Maeta has just finished meeting and mingling with fans as they rave over her performance and excitedly take photos together. I’m waiting in the cold, sketchy basement disguised as a dressing room masked with terrible lighting when, suddenly, a sudden warmth washes over my body. I hear her melodious voice filling the space. She’s singing while heading towards me. It was finally time for our awaited sit-down.
On a Wednesday night in Atlanta, singer-songwriter Maeta performs her sold-out show at Center Stage, a venue housing three spaces under one roof. She’s at The Vinyl, the more intimate venue of the three, with its low ceilings and standing room, and a few random couches near the sound booth.
The crowd was lively even before Maeta hit the stage. As the music played, I went to the bar for a vodka soda with lime, waiting for her to grace the stage. She arrived slightly past her scheduled time. She’s accompanied by her two backup singers Caleb Curry and LennAsia Unique, two artists with strong, polished voices effortlessly weaving emotion and skill into every note they sing.
They perform songs from Maeta’s new album When I Hear Your Name released earlier this year. The sultry R&B project features vocals from Ambré, James Fauntleroy, Ty Dolla $ign, Lucky Daye, and Free Nationals, with production by Pharrell and KAYTRANADA.
The 13-track album fuses pop and soul while delving into the complexities of love and the exhilarating feeling surrounding wanting someone who may not be the best for us but feels right at the moment. But moments are temporary and Maeta explores that fleeting joy in tracks like “ASMR” and “Control Freak.”
The crowd caught a glimpse of those emotions when Maeta takes a brief pause in the midst of her set to give Caleb and LennAsia some shine. Caleb performed “Can’t Be Friends” by Trey Songz and sounded almost identical to the recorded version. Following, LennAsia captivates the audience with the timeless classic, my personal karaoke favorite, “I’m Going Down” by Mary J Blige. The audience responded to Caleb and LennAsia with the same enthusiasm they showed Maeta, cheering the duo on as if it were their performance.
Throughout the night, there were times when she’d interrupt her singing to share a joke with a fan or acknowledge the vibrant energy in the room. She sports a contagious Kool-Aid smile the entire concert. I could tell she was enjoying herself as much as we were. After performing “Fuck Your Friend” she confirmed my thoughts, telling us that Atlanta might be her favorite crowd so far, prompting cheers and raised drinks.
Towards the end of her set, she takes it back to her roots. Maeta’s musical journey started on SoundCloud in 2018 where she would post covers of songs by Minnie Riperton, Jhene Aiko, Drake, and more of her favorite artists. So, it only made sense to wrap up the show with her intoxicating renditions of Beyonce’s “1+1” and Silk Sonic’s “Leave The Door Open.”
The concert concludes and I head down to her dressing room.
Coming down the basement stairs after her one-hour set, she continues singing effortlessly, perfectly hitting every note in her runs. Behind her are her backup singers, her Tour Manager, and other crew. She immediately walks over to greet me.
I remembered LennAsia mentioning on stage that they all call her ‘Money Maeta.’ So naturally, as an over-eager fan, that’s how I greet her.
“Hi, Money Maeta!” I say with enthusiasm. She immediately laughs and we hug like two old friends before sitting down. She reaches for a big bag of Skittles on the table in front of us. I ask if that’s her favorite candy, to which she replies “No. I don’t know why I asked for it, honestly,” with a mouthful of rainbow candy.
It starts to settle in that this is actually happening and my anxiety surges. In situations like this, a shot of tequila would be my remedy for taking the edge off. Spotting a bottle of tequila near the entrance, I don’t mention it to maintain professionalism. But almost as if she read my mind, LennAsia spontaneously asks the room “Should we take a shot?!”
We gather around with our cups and toast to one more show before the tour ends. After Atlanta, Maeta will wrap up The When I Hear Your Name Tour with a final performance in D.C. The tour started in August and has ventured through cities across the country, including Chicago, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles, before heading to Europe to perform in London, Berlin, and Paris.
Every person in the room is super friendly and welcoming, including me in their conversations and treating me like they’ve known me for longer than 15 minutes. In a fleeting moment of delusion, I felt as If I was a part of the crew. Like I was meant to be there.
It’s late and nearing midnight. I overheard some of the crew talking about how hungry they were so I didn’t want to waste too much time. I’m sure it’s been a long couple of months for everyone. With the holidays and the new year approaching, Maeta shares with me that she’s fulfilled yet exhausted.
“We got one more show and then we can finally go home. We’ve been going for a few months so now we’re all kind of ready to be done.”
And still, despite her tired state and hectic schedule, the Roc Nation signee found the time to talk to me about her first solo tour, working with industry legends, her journey from girl to woman, and how she’ll be a force to be reckoned with come 2024.
Has this tour been everything you imagined it to be?
It’s my first tour so I know we’re still in the trenches. It’s not as glamorous as I would like it to be but I really loved my team. I keep talking about my damn background singers, and they don’t give the love back, which kind of pisses me off. But I really love them. And having them around has helped my mental health, my health, and just everything. I love my team. And I look forward to just hanging out and being around them when we’re on tour.
My introduction to you was in 2019. I found your song “Kind of Fool” from your EP Do Not Disturb.
