Anne-Marie: "Im hoping this is the start of a new world"
Alice Gee | 22/07/2021
I’m greeted by Anne-Marie beaming from ear to ear in her London home, brightening what was a typical gloomy British morning with her vivacious warm self. As we’re all accustomed to, we greet one another asking how we are and how we are managing the turbulent times we find ourselves in. It sometimes seems this pandemic small talk is so second nature we won’t be able to shake it, Anne-Marie herself also finds herself feeling stuck on a COVID-19 carousel which although isn’t gaining speed, is proving rather tricky to get off.
“It’s been all right. I’m glad it’s happened in stages because I feel like it would have been a lotto take. I mean, some people have had to go straight back into work so I think it might be just my circumstance where stages have been possible. As we still can’t do things in person, I feel like it’s slowly getting back to normal. I’ve actually had a couple of panic attacks over the past couple of days, which I hadn’t been having lately, which I think is a part of things going back to normal and me not really being able to handle it yet. I’m sure a lot of people probably will be feeling that.”
As we talk about going back to some form of normality I’m glad I’m not the only one fearful of society falling back into old habits and the care we’ve shown for ourselves and each other the past 15 months thrown out the window.
“I’m the same, I’m hoping that our society, all our communities, somehow take something from what we’ve been through because that would be amazing. I don’t think it will go back to what it was before, because it was crazy and not doing us any favours. I’m hoping it does stay the same a little bit in how we are taking more notice of one another. I’m hoping that a lot of us have learned our boundaries over lockdown. I feel like before we would just push ourselves too far all the time, especially people who suffer from anxiety and other mental health struggles. I feel before we were just trying to be the same as other people and keep up with that constantly, which at that time I don’t know if that was okay. I was trying to deal withmy anxiety by carrying on then when this happened, I got really low. I found I had to build myself up again, build myself into a really good place and now I’m worried, do I have to fight what I’ve just built? But I’m hoping that there’s more. I’m hoping this the start of a new world.
I think we can all relate to this feeling of anticipatory anxiety as a post-COVID life emerges. A world where happiness and health become second bestin our list of priorities is not something I dream of going back to. As we try not to stress about the future I ask if she has learnt anything since last March she wouldn’t have without an international lockdown.
“It was the first lockdown where I got really low. I had to then start making the journey back again. I just said to everyone, It’s obviously so horrific what we’ve been going through,it’s been a worldwide catastrophe, to be honest. We’ve all had time that we would never have been able to have, we will never have this time and pace ever in our whole life again. So all of us stopping has meant we have been dealing without mental health demons as we have with general physical problems. It’s like those life problems we have been putting off, we’ve been able to think to ourselves, and actually think I need to do this and I need to do that to make a change, and this is what makes me happy. I’m so thankful for this moment in which we’ve been able to discover that because otherwise, I never would have been this person I am sitting here right now.”
A vocal mental health advocate, Anne-Marie has been a symbol of hope and shoulder to lean on for so many of her fans over the years, someone they lookup to for guidance and inspiration. Someone they can always trust to be real. As someone who hasn’t shied away from speaking about the realities of living and working in the public eye, I ask if the stage has exacerbated her anxiety or provided a safe haven.
“So what’s weird, I actually feel I get a break while I’m on stage. When I get on stage, instead of it being intensified, I feel a lot of anxiety and pressure is removed. People looking at me on stage hasn’t ever been the problem as you get what you’re given. You’re onstage, and this is an artist, and this is their songs. Whereas my problem is people looking beyond me as an artist. I can’t help thinking do they like me? I hope they like me, I’m gonna do this because it will make them like me. That’s what my thing was and that’s what I’m working on. So being on stage was that time where I could just sing, and forget abouteverything but that moment that I’m in. So luckily, I had that escape, which helped me.
Being an artist was quite stressful at times thinking about it. Having mental health things going on in my head was really difficult but even more sobecause I felt bad that I had everything. Okay, I had a house to be in, I was able to travel, I was able to do all these things and it was almost harder forme to tell people I was actually feeling like sh*t. In the end, I was just hiding it for so long and that’s why I stress so much with people to just tell people what they are feeling no matter how small they think the problem is. I would always compare my problems to other peoples who had things happening over the other side of the world, and feel like ‘Who the hell am I to say to someone this is how I feel’ when people are having the worst time. So I found it quite stressful being open at times when I’ve felt I’ve been so fortunate. But luckily I realized it doesn’t diminish how you are feeling.
