Live from Baby's All Right, Anne-Marie makes her debut in New York City. Video Credit: Mike Greene | @m1kegreene
“I look like a fembot from Austin Powers!” says Anne-Marie as she emerges in a blazing red patent leather assemblage before heading out on stage in Brooklyn on October 17th of this year. She's just embarked on her first headlining tour of North America, and she’s excited and focused. It feels natural. It’s a calm, happy focus, one that she has cultivated throughout her 20 years as a performer.
If you know her via social media, you might know her smoldering stare, out of the box street style, or her ever evolving hair color. But once she enters the room, you get an immediate feel for the reality of the artist behind the photos: gifted, talented, and a radiant artist whose giddy excitement and gratefulness for her experience thus far is tangible. No, it's contagious.
And at only 25, she goes about her day like a seasoned professional: she's all over BBC Radio 1, and has toured all over the UK. In reality, Anne-Marie is a globally trending artist – her single "Alarm" hit 100 million streams on Spotify while we were with her – but is a relative unknown in the United States. She's here now in New York City to break through that barrier, to stay in potential fans's music library beyond the shuffle on Spotify's playlists, to have them return to her music on purpose. Therein lies one of the new hurdles of the streaming age: by being embedded in constantly updated playlists, the identity association with an artist more easily gets lost. You might not know you've heard "Alarm" many times, but you have.
Artists like Adele have detailed the trials and seemingly impossible nature of breaking out as an artist in America. Anne-Marie's journey already feels different than your standard jump across the pond. Aside from her well-known tracks "Alarm" and "Do It Right," she only has a few singles out, including those from her debut original EP, Karate, from 2015.
But Anne-Marie is unique in that she has a somewhat built in fanbase. I discovered her while seeing Rudimental live – a group heralded for their energetic, diverse music with an even more infectious live show – and after seeing her magnetic performance a few times, finally decided to look her up. Who was this girl who was a featured artist on tour, whilst being a frontwoman for the band in each performance? On Instagram, I found a few thousand other fans who had the same discovery and sentiments, and that community behind Anne-Marie has stuck with her, and since grown. All the while, she continued touring with Rudimental, and was featured on multiple songs on their sophomore album We The Generation, including the chart-topping hit "Rumour Mill" with Will Heard. And then, she quietly signed with their label Major Tom, a division of Warner Music headed up by Rudimental themselves.
This week, Anne-Marie has white gray hair whose underlying previous purple life came to shine only in certain subtle lights. She still does her own hair before each show – a tedious, time consuming process of curling he whole head section by section. We sat and chatted while she went through this process, commenting on the distinct choices she made on her pre-show Spotify playlist that was playing throughout the venue. Filled with late 1990's and 2000's R&B, pop and hip hop, it's obvious where her heart lies. She points out "Stole" by Kelly Rowland as one of her favorites, confused at how there was a track on this playlist I didn't know, and raps along every word with Eve on "Let Me Blow Ya Mind."
In the history of Brooklyn’s vibrant music scene, Baby’s All Right is a very new venue. Founded in 2013, the space that holds a bar, restaurant and of course, live music space all in one is large for New York City standards, but an intimate one in which artists can quickly get to know themselves and their fans. Since its opening, the venue – like the rest of Brooklyn – has seen a big increase in its popularity and notoriety, and with all its foot traffic saw time to renew and reinvigorate the space this fall. If you visit Baby’s All Right today, you’ll find that its concert space is a bit in flux, and its former restaurant space gutted and a temporary storage space for just about everything. And that is where Anne-Marie preps to go on stage, transitioning from a t-shirt, and multicolored floor-length fur coat into her stage attire. My style of clothing is from when I was younger – my dad used to take me to charity shops, so I love wearing one offs that I think that people wouldn’t think to wear. I wanted to go in all the expensive shops when I was younger but we didn’t have the money so my dad took me to the charity shops and I found my love for finding all the little pieces and always wearing stuff that someone else isn’t ever wearing. I still try to do that now – every time I’m working with a stylist I’m like, “please go to a vintage shop!” I don’t just want to get this $100,000 thing, not like it’s that much but you get the idea.
That grounded outlook might seem like a deserved point of view for someone who's playing a show at a small venue on a Monday night in New York City, but in reality, Anne-Marie is a superstar around the world. She is familiar with the BBC Radio 1 circuit, has been nominated for EMA's, won MTV UK's "Brand New" award for new artists, has multiple devoted fan Instagram accounts, and is even getting attention from the British tabloids. But she had a modest upbringing in Essex, a direct suburb of London. At a young age, she explored karate, winning the world championship in the sport and getting a real taste of success that later informed her debut EP named in homage of the experience. She also immersed herself in musical theater, excelling to productions at the iconic West End theater, where she performed in a seemingly uniquely British musical Whistle Down the Wind alongside Jessie J. She still listens to the soundtrack today, keeping the soundtrack as a go-to in her music library for motivation. Everyone asks me what I brought from musical theater to now, and everyone thinks it’s all cheesy and jazz hands and all that, but I’m so happy that that was a part of my life, because it taught me to put emotion into the performance. Like I feel like I can really get that across, so, thank fuck for musical theater.
