What does Mae Muller think about her performance at Eurovision last year? “I don’t!” the 26-year-old hoots. “And I don’t have to watch it again – thank you!” With her track “I Wrote a Song”, Muller represented the UK on home soil, carrying a nation’s mighty expectations on her shoulders – only to end up placing 25th out of 26 entrants. She can laugh at it now but admits that it was hard. “The pressure was insane,” she tells me. “Would I do it again? I don’t think so. But I got a lot of positives from it, and Graham Norton knows who I am now – that was really my life goal.”
Muller has since taken a step back from pop stardom. She had hustled for years, posting demos online and releasing two EPs before signing to Capitol Records. But while it should have been a career peak, she ended up feeling as if she was making music for the ears of executives and not for herself. “It had been bubbling in me a bit,” she says. “All I ever wanted to do in music is to write songs and to do shows. That’s it.”
Instead, she found herself at the mercy of the British pop music machine. Sorry I’m Late, the album she released off the back of Eurovision, placed at No 33 on the charts, while her most successful singles tended to be anonymous EDM numbers, her vocals pasted onto tracks by DJs such as Sigala and Marshmello. “I was being put on these big dance tracks,” she says. “I think they’re great songs but it’s not what I started this for and it’s not who I am as an artist. You get lost in that rat race label mentality. I was making music purely to try and impress people, rather than doing what I love.”
So she’s stopped – temporarily, anyway – and become a movie star. This week, Muller can be seen in director George Amponsah’s Gassed Up, a gritty thriller about Ash (Boiling Point’s Stephen Odubola), a teenager in a moped gang who steals to support his 14-year-old sister and addict mother. But when his group gets mixed up with an Albanian crime family, Ash struggles with the moral consequences of his actions. Muller plays Ash’s love interest Kelly, a pretty, smooth-talking and outspoken “It-girl” who lives nearby. I tell her that the character seemed to fit her like a glove.
It was a crowd full of gays, you know, which is like my safe space. So I’m like ‘Oh, no. My boob fell out... Oops!’
“She’s a young girl from London, she doesn’t take s***, she doesn’t take messiness from people and she knows who she is,” Muller says, enthusiastically. “I was like… ‘I can do that! I can play a mouthy girl from London!’ I can just improvise it the whole time, you know?”
Muller hails from London’s Kentish Town and says that she was drawn to Gassed Up because it promised to represent the city authentically. “It doesn’t show what you would see on tourist leaflets but all the characters actually have a softness to them as well,” she says. “You get to see they’re good people, and that sometimes people are pushed into things they don’t want to do.”
The film is Muller’s acting debut… if you don’t count some very significant early work. “I was the friar in Romeo and Juliet at my school, so I’m well seasoned,” she jokes. “I used to audition for the school production every year and I never got the main part – I was always so distraught by that. I was like… do you not see there’s potential right in from of you?’” Muller is a natural thespian. She pouts, she gesticulates, she flicks her hair. She’s all sass. And, like her character Kelly, entirely outspoken.
This did get her in trouble around the time of Eurovision, as she became a target of right-wing media for resurfaced tweets in which she criticised the Conservative government for its Covid policies. Today she expresses gratitude for the support system put in place for her back then.
“If you are sending an artist to Eurovision who hasn’t had as much experience, they need to have support on deck,” she says. “Have a therapist there, have a life coach, a media trainer person because it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s doable and it’s exciting but the pressure is insane. I was really lucky. I had an amazing life coach, who was sort of a media trainer-slash-life coach. She really helped me through.” She was also provided with days off whenever she needed a break. “A lot of artists don’t have that. Everyone involved is just pushing them and pushing them.”
It’s especially true of young women in music, with a January report conducted by the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) finding that misogyny is “endemic” in the industry. It stated that “female artists are routinely undervalued and undermined, endure a focus on their physical appearance in a way that men are not subjected to, and have to work far harder to get the recognition their ability merits”. When I repeat this back to Muller, she says it’s something she knows all too well. Only last month she discovered a photo taken during a Birmingham Pride performance, in which her breast had briefly been exposed, had been spread online.
Muller tells me she’s a “liberated person”, and that it wasn’t the wardrobe malfunction itself that was the issue. “It was a crowd full of gays, you know, which is like my safe space. So I’m like ‘Oh, no. My boob fell out... Oops!’.” What bothered her was that the photo was being widely shared without her consent. “Being a woman on stage, performing in front of thousands of people… you’re really vulnerable. Sometimes things happen like a wardrobe malfunction. You kind of trust that no one’s going to expose that or make a bigger moment out of it.”
It’s just another reason why music has lost a bit of its lustre of late. So for now, Muller is all about the big screen. “I’ve got an acting agent,” she declares, flicking her hair dramatically over her shoulder. “But my main priority is that I want to be really good. I want to be getting acting classes… I don’t want to get things because ‘Oh, Mae Muller might be quite good for that’. I know I have more work to do.”
‘Gassed Up’ is in cinemas