Being no stranger to mental health struggles myself, I can say from experience how charities like Mind have been a saving grace. They are an invaluable source of information and support for anyone experiencing a mental health problem and tirelessly campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. To become a Mind ambassador is a daily commitment to promote their work, raise awareness and encourage people to seek support when they need it. It’s a role Anne-Marie takes incredibly seriously.
“Being able to work with them, and be a part of that, knowing that I’m actually helping people is the best. I really do want to help people like that. A dream for me is to be helping people every day with how they feel. As an artist as I’m trying to do that, but you don’t necessarily see the work being done you just try and help people every day whether or not knowing if it’s helping. So being a part of that keeps me knowing that I’m doing a good thing for people. Because with music, you just put it out and every now and again, get a tweet saying this song has really helped me, to which you’re like, Oh, thank God for that. But with charities like Mind, you know that every day they’re saving people. That’s why I’m so I am proud to be a Mind Ambassador. I’m proud of being a part of it. Of course I’ll continue to do stuff with them and other people and try and help as much as I can.”
When she’s not focusing on helping others what does she do to support herself? I ask what are the things that help her feel her best and the choices and activities that keep her feeling grounded.
“First of all, I love jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles have been my favourite thing to do in lockdown. They give me a moment to just think about what piece is going to go where instead of all this other stuff going on in my head. I also weirdly, like growing vegetables. It’s taking care of something, getting something out of it at the other end, achieving something and just concentrating on that. Saying that I’m very aware of knowing that distractions aren’t always the best way to deal with things. So for me, it’s knowing that there’s a balance taking my mind off things by doing jigsaw puzzles but not completely ignoring what’s really going on. For me, the best thing is therapy, which has been incredible. The best thing that I do is talking to a psychologist/therapist about how I feel which I do every week, every Tuesday, or at least I try.”
“Therapy to me is facing my head straight on, and it has been one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve had. To say that, it doesn’t mean to say that I’ve not tried therapy before, I’d tried it twice and it didn’t work for me. I essentially didn’t believe in it because of that but then, when I found I was right at my lowest in lockdown, I said to myself, let’s just try it again. I tried this one lady and it just changed my whole life. Sometimes I go into the session and I think I don’t really have much to say this week and that I feel okay, I’ll go in and at the time I feel it might as well be pointless and then it ends up being one of the best sessions. It’s all about continuing to do it and continuing the conversation with someone who doesn’t judge you, who has no opinion on you but has actual knowledge about your brain and how it works. After all, that’s so crucial to know. You can speak to your friends, right? For 100% your friends are part of our therapy, and so can be your family, but talking to someone that actually understands, scientifically what your brain is doing, really, really excited me and made me want to find out more about my brain. So that’s what I’ve been doing, and don’t get me wrong, I still do jigsaw puzzles, and I’m still growing vegetables outside. But the therapy is, is the thing that’s really changed me.”
I had been so excited in the build-up to speak with Anne-Marie about her most recent release “Our Song” a duet with former One Direction member Niall Horan. The song, which was reportedly written in two hours, is about having that one song with an ex that is forever tainted after a breakup. As fans of them both, I was itching to know how the collab came about.
“We’d been talking about getting into the studio, I think, for about three years online. We’ve just been saying it back and forth but we’ve been so busy, but when lockdown happened we didn’t have the excuse or reason to say no anymore. So we just decided to try it out, and when we got in and it was just perfect. It was just like the most perfect session. It was really chilled with these amazing producers, and Niall himself playing the guitar and the piano, he’s so talented, I just loved it. We wrote about four songs and “Our Song’” was the first we wrote.
When I’m on the way to the studio, that’s the time I think to myself, what can I write about today? How do I feel when I look out the window, I’ll see if anything catches my eye and spurs on something to write about. So when I was on the way, a song came on the radio and I thought to myself, bloody hell, imagine having that one song with your ex that you just had together. It was your song and now you’ve split up whether he cheated on you, you just fell out of love, or if it was just not happening anymore, and having to hear that song on the radio that you had with them. I just thought oh my god, there’s got to be 1000s of people who go through that daily. So I went to the studio and was like we have to write about this. Niall created the guitar riff straight away and that’s how it happened. Since then we’ve become really good friends. We were on the phone all the time, which has been lovely. I think that the production was the funniest part of it all because obviously, I’m quite pop and electronic and Niall’s well, not electronic. The first time we got the production back, because obviously on the day it was just his guitar and when the producers were done with the production he actually texted me say I think it’s a little bit Fetty Wap. I just want that quote basically printed on everything. I think the song is so perfect because it is just mine and his brain in one song”
Anne-Marie’s debut album Speak Your Mind was both a commercial and critical success featuring collaborations with Marshmello, Clean Bandit and David Guetta some of the biggest names in electronic music at the time. 4 years later “Our Song” points ever so slightly in a different direction, I ask about the reason behind the long break in between albums and the creative opportunities it allowed her to take.
