that I need something in my sets for my live shows otherwise I’m going to be singing the slowest sets in the whole world that everyone’s going to be crying. [Laughs]
“Rockabye,” on the first few listens, you think it’s quite a happy song. And then you’d listen more and realize that it’s about a single parent loving their child, and that made me really invested in making songs like that — really quite sad and emotional subjects with an upbeat song.
What can fans expect from your album, then?
It’s emotional, there’s a lot of different subjects. The thing is, with me, I’m not just trying to talk about ex-boyfriends, although I’m quite good at that. [Laughs] I like to talk about everything, from body confidence issues to what’s going on in the world right now. There’s a lot of different vibes in there, and I hope that there’s a song for every moment — if you’re going on a long car journey or getting ready to go out — something for everyone.
A version of this article originally appeared in the March 3 issue of Billboard.