On Tuesday night (May 15), rain-soaked millennials sporting cozy attire scurried over to NYC’s Sounds of Brazil (SOBs) in hopes of catching London’s latest heroine, Ella Mai, take the stage. Fifty minutes past her expected set time, a keyboardist, drummer, and guitarist assembled on stage, cueing the songstress’ overzealous fans to huddle around eight protruding stage strobes. And with that, Mai blustered through the mob with security on her tail.

At 9:54 p.m., her thick English accent clanged through speakers, questioning, “New York, what’s up?” as her danceable “Who Knew” amped the venue. With her lion-tattooed fist gripping the mic, one thing became clear: Ella Mai can sing, for real. Naturally, the melody of “Breakfast In Bed,” followed with ear-ringing cheers. Its infectious intro and lusty motif, “Why you playin’ hard to get/ Never had to wait this long before/ Never been the type to fight for more,” dazzled. Mai’s energetic drummer powered up the starlet’s moves, as she segued into “Makes Me Wonder.”

Donning an olive green flight jacket, black shorts, and signature waves, the singer removed her nude sunglasses to reveal her bare, unblemished skin. She played to the crowd with “Switch Sider,” singing “Mama said never love a n—a more than he love me/ See my daddy said the same thing, and he an OG” to a resounding reception. Her breakup anthem “Don’t Want You” also proved to resonate with the women in attendance, as many shared the song’s sentiments of being loyal to a fault.

“New York, some of you don’t know. I actually went to high school here — so, I kinda feel like this is home,” Mai explained, before breaking into one of her “personal favorites,” the amorous jam, “Found.” As fans continued to clamor for the enchanting songstress, she ruminated about her initial breakthrough in music.

“I got discovered on Instagram — I was doing fifteen second covers, and to be honest, I never ever could imagine that I would be getting to this stage, and in front of you,” Mai confessed. “I wanted to do a cover because that is how I started. [This] is really special to me because it is [from] the first concert I ever went to. He is one of my favorite artists,” Mai said while launching into her version of Chris Brown’s “Yo (Excuse Me Miss).”

Without hesitation, the mass recited the lyrics and raised their cell phones to film the social media star-turned-headliner’s soothing rendition of Brown’s 2005 record. Even so, the aggression of Mai’s viral favorites, “She Don’t” and “Anymore,” lent an impenetrable swagger to her fans, making them feel better off without their loser of an ex. In time, the vocalist’s lullaby, “10,000 Hours” shifted the vibe, reminding showgoers that not all lovers leave you traumatized.

Before sliding into her breakout hit “Boo’d Up,” Mai expressed her deepest gratitude to the head of her 10 Summers label. “Honestly, before I do this [next] song, I cannot do it without saying, ‘Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart, DJ Mustard.’ This is so surreal! What this song is doing right now is absolutely insane. We just hit No. 17 on The Hot 100. I’m like what the fuck,” she outburst. And, with a nod from the producer and mogul, a glowing Mai sang a blissful rendition of “Boo’d Up” — not once, but twice. The stirring encore left attendees weak-kneed.

“This is all because of you guys, and I can’t thank you enough,” Mai offered, with a final thought before launching into her show closer. “Are we listening? It’s a message that doesn’t get put out enough, especially as a young black woman in this industry: We need more messages like this for the younger generation who is very influenced by social media. It’s okay to wake up and look however you look. You are beautiful regardless.” With heartstrings plucked alongside her guitarist, Mai delicately crooned the earworm “Naked” — showing that the singer-songwriter was well worth the wait.

Ella Mai



By Bianca Alysse Mercado for Billboard.com

About The Author

Bianca Alysse is a creatively driven Bronx-born writer and editor. Before becoming The Knockturnal‘s music editor she served as Latina‘s creative coordinator and was a contributor at Billboard. The Boricua scribe has a lengthy resume in the music industry and has penned for Universal Music Publishing Group, Epic Records, G.O.O.D. Music, Compound Entertainment, Artistry & Récords, and Arcade Creative Group. Her work has been seen on platforms like VIBE, mitú, TIDAL, Remezcla, and behind the scenes at New York Fashion Week. As an independent contractor, she has written for Sony Music Entertainment’s global business affairs department, Warner Music Group, and currently Roc Nation.

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