Ella Mai Talks Sophomore Album, How She Met Khalid & Working With North Face to Promote Earth Day


Last year, Ella Mai caught fire when her single "Boo'd Up" torched radio with its blistering success. The song sailed to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and later, she carved up more scintillating records with "Trip" and "Shot Clock." Not only did she hoist a gold plaque for her debut album, but fast forward to 2019, and she's up for seven Billboard Music Awards. 

Within a year, Ella Mai has elevated from freshman sensation to a full-fledged star, and because of that, she's hoping to use her platform to help spark change. With Monday being Earth Day (April 22), Mai partnered up with North Face to help launch the brand's Explore Mode initiative. Through this initiative, North Face encourages people to disconnect from technology in hopes of preserving energy. Also, a petition has been started to make Earth Day a national holiday.   

"I don't think enough young people are as interested as they should be in stuff like Earth Day," Mai told Billboard earlier this week. "Like turning off your lights for the day or turning off the tap when you're brushing your teeth 'cause that stuff makes a difference. Not enough people care about it, and this is our planet."

Billboard caught up with the songbird to speak about her collaboration with North Face, her performance at Coachella, plans for her sophomore album, her bond with Khalid and more. Check it out below. 

Billboard: You're fresh off your Coachella weekend one performance. How was that experience for you?

Ella Mai: I feel like Coachella is so nerve-wracking 'cause it's like the biggest stage for a festival that you can really be on. So I was super excited to be a part of it, but it was even better than I imagined it. All my friends flew in from London, and I was on Friday. So I got to enjoy the weekend on Saturday and Sunday 'cause I didn't have to worry about performing. I performed on Friday, which was incredible. The crowd was incredible. I had so much fun. 

Whose set blew you away the most? 

Janelle Monae. Just incredible. Everything from her stage design to her dancers, her band, her herself, her vocals and all the movements and stuff. She's an amazing performer.

When I spoke to Khalid, he mentioned how you guys were at Drake's Summer 16 Tour, and he told you that one day it was going to be you two dominating onstage one day. That has to be such a full circle moment

It's so crazy. It's incredible. I got to see his set as well, which was really, really good. Honestly, it's crazy because, at that time, we both had moved to LA. So "Location" was starting to pop off. But what he did that year for "Location" happened to me last year with "Boo'd Up." It was the same year that we've had. Now he's about to go on an arena tour, which is incredible. And just being able to take this whole journey with him and for him be that same person that I met at that Drake and Future concert [is amazing].

He called me when we first got all of our Billboard nominations. He FaceTimed me. It was like at 9 in the morning, but he was in New York, so it was like 12. He was like, "I just wanted to say congratulations." And I was like, "I just wanna say congratulations." But no, it's been amazing. 

What does being nominated for a BBMA this early on in your career mean to you?

It's really crazy because to be nominated for seven awards, and not only top R&B female artist, but I'm in top female category as well with Ariana Grande and these heavy hitters. So for me, I'm very, very honored to be even recognized. 

Queen Naija — who's also nominated for top R&B female artist — told me in a recent interview that when she used to work her full-time job, she would play your music while walking over there

I love her. It's super dope, and I think it's cooler because we're all so young and we all want to be friends and not make it all about competition, which I think is cool as well.

Switching gears, what made you decide to team up with North Face?

When my manager brought it up to me, it was a no-brainer because I've always loved North Face since I was in high school. To be honest, especially this campaign, which is incorporating Earth Day and just showing how the brand wants to be active with knowing that exploration is not only going outside, it's way more things. There's music. There's fashion. There's all these different things. To me, it's super important.

I don't think enough young people are as interested as they should be in stuff like Earth Day. Like turning off your lights for the day or turning off the tap when you're brushing your teeth 'cause that stuff makes a difference. Not enough people care about it, and this is our planet. This is where we live. So if we destroy it, then there's nothing left. I'm super excited to be a part of something that's such a good cause.

How do you think we can get a younger generation to care about Earth Day?

Campaigns like this. With brands that they're very interested in also. I know when I was in high school, you had to have a North Face backpack. So I think incorporating it into stuff that they're interested in will help them pay attention and then you can get deeper into it. Also, I have a platform that I can use to raise awareness. My fan demographic is type young, and it goes up, but if I can at least help a couple of people in being aware, then I think I'm doing something right.

Was the backpack the first piece of North Face gear you got?

Yeah, my cousin had one and I remember starting high school. I was going to the same school as my cousin, and she's my big cousin. So I wanted to be like her. I remember going to school, and basically, everyone had them. I went home and told my mom I have to have one. I can't be part of the people that don't have one 'cause then I'm going to stick out, but my mom got one for me for Christmas. 

I bet your closet is just stacked up now.

I don't even ski or anything, but just the trousers I love because those are the type of windbreaker material that I wear day-to-day. I'm stacked up.

Looking back at your debut album, what letter grade would you have given it and why?

Being honest and I don't want it to come across egotistical of course, but my debut album is like my baby. Like I worked hard for it. I'd give myself an A. An A+ maybe. 

Anything you would change?

No. I think I spent enough time on it to be very sure that this was it. The song choices, the way it flowed. Everything flowed in.  The production, everything. I wouldn't change anything. 

Have you thought about how you're going to approach your sophomore album?

Yeah, we just started thinking about that, which is the hardest part because everyone is always like, "This is the hardest one to come back from." Especially after having a debut album that's doing so well, and the singles off it are doing really well. It's definitely a lot of pressure, but I'm not going to rush it. I'm going to make sure I approach it with the right state of mind. I have a lot to talk about now. I've experienced a lot more now than when I was making my debut album. Just in general. Places I've seen, people I've met, food I've eaten, just different day-to-day experiences. We started thinking about it, but I'm waiting to finish the tour, and then I'll be back in.