mxmtoon unpacks a whirlwind of change: quarantine habits, performing online and realizing her demons might not be demons at all
There’s a twelve-hour difference between Manila and New York, which makes it right around 9 in the evening when I click into a Zoom call to find mxmtoon—real name Maia—in her bedroom halfway across the world. She’s on the line with her manager Jackie, and is smiling like there’s nothing she’d rather do than (virtually) chat with a stranger for fifteen minutes on a Wednesday evening.
We talk in the last week of August, two weeks ahead of her surprise collaboration with Carly Rae Jepsen and a few weeks after the release of the single she had dropped prior, Bon Iver. “The reaction’s been good,” she says of the song, which was the world’s first taste of her upcoming album, Dusk. I’d go on to say that good is an understatement, with Bon Iver having earned a spot in BBC’s Best New Pop list and being unofficially certified as a bop on the Twitterverse. But Maia smiles through the accomplishment, humility taking shape in a shy smile on my screen.
“It’s just really nice to be able to release music when the world is so hectic and crazy,” she says. “I think it gives everyone a feeling of normalcy and excitement to look forward to something.” I don’t know if I’ve heard a truer statement since, because if we’re being totally honest, the only things keeping me afloat during the world’s longest lockdown are a *healthy* amount of online shopping and all this good music we’ve been getting lately. For Maia, who lives with her brother in their NYC apartment, routine takes shape in making meals and streaming video games and music on Twitch. “The world feels so scattered and isolated. It’s hard for us to feel a sense of community, and Twitch streaming has been a real way for me to connect with other people outside my home!”
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There’s also an interesting sense of community where puff-sleeved, strawberry-printed dresses are concerned.
The internet always has that one fashion piece of the moment, and at present, it’s incontestably the iconic pastel pink strawberry dress from Lirika Matoshi. Maia posted a snap of herself wearing it on Twitter (the best source for honest, unfiltered, relatable Maia things), with the caption ‘i am only wearing this dress forever’ (told you).
i am only wearing this dress forever pic.twitter.com/Tsi4ERG5pu
— maia (@mxmtoon) August 2, 2020
“I bought two [Lirika Matoshi dresses] as a birthday present to myself when I turned 20. I told myself, “You know what, I’ve been looking at this dress for two years now, and I’m gonna get it!” Two years, two dresses and an Instagram follow later, Maia got offered even more pieces by the Kosovo-born, New York-based designer. Believe me when I say she was over and above cloud nine (cloud ten?) when she recounted the growth of her collection. Imagine hand gestures and eyebrow movements that multiplied her enthusiasm a hundred times over and you might get a good image. “I don’t know where I’ll wear them but they’re really pretty,” says Maia. Until then, “I can just walk around my house wearing them.”
Another quarantine feat for Maia was her participation in 88rising’s fully online concert, Asia Rising Forever. Another cloud ten moment, which I imagine to be multitudes more meaningful than a free garment the world wide web is lusting over.
Asia Rising Forever went live in May in time for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and was ultimately pushed out into the internet space as a sonic radar for the most exciting Asian talents—mxmtoon included.
“I don’t know, I think a lot of times in my own music career, it’s hard for me to connect the dots at the fact that I am an artist and the person on the screen at the end of the day.” Being put in the limelight with musicians she admires and to be validated as an Asian-American artist, it was a whole lot of good happening at once.
But too much good can be hard to make sense of sometimes.
TW: medication/mental illness
this ended up being too long for tiktok so i figured i would share it here. here’s what i think would happen if my 13 year old self woke up in my 20 year old body! :,) pic.twitter.com/YKxZODofW2
— maia (@mxmtoon) August 26, 2020
Hopping on board a Tiktok trend, Maia took to Twitter to interpret what her 13-year-old self might experience if she were to wake up in her body today. The video, a minute and a half cut-to-cut and a little too long for Tiktok, is a public foray into her videography hobby. It’s also immensely vulnerable. Delicate. Seeing Maia open herself up in the form of pre-recorded snippets and video supers feels like seeing someone you know reflecting on tough times in retrospect, or perhaps seeing what some of us would be like unpacking seven years’ worth of lost time, only with a new city, a ukulele and a spoonful of fame folded into the mix.
You got diagnosed with anxiety and depressive disorder.
But you stopped running away from that voice in your head this year.
“I think so much of my journey around my mental health was feeling like my anxiety or my depression were negative emotions I was feeling. [That they] were trying to harm me or hurt me and stop me from doing things.”
It takes a certain kind of bravery to think otherwise. And Maia may be young, but she is brave.
“It’s important that we rework our brains into understanding those aspects of who we are, that are born out of them trying to protect us from things that are going to make us scared,” she explains. There’s comfort in acceptance and surrender, a kind that can’t always be found in running away. It’s the same resounding message that fills the choruses of her duet with Carly Rae Jepsen, ok on your own. ‘I need some time to myself / so I can comprehend / I’m not so scared to admit /I could use a friend,’ the hook goes in a languorous drawl. “Hopefully people can learn that the things that they kind of try to shove to the side aren’t always bad things. If we take a second to ask them how they’re doing or what they need, that can oftentimes lead to us feeling a lot more safe in our own brain.”
Special thanks to Love Da Records