As 2018 winds down, Billboard is asking some of the artists who helped define the year in music to look back on their accomplishments, their favorite memories and their pop-culture obsessions from the past 12 months. Now joining St. Vincent: Anne-Marie.
Want us to spell it out for you? Anne-Marie was one of pop’s biggest breakout stars in 2018, thanks to her hit Marshmello collaboration “Friends” as well as the arrival of her debut album, Speak Your Mind.
And speak her mind she does: The British singer covers everything from body positivity (“Perfect”) to messed-up relationships (“Bad Girlfriend”) to anxiety about the state of the world (“Machine”) on her LP, which features a mix of pop, dancehall and EDM sounds as well as co-writes from Ed Sheeran and Julia Michaels. Though the 27-year-old has been steadily releasing music over the past few years — she’s been a star in her native U.K. since 2016’s “Alarm” and scored a U.S. hit in 2017 with the Clean Bandit team-up “Rockabye” — offering fans a complete body of work was always her end-game.
“As soon as I started making music, it was for an album,” says Anne-Marie, who grew up idolizing soul-baring lyricists like Lauryn Hill and Christina Aguilera. “So when it finally came out, I was super excited but really nervous. It’s scary putting out something like that. I try to make music as close to me as possible, so if you know the album, then you know me as well.”
Below, the singer tells Billboard about chatting up taxi drivers, writing her next album and her holiday plans.
What were your favorite fan reactions to the record? When you’re going through Twitter or meeting fans during shows, what are they telling you about the album?
What was exciting for me is that everyone had different favorite songs on there. I was expecting people to like “Friends” and all these different singles, but it made me happy when they said, “‘Can I Get Your Number’ is my favorite” or “‘Machine’ is my favorite” — songs that weren’t on the radio. I loved seeing that those were their favorites, because it was the same for me when I had Christina Aguilera’s [Stripped] growing up — it was the songs that weren’t the singles that were my favorite. So that made me happy.
You closed out the year by releasing a new version of your the Speak Your Mind track “Perfect,” retitled “Perfect to Me,” with a video. Why was it important for you to give that song its moment?
I feel like this whole song is my main vibe: trying to get people to feel good about themselves and accept themselves for the way they look or the way they feel or [whatever] makes them feel different. I want them to realize that’s actually an amazing thing. This song actually put that all into an envelope and says, “You’re okay the way you are.”
To end the year with it makes me feel really good — I always wanted it to have its own time. I wrote this song three years ago, so that’s such a long time to have a song and not have its own video and stuff. But I think it’s coming at the right moment. There’s quite a thing happening right now with mental health and stuff like that. Hopefully it gets through to people.
I just tried to be as honest as I could in that song. I always had music from Pink and Lauryn Hill, people who have really strong songs and made me feel better, when I was coming home from school, and I always wanted to have that song for other people.
What was it like hitting the road with Ed Sheeran and being able to share the album with people in a live setting?
He’s one of my best friends, so being able to tour with him and spend time with him just makes me happy. He’s so supportive of my music. It’s amazing to have people connect the dots between who I am and the music they might have heard before with Clean Bandit or Marshmello. It’s nice to see their faces realizing who I am along the way. Every one of the songs is a true story and comes from an experience in my life, so I don’t think I would ever get bored of singing them. I loved seeing people’s reactions.
If you could go back to January of this year, what advice would you give yourself about 2018?
My anxiety’s been quite bad, so I’d tell myself to chill out a bit and relax! But I feel like I’ve had a really amazing year and have gone with the flow. This probably has been my favorite year.
What are you most proud of accomplishing this year?
The album was a big moment, touring is always a big moment, but when it comes to my personal life, I think growing into who I am now has been a tough thing to do. I’ve always suffered from anxiety, and as weird as it sounds, I get really anxious when I’m around new people and a lot of people. But I’ve recently learned a lot from that and learned a lot about myself, and I’m starting to really enjoy meeting new people. I think that’s a massive moment for me.
What was your most memorable fan interaction of 2018?
