North London native Mae Muller started writing songs five years ago, when she was a 19-year-old working in retail and at a pub while also trying to figure out what to do with her life. She set her sights on pop stardom, co-writing the entirety of her 2019 EP, Chapter 1, but was always reluctant to record a song written by someone else.
In November 2020, however, Muller traveled to Sweden — the country had remained open to travelers from the UK during this phase of the pandemic — for a session with writer/producer Neiked, who played Muller a track he’d written called “Better Days.” Muller eventually decided to take on the buoyant, celebratory track, and the single subsequently became Muller’s first Hot 100 hit, climbing to No. 29 since its September release.
“I feel like I’m a songwriter first and foremost, so to me, taking the song was a really scary thing,” says Muller, 24. “But I was like, ‘This is a banger. If I don’t try it out, the only person that’s going to lose is me.”
Having gotten a tutorial from her label, Capitol Records UK, on how to raise her profile on TikTok during the pandemic, the endearingly genuine Muller was able to amplify the song with her own content on the platform, like makeup before and after videos and a clip in which she cheekily reacts to bad reviews of “Better Days.” As a result, the song went viral on TikTok, and Muller says the platform helped it cross over to DSPs and earn a current total of 61.8 million on-demand U.S. streams, according to MRC Data. “I was like, ‘Okay, this is it. We’re on this ride now.”
The ride to pop stardom was one Muller and her team at Capitol had been hustling to get on since she signed with the label in 2018 (the singer-songwriter had a different management team at the time, but signed with UK agency Modest — whose client roster includes Niall Horan, Little Mix and 5 Seconds of Summer — roughly a year ago). Capitol UK co-president Jo Charrington recalls being struck by Muller’s humor, talent and authenticity after their first meeting, saying she had “a vulnerability that I think young women can relate to, and that she’s not scared of showing.”
The Capitol team was also impressed by Muller’s clarity of vision. “I never wanted to be a cool underground artist,” says Muller. “I want to be a pop star; I want to travel the world; I want to be in the charts. I never shied away from that.” Seeing Muller’s potential to become this type of artist, her team sent her to Los Angeles to work with industry stars like Jimmy Napes (Sam Smith, Tori Kelly) and Blake Slatkin (Lil Nas X, The Kid LAROI) and help her, as Charrington puts it, “level up a bit.”
The pandemic forced a new approach. Unable to travel to the U.S. for sessions, Muller and her team decided to be more open to collaborating on music written by other artists. This year, she served as a featured vocalist on London duo Billen Ted’s track “When You’re Out” and on fellow Londoner Master Peace’s “Boyfriend.” Then, she cut the swaggering “Better Days.” “We felt like we’d really hit on her sound then,” says Charrington. “It felt like all the puzzle pieces were falling into place.”
Muller had the idea of adding a rap feature to the song, suggesting Chicago-born hip-hop star Polo G, of whom she’d been a longtime fan. “I was like, ‘Let’s just send it, what are we going to lose?’” she recalls. A week later, Polo was in the studio recording his vocals. Adding an American artist like Polo G, who was coming off his first Hot 100 chart-topper in “Rapstar,” was also a strategic play for U.S. radio. On charts dated Nov. 27, “Better Days” had risen to No. 14 on Pop Airplay, No. 29 on Adult Pop Airplay and No. 37 on Radio Songs.
Charrington and Capitol UK’s A&R manager Charlie Knox are now working in tandem with the Capitol U.S. team to bring Muller to American audiences in the same way they did when breaking UK stars like Sam Smith and Lewis Capaldi. “It’s a great team,” says Charrington, “and I do think that’s a big part of why the record’s working, why it’s going to get even bigger and why are we going to break her properly over the next 12 to 18 months.”
With U.S. travel once again possible, Muller has been back in L.A. working on new music and leveraging the success of “Better Days” into opportunities like performing it on a recent episode of The Voice, with other high-profile gigs on the horizon. While she’s certainly enjoying her newfound pop star perks — “I had a moment where I was like, ‘Wow, I love this,’” she says of recently being picked up by a chauffeur at the airport — Muller is laser-focused on keeping this ride in motion.
“She’s been working really hard for three years, and she knows what it feels like when things aren’t going as well as they are now,” says Charrington.“We’re grinding it out as a team to make sure we make the most of this moment, but to also build on the work Mae’s already done, and turn her into the superstar she deserves to be.”