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A chat with Maggie Rogers: “I’m just trying to be me.”

Ever since Maggie Rogers made Pharrell cry in a viral video moment at the start of 2016, her trajectory has felt nothing short of perfect. She’s talking to the fans that are coming to her because they like honesty, they like things that aren’t polished to perfection, and they like a bit of an escape.

That’s how I see it anyway. But 200 million streams, some sold out tours and just announced Australian shows later – what does Maggie think’s connecting with her burgeoning fanbase? I’m in bold, and she’s in not-bold, and starts below.

I have no idea. Because I never really make music for anyone but myself. When I’m making music, I’m not thinking about an audience, I’m just thinking about me. But I think my goal when I started this project was to try and make pop music that felt human. I feel like I’m just being myself, but you know, pop music is so important to the fabric of our culture – I really strongly believe that – but there needs to be a middle ground. We’ve reached this hyper-manufactured level of branding. And I think you can make music without branding. I’m just trying to be me.

I think you’ve tapped into something there – it’s a new wave of pop. This is something you’ll discover when you come over here – we have such a frustrating cultural cringe when it comes to pop music but I think it’s beginning to shift with the more human artists are becoming. Some of my favourites like Dua Lipa & Zara Larsson – they make structured pop songs but they’re completely authentic and themselves online & in media. That’s where the cringe is removing itself. Did you find when you were studying at NYU that cringe affected the music you made in your earlier days?

Yeah. And honestly, I cringed for a really long time too. I remember my college roommate in senior year, we spent so much time having intellectual discussions about pop music – because I was in a pop music program at NYU – it was something we thought about a lot. We’d talk about what pop music meant for pop culture, for politics, for our country’s culture as a whole and the way that pop culture told the story about what’s happening in the cultural consciousness. I remember thinking about some top 40 song one day and my roommate said to me “Mags. You should see your face when a Carly Rae Jepsen record comes on.” And I was just like… you’re totally right. I loved pop music. It just took me a while to admit it. And once I did, once I just let go, I was sort of able to go back and trace through my high school and middle school days and realise I actually liked pop music all along, I just wanted to be somebody that had ‘better taste’ than that or was ‘cooler’ than that. Some pop music is terrible, but pop just means popular, so I think we as an audience have a choice in what we say pop music is. Pop music can be Tame Impala, and they rock, and that gives me a lot of hope.

And then you see Kevin Parker from Tame Impala go and work with someone like Lady Gaga.
And it’s fuckin’ brilliant!

Little moments like that are helping to bridge the gap between pop and this perceived ‘cooler’ music. I’ve always thought of it as like, the fucking Grand Canyon. You’ve got pop on one side, indie on the other, and in the middle is stuff that breaks the mould and straddles the line but until recently – it’s fallen down that giant crevasse and fallen on deaf ears. But that’s changing.
Well the thing is with pop music is it’s really easy for it to be bad, and it’s really hard for it to be good. It takes a lot of hard work.

I think you’re going quite well with getting it good. I’m interested especially with your NYU background, how much of your ability to create great pop music came from formal training and how much came from a natural ability?
Well it depends on what you define as formal training, I have classical training in music but that’s not what I studied at school, I studied engineering, music industry and then got another major in English Literature. What I learned at school was how to communicate my ideas into recordings. So I was recording in high school. In terms of ability, I don’t really know, this has always been the way I’ve thought through my life. It feels really difficult to compare what I do to what anyone else can do because for me it’s just me expressing my thoughts and emotions, and inherently those are going to be different and unique to anyone else’s. It just doesn’t feel comparable.

I think that ties back into what you were saying about how unbranded this is… it’s literally you putting stuff on paper, and working through it. I find that a really cool way of working. I feel like this EP coming out has been so personal and so you, but we’re living in a really collaborative phase of pop music, so I wonder now you’ve had a taste of major label life and living in the popstar realm – if more collaboration is on the horizon or if you’re enjoying just working on your own and with a smaller team?
I’m not really interested in co-writing because I feel like it waters down my narrative. I’m only really interested in telling my story, or stories of things I’ve seen, because it’s my work with my name on it. So I’m not into co-writing but I love co-producing, that’s really fun and a great way to learn things. It shows me as much about what I like as it does about what I don’t like. I think it takes having a really clear vision to do it effectively and to feel like your vision is attached through the production process. The kind of collaboration I’m into isn’t necessarily changing parts of myself, but if I can make something bigger than what I can do on my own, that’s interesting to me.

When you talk about having a clear vision for yourself, what do you think keeps that vision from getting clouded?
Uh, I’m just really stubborn in general, so I think I’m just uncompromising overall and anyone on my team will tell you that as well, hahaha. I feel like alone time helps a lot. For me, go for a walk every day, even if its just around the block, go for a run, meditate, do yoga, have some time to read… all of those things help me be really clear about what I’m feeling because I think where I get in trouble is when I stop checking in with myself, and the thing about writing music is it can often take me time to realise how I’m feeling before I can even begin to think about how I want to articulate it.

I think you’re showing that you maintain your vision really well, even though you’re in a world that could make it quite hard for you. Let’s talk about you coming to Australia. I’m so stoked about this. Have you been told anything about what to expect from Splendour?
No. I don’t know what to expect. I’m really close with this band called Sofi Tukker, they’re probably my closest friends in the industry, and I know when they came back from their tour there they were like “WOAAAAAAAAAHH WE WANNA GO BACK IT WAS SO MUCH FUN” so that’s pretty much all I’ve heard. I don’t know. I’m just excited. What should I expect?

I’ve been four times. If it’s been raining for two weeks before, you can expect it to be muddy and horrible and your feet will sink and you might step on a fat ugly cane toad like I did a couple of years ago, OR if the weather’s been nice it’s the most amazing sunny beautiful freeing three days of your life. I’m hoping for the latter for you.
I don’t want to step on a frog, but I do often find that bad weather actually sometimes creates the best experiences for you, because you’re really bonded to one another. But I’ll trust the universe on that one.

Last thing I wanna ask you. The eye shadow at your shows. It’s so brilliant. What’s been your favourite colour to wear so far.
Pink. But specifically hot pink, with blue eyeliner on top and white eyeliner on the bottom.

You are heaven.

Maggie’s coming to Australia for Splendour, and doing some sideshows with Mallrat as special guest. Tickets are here.

Sun 23 Jul – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Tue 25 Jul – Factory Theatre 

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