I think whenever anyone gets a tattoo [of me or my lyrics], that’s a really big moment, because that is on you for life! That’s dedication. But honestly, whenever I meet any of my fans, it’s heartwarming for me. They’re so lovely. I can never replace that feeling with anything else. I don’t do any charging for meet-and-greets, I don’t agree with all of that stuff, but I always try to get out of the show and say hello to everyone. You can’t really beat that feeling when you meet them.
What artist would you want to invite to a holiday dinner with your family?
Shawn Mendes, because he’s lovely, and then Childish Gambino, because I feel like he could teach me a lot.
What is one thing, big or small, that you regret in 2018 — and you can’t say “no regrets”!
Probably not being able to see my family as much as I like to, because obviously being on tour means I don’t get to be home as much. That’s also something I’d like to change for next year.
What’s a gift that’s on your Christmas list or a gift that you’re planning to get for friends and family that you’re excited about?
I’m going to ask for some sort of spa day where I can have a massage, because when you’re on a plane for that long your back basically ages 40 years above your actual age! For my family I’m going to try to get them more experiences, like a weekend away. I feel I’ve gone past the point of materialistic things that will all just get tossed away. I’d rather spend on experiences with them and spending time with them. I still need to figure that out — I’m so bad at this!
What’s the best performance you saw this year?
I saw Anderson .Paak in London and L.A., which was incredible. In L.A. he had his whole set-up on stage like a hotel room, and he just has everything: He can dance, he can play the drums. He does everything that you would hope for in a performer, and he did the same in London — it’s incredible just having him there in your hometown. I’ve been touring so much, I haven’t been able to see anyone else, but Ed’s shows are amazing, and I got to see that all the time.
What’s a song that you couldn’t get out of your head this year?
“I Like It” by Cardi B. I listened to that before going on stage. When I did the American solo tour in between Ed’s dates, I had this guy called Goody Grace supporting me, and he has this song called “Two Shots” that I just got addicted to. He’s so lovely as well.
Whom did you text the most in 2018?
Probably Ed, because I was with him quite a lot this year. But I do also text my manager a lot.
What was your most memorable Uber, Lyft or taxi ride of 2018?
I always seem to get really interesting drivers wherever I go, and I always record their conversations. I don’t know if that’s legal or not! But I record conversations in taxis all the time because I really want to use a taxi ride randomly in between a song [as an interlude]. I have quite a lot of interesting ones. I meet so many different people, it’s good to see who they are and what they do. There are so many people who have other jobs [besides] being a taxi driver — I met this one lady in L.A. who makes her own jewelry, it was so cool.
What was your favorite city you’ve visited this year and why?
L.A. was the first show of the American tour with Ed, and I love L.A. — the sun and everything. We did Tokyo, Singapore — Asia is really amazing, so just being there is fun. I mean, I literally went everywhere this year.
You’ve been successful in Europe for some time, but this year America really caught up and embraced you. What was it like to spend so much time here in 2018?
I loved it. It makes me want to live there, honestly. I just want to be there so much. Hopefully next year I’ll be there more, and then the next year even more. It’s so big. In the U.K., you go to two radio stations and you’ve got the whole circuit. Whereas if you go to America, there’s like 500, so you really just spend a lot of time there. Which is fine with me.
What are your goals for 2019?
My music plans? Getting out music that no one’s heard before. That’s a really exciting thought for me, because all the music I’ve released this year has been music that I’ve been playing for years beforehand. Next year’s going to be the time when I can release fresh music that no one’s ever heard live before, so that’s my main goal. I have a big U.K. and European tour happening in May and June, and I’m writing a second album now as well, so that will probably be coming out at some point. With regards to stuff I want to achieve on my own? Probably spending time with people and also getting more involved in charity work, visiting hospitals and schools and really trying to make a difference. That’s what I want to do more of.
What about more mundane everyday things on your to-do list, like learning to cook or redecorating?
Yeah! Well, I just got a flat, so I do need to figure out how to be an adult and buy boring stuff. I need to get a rug and a coffee table — that’s what I need to do in my personal life.