Mabel McVey would like it to be known that, although her parents—the art-pop pioneer Neneh Cherry and the producer Cameron McVey (Massive Attack, Portishead)—are music titans, her decision to follow in their footsteps was hers alone. “They’re not involved in any way with what I do—other than coming to shows, which any parents would do,” says the 21-year-old Londoner, who goes only by her first name onstage. Pedigree aside, Mabel exudes a preternatural sense of cool, which, when paired with serious vocal chops on her debut EP, Bedroom (released in May on Capitol), she channels into highly danceable songs.
Talent might come to her naturally, but confidence took time. “I was a sensitive kid,” she says. “I enjoyed my own company more than anyone else’s, so it was all about listening to music and reading.” After moving at the age of 8 from London to Stockholm (where her mother is from), she immersed herself in songwriting and honed her craft at music school. When she was 18, she and her family moved back to London, where she released her first single, “Know Me Better.” The trip-hop-tinged pop song, about falling in love and losing control, led to a record deal with Universal.
The four songs on Bedroom are about gaining back that control. “I had a lot to say about putting myself in the driver’s seat,” Mabel says. “Why can’t a woman talk about sex with no strings in a positive way?” On the EP’s title track, she sings, “You can only see me in the bedroom”—not as a complaint, but as a command. Her beat-heavy sound calls to mind female R&B singers of the ’90s and ’00s—Lauryn Hill and Beyoncé are two big influences—as well as the current London grime scene. “When I moved back here, I felt like I already found my sound because of what was happening,” she says. “I think there’s something amazing about British soul.”
A full-length album is on the way. But like most things Mabel does, it will be on her own terms. “I’m not in a hurry,” she says. “I want to be known for my music, and that takes time. I’m not willing to do it any other way.”