Singing on a stage was always her end game, just not necessarily in the form it's come in so far. In college, she met a songwriter who she still works with to this day, and realized what she thought was the impossible could be attainable. At that time, I didn’t know how to write a song or anything. I didn’t know who I wanted to be, what kind of artist I wanted to be, what I wanted to look like, nothing. So from that moment it was a massive learning journey of figuring out what I wanted to achieve with being an artist, because, my own view of “an artist” is that it’s someone who does a lot more than just making a song. It’s a deep thing, like I want to get messages across and help get people through things.
During the day as she prepped for her first NYC headline show, her track "Alarm" hit 100 million streams on Spotify. According to the RIAA's new streaming qualifications, that means "Alarm" has gone platinum, something Anne-Marie herself didn't expect at all. I have taught myself not to expect anything anymore, because I used to get such high expectations and I used to always get sad. Not even if it wasn’t fulfilled, but throughout my whole life I’ve always been like, “I need to be #1, I need to be the best, I need this and this,” and I would just be stressed the whole time. I would have conversations with people and they would be like, “you just need to enjoy it.” So from that moment I’m all about “whatever happens happens,”….and then this happens! It’s mad to think that many people ever listened to it. It’s crazy.
We talk about food, about New York City’s best barbecue, all as she uses a thin strip of mirror to curl her hair tediously with a hair straightener, piece by piece. After a considerable amount of time, her top knot matures into what can only be described as a Marilyn Monroe ‘do. And just a few minutes later, she reemerges from some unknown space entirely transformed for her show, in a red patent leather skirt, cropped top and duster jacket. Assembled in a way that fans of vintage shopping are familiar with – finding piece by piece – this look is an outfit that, like most of her fashion choices, looks to make a bold statement.
It is as if the lack of green room at Baby's All Right is a usual happening for Anne-Marie and team. It's like the strewn and stacked furniture isn't even there, because she came into Baby's mentally ready to go, determined and excited. As the crowd files in past the curtain, she reflects on the fact that she anticipated a fun debut in America, but not like this. I was really nervous before I came out here. It’s just a completely different feeling. Everyone’s like “why are you nervous, you’ve done it with Rudimental?” I love it because I’m actually singing in another country to an audience that – here, sure “Alarm” is being played on the radio, not much. Inn the UK it’s like, shoved in people’s faces all day and you know that people have heard it, whereas here it’s kind of like, “have they? Have they not?” And coming off of the San Francisco and the LA gigs where people are singing all of my songs back, it’s like, you’re a true fan. Maybe you have just heard “Alarm,” but most of them know all of my stuff. So that probably means that they’re fans from the Rudimental days, which is totally mental. Even the fact that I’m doing shows anywhere, it makes it so much more special when I’ve written it and I’m telling the story to everyone.
She has a notoriously quirky relationship with the guitarist and bassist in her band, Beanie. Drumming with the chopsticks from his Chinese fast food dinner, he shows his chops as the drummer for Rudimental, who he and Anne-Marie met while touring with. Beanie serves somewhat as her hype man before the show. He heads out into the crowd to interview fans outside, returning triumphantly, “It’s great out there.”
It’s true that her fans, even at this small show, know her music; every word. Her music has all sorts of influences, but they come through in a consistent way. She opens with what is rumored to be a title track from a future longform release, "Breathing Fire," and like the rest of the new songs she plays throughout the performance, it's memorable. It took a while to figure everything out. First, with my music, I love all different types of music, all different genres. So like, it was always hard to find even a genre to start singing, because every songwriting session I was going into I was coming back to my label and they’d be like, “um, who are you?” I think it was focusing and locking down what is exactly what I love personally and what is what other people would understand as well – like compromising me and the public. The performance goes over so well that she and her band are able to go beyond their planned setlist and extend their encore.
The next day, I meet up with Anne-Marie as she performs at a private industry mixer. It’s sort of her “debut” to the American music industry, and as many parties of that requisite so often are, it’s, well, stuffy. But Anne-Marie approaches it the same as she did her loyal fans, dedicated to her part and her message. All of my songs that I write are from things that I’ve been through, I can’t ever write about something I haven’t been through, I find it so hard. So luckily with that it’s all totally from me and it’s my personality within a song, so I feel so good about where I’m going with it. And their musical styling is all her own, too. One of the biggest appeals of Anne-Marie's music is its soul, something that comes through in a worldly mix of genre and style. Growing up with musical theater may have informed her performance style, but her musical style draws from far beyond just that. That style is front and center in "Alarm," where she draws on island vocal tricks to create a specific mood – a style, which, she says she would listen to first over any other style. My dad is a mod, which is like when growing up he listened to ska and reggae so he listened to a lot of ska and reggae around the house. I just think it’s a really happy vibe of a music, and it’s a big part of what I put into my own music. By the end of her second performance, her new songs had already stuck in my head.
It's artists like Anne-Marie that are a reminder of how superstars develop. It's not just through their songs, but the whole package that makes them prime for stardom, it's the stage presence, the passion, and focus all combined with the thing we usually see first – talent – that makes it all work. Sitting in a studio cranking out tracks doesn't make the star, as Anne-Marie has learned, it's the energy and the motivation to do better. The thing is, I get so nervous just before I’m about to go on, and then I walk on and it all goes and I’m just singing. I don’t know how to control it yet – I’m still learning – I feel like it’s a big part of the whole process. I actually like it, and some people say that when you lose your nerves is when you lose it. It’s exciting, and sometimes you can’t tell the difference between the two.