“I’m very creative, so as soon as the first album was out I was writing new songs. That makes you want to put music out straight away so it is a really hard situation to be in. For me when I feel certain things, I write about it, and of course, you want to put it out straight away, but then it gets past like the three-month line, and you’re like, I don’t feel like that anymore so I don’t want to put it out now. In the music industry, it takes so long for your song to come out it’s a long process trying to get it to the right place. After I released the first album, I decided I wanted to release something totally different I just didn’t want to write pop anymore. I was feeling really confident and I just want to write ratchet music. My label at the time were like just carry on writing, you’re doing really well. That was in 2019. It wasn’t until I had a show and a guy came out with his child before he came up to me and said, I’m so happy that my daughter listens to you. I’m so happy that she has you to look up to as a person. And I thought to myself, okay, I’m not going to put out the album I had. I just thought imagine that little girl listening to that f*cking song. So I had to just put that aside.
With that said it doesn’t mean to say that in the future, I won’t release those songs, but it wasn’t the right time. From that conversation with that person, I just had a new feeling about what I wanted to be because I do want to be that person for young kids. I do want them to be able to listen to my music and feel good. That’s what I want. So this album probably started its process in January. I do think you look back on things and change your mind on releasing them. I know from my past that you find yourself writing something that’s really relevant at the time and when you go back to it, you look over it and think oh, God. I’m going to leave that one where it belongs.”
For fans of Anne- Marie, self discovery and self love aren’t new topics on the table. As a champion of the LGTBQ+ community, she has been a vocal ally and regular attendant of Pride celebrations around the country. She opened up to us about the pressures of finding who you are and how that community provided a space for support for her in times of hardship.
“Well, first of all, finding out who you are, and finding yourself is a long process. I didn’t really know who I was, until, honestly, lockdown. All my life until that time was where I fully had to figure myself out. What always sticks out to me is like, you don’t have to f*cking know everything. You don’t have to know who you are. Unfortunately, there is a huge amount of pressure from society and the world. And I just wish there wasn’t. I wish that we could just live and then figure out very slowly on the way and not feel rushed into it. But when it comes to Pride that’s like the celebration of being able and being strong enough to be outspoken. And tell people your truth. That’s the time where people come together. It’s a safe place where people can be knowing you’ve all been fighting for the same thing. It’s very important to have communities, it’s so important to have that for one another.”
Something abundantly clear while talking with Anne-Marie is how important mentorship is to her and how seriously she takes her role in supporting and nurturing her fans. So it’s no surprise that in her role as judge and mentor on The Voice, her priorities were set to championing their mental health. “It was such a good experience. First of all, being next to the people that I was next to, I was just in awe of them, just learning so much about their lives, it was just so interesting. But yeah, the main thing was being able to hear the voices. Like I’m on Tik Tok all the time, listening to all these f*cking incredible singers that are 100 times better than most artists. And I’m like there’s just too much talent! It was quite annoying for me to not have the label to put all this out into the world so The Voice was that for me, I was able to actually hear voices and then allow them to be on TV in front of millions of people. I loved having that ability to do that.
I think more and more nowadays, it’s not about what you look like in the music industry, which is fucking brilliant. The Voice also had platforms to support these artists, they had their own mental health department which is great when you think how terrifying these shows can be. I just tried to help them with that. I mean, all of them were good singers so I didn’t really have to say much. I ended up saying as long as you feel confident and solid with that decision, and I’m okay with what you’re wearing. I was like doing more of that behind the scenes stuff if they didn’t feel comfortable in any sense of the word in whatever way, that’s where the problem is as they can’t be at their best”
As we wrap up the conversation, it has become the norm now to ask what her plans are with the world opening slowly opening up again. “I just want to do everything. I felt that before lockdown happened I was a bit of a not going out person like when I was home yeah, I’d be like I don’t want to go I just want to chill, I just want to have my space and I really regret being like that. So I think now it’s opening back up. I will probably say yes to everything.”
And although I sense we are both are laughing a little nervously about the thought of it I have no doubt the next time I see her, she will be back doing what she does best, performing.