Doesn’t that seem like light years ago? The pandemic completely ruined my perception of time.
I went through so much since then. I feel like I’m a whole different person. That [era] is like a little girl to me. I feel like I’m a woman now and I’ve been through certain things. When [Do Not Disturb] came out, I was living in an apartment with no windows, and no WiFi, I had to go to a Starbucks to use my computer. So, seeing the growth is amazing.
You recently performed at the 2023 Soul Train Awards. How was that?
Amazing! It was so different because they did it outside at night on a mountain. And there was nothing to warm us up outside so I was freezing. I got so sick afterwards for like, three days. It was bad. But the performance was really good. I’m proud of it. Watching all the videos and seeing all the love it’s getting is making me very proud. It was my first award show performance ever. So yeah, I’m proud of it. But it was definitely a struggle and I think people don’t realize how hard it was.
To be fair, I couldn’t tell you were having a hard time at all. The wind blowing through your hair while you sang reminded me of Beyoncé.
Honestly, It’s LA at night. It’s gonna be cold. The wind was so bad that they had to stop filming for about an hour.
You and James Fauntleroy both have songs on each other’s projects. He’s featured on your song “Sexual Love” and you’re featured on “Mistletoe” on his new Christmas album The Warmest Winter Ever.
We made [Mistletoe] like three years ago. I just hopped on it and he told me “Do what you want,” and we put it out. I really love that song.
You’ve both been working together for years. I’ve always felt like James [Fauntleroy] is lowkey an A&R. He’s discovered so many artists before the masses found out about them. What have you learned from him?
I’m so appreciative of his character because he’s a legend. He’s all these amazing things. When I was first signed at 19, and nobody wanted to work with me. And my A&R had to fight people to want to work with me, he was just so cool about working with me all the time. He’s very generous and has been very generous with me. And I see him being like that with other people. He’s a very humble person. He can write a song in like, 20 minutes. He just has something nobody else can recreate.
Your album When I Hear Your Name features some of the biggest names in R&B right now. How does it feel to be embraced by so many top hitters and veterans?
Sometimes, I have to pinch myself because I’m a little girl from Indiana. I was just doing Instagram covers and now I’m in Pharrell’s house. And he’s complimenting me and shit. These are full-circle moments. It’s crazy how you can start from the most random place in the world and now I’m at Pharell’s house. It was a timestamp in my life. I’ve made it to a specific place in my career and I felt fulfilled. I learned from him that no matter how successful you are, to stay humble because he was so nice to me. He treated me like a regular human being and always asked for my opinion.
Have you learned how to be vocal about your feelings in moments like that rather than shying away due to fear?
I actually had to stop doing that for a bit.
I’m such a hater.
(Laughs) Don’t say that.
I really am a hater.
I shut things down. if somebody has a new idea, and I’m not feeling it, I shut it down. And I’ve had to learn like, stop being so rigid. So, I’ve had to learn to stop shutting down ideas that push me and challenges and things like that. I’m very opinionated. I’m a control freak, especially when it comes to my art. I’ve been doing music my whole life all by myself and now that I’m signed, I have a team of people telling me what to do. At first, it was an overwhelming experience. But now I love my team, and I trust them. And I don’t know what I would do without them.
Do you think that’s the Pisces in you?
Maybe. I’m indecisive and I question everything.
You’ve said that this is the most passionate you’ve been about a project because you’re actually living what you’re singing, as opposed to past projects which felt more like manifestations. How did you get to this point now?
I think that people always knew when I would perform those songs, I wasn’t connecting [with them.] It just was something that wasn’t clicking. And I think, I really feel my music. When I sing it. When I listen to it. Every time I would put a project out, I wouldn’t listen to it. I would just forget about it.
But yesterday, I did my Apple Music Replay and I’m my top artist. For more than 2,000 minutes I’ve listened to my own music. So, it shows that I really love what I’m doing now. I just experienced some deep and dark moments in life and spent a few years working on it. And I’m so proud of it. I feel it in my soul when I listen to it and when I talk about it.
Who else was in your Apple Music Replay? Who have you been listening to?
I love Yebba and India Shawn. There’s a girl named ABSOLUTELY. She’s RAYE’s little sister. She’s written a bunch of amazing songs for different artists. She’s a 19-year-old prodigy.
You hate the word vibe.
I knew you were gonna talk about that.
You hate when people describe music as a “vibe,” especially your music. What name would you give your music?
That’s the issue because I can’t think of a better word. I think my music is soulful and passionate and rough and gritty.
I would call it ‘Soft Girl Music.’
That’s a good way to put it because I know exactly what you mean and you didn’t even have to say “vibe.”
How do you feel 2024 will be different for you?
Okay, so here’s my new conclusion for 2024. I just decided this about two days ago. It was like a light switch went off. I’m very generous and I’m very forgiving. Sometimes, I’ll put myself through shit to make other people feel good. I’m in a place right now where I’m done normalizing pain in love. I’m a Pisces so I feel things so hard but right now I’m in a place where I just want to demand respect for myself and to be treated well. I’m ready to be a little more selfish next year.
I’m done sacrificing my own happiness and peace for other people. It’s exhausting. Yeah, I want love to feel good. I want love to not make me cry once every other fucking day, you know?