Artist Profile: mxmtoon on Vulnerability in the Digital Age | Arts
22-year-old Maia, better known as singer-songwriter and internet phenomenon mxmtoon, sat down with The Harvard Crimson on April 21 to talk about her career, creative evolution, and how far she’s come from her beginnings as an artist.
mxmtoon describes her music as “bedroom pop.” Though she is no longer making music largely by herself, she still aims to preserve that intimate and vulnerable sound.
“Having started in like my actual bedroom and making songs on GarageBand and sharing it, I still feel that that kind of intimacy and core is what I strive to do with a lot of the music I end up making,” she shared.
“I really identify with the idea of making something that feels personal to you, especially in environments that you feel really comfortable in. Bedroom pop feels cozy.”
mxmtoon’s songwriting has frequently been touted as “confessional,” and she said her songwriting perhaps “naturally turns into an autobiographical narrative.”
“I do feel like you could listen front to back and have a pretty good sense of my story so far, which is really cool to me. I think I approach it with more intentionality now, but it definitely was something that I was trying to do but naturally happened anyways,” she said.
mxmtoon’s second studio album, “rising,” was released almost a year ago, and she called it “the music that I always ended up dreaming of making.” Featuring more production than her stripped-back debut studio album “the masquerade” — self-released in 2019 — along with maturer lyrics, “rising” is a love letter to the trials of new adulthood and coming into your own.
“‘rising’ was fulfilling that dream I had five years ago, or even as young as six years old and listening to music for the first time and being like, ‘Oh my God, I hope I can make songs that make me feel this way and make me want to dance and smile and experience joy,’” she said.
In addition to her music, mxmtoon has taken on other creative avenues, releasing a short daily podcast beginning in September of 2020 and lasting a year titled “365 days with mxmtoon” as well as two graphic novels accompanying her debut album and connected 2020 EPs respectively. She discussed the exciting challenge of undertaking these endeavors.
“It felt really natural to me, actually — I think largely, mxmtoon has always been a multi-project project, right? Music is the core of what I do, but I do so many other things,” she shared. “Podcasting or graphic novels, those are all genuine interests of mine, and so trying to do my best and put my best foot forward in those different areas felt like a really individually satisfying thing to take on. And so I try to do that with mxmtoon as often as I can.”
mxmtoon rose to prominence self-releasing music on YouTube in 2017, but has kept up with a changing digital landscape — she has over 200,000 followers on Twitch, over 850,000 followers on Instagram, and 2.8 million followers on TikTok. When asked about her active online presence, she said “influencer” is not a label she feels an affinity towards.
“Content creator definitely feels accurate, I make a lot of music and see myself as a creative,”she said. “ I grew up in the early days of YouTube, watching blogs and youtubers generally. I feel like I am still solidly connected to that world and in a lot of ways I can’t detach myself from it.”
Now that she has an established following, she has a lot more freedom and resources to make the music she wants.
“I started my music project and no one in my real life knew about it. I wasn’t fearing of the fact that I was making music with my family or my friends,” she said. “I’m 22. I’m a little bit older than I was when I started and so from more confidence and just seeking out other people to help me and support me and whatever ideas I might have, so from a creative standpoint, I think I understand the power of asking for help a lot more than I used to.”
Given how public-facing her persona has been from a young age, an awareness of the distinction between public and private is present in how mxmtoon thinks about her music, as well as how she discusses her art.
“It’s a very strange experience going from making music thinking no one’s gonna ever listen to it but all of a sudden knowing that people will listen to it every single time we make something.”
“vulnerability is a really powerful tool, and I try to be as honest as possible in the music I make, but I also know I don’t owe anybody explanations beyond the lyrics that I’m making.”, she added.
mxmtoon has collaborated with many artists, from Carly Rae Jepson to Noah Kahan, and will be touring this summer under the umbrella bittersweet daze with cavetown, Ricky Montgomery, and grentperez.
“I’ve worked with all of them in different capacities and so it naturally kind of came together, this idea of wanting to do a mini festival lineup this summer and playing in different cities together,” she said. “I get to hang out with people I think are really cool and I get to play amphitheaters for the first time ever, which is super, super exciting,”
mxmtoon reflected on how far she has come since her music was a pipe dream she kept all to herself, and from its conception has been very personal. But she also knows that the songs she has made and written have naturally grown beyond just her.
“I know that my songs and the things that I make are going to become pieces of other people’s stories beyond just mine.”