2021 has been a whirlwind of a year so far for 21-year-old UK singer/songwriter Maisie Peters.
Peters wrote and recorded the soundtrack for Season Two of ‘Trying’, an Apple+ comedy starring Esther Smith and Rafe Spall, which included a collaboration with James Bay on “Funeral”. After that, Peters announced that she had agreed to sign onto Ed Sheeran’s Gingerbread Man Records, eventually announcing that her debut album would be released on it. Just last week, Peter released You Signed Up For This and also announced a handful of record store shows across the UK and is planning for more.
You Signed Up For This follows up her first two EPs; 2018’s Dressed Too Nice For a Jacket and 2019’s It’s Your Bed Babe, It’s Your Funeral. Peters’ sound didn’t start where it’s currently at (Dressed Too Nice For a Jacket was all slower, more melodic songs) but her strong songwriting ability has been on full display from the start. It’s Your Bed Babe, It’s Your Funeral continued to show off her songwriting ability while shifting more towards a pop influenced sound.
In an interview with Apple Music on their “Next Up” feature, Ed Sheeran speaks of Peters as “the voice of this generation…like if you were to sum up British youth, it’s mirrored through Maisie’s songs.” That, pretty much, sums up the record’s themes; youth, relationships, heartbreak, forgiveness, and self-reflection.
On the title track, which opens the record, Peters creates an anthem, sonically and lyrically, for the struggles of personal growth while maintaining friendships/relationships. She sings “Please don’t give up on me yet, I know I’ll get better, I’m just not better yet, Can you tell I’m trying? Running out of breath, I know I’ll get better, I’m just not better yet” which she commented about the track in an interview with Apple Music saying “this is my life right now. This is how I sing. This is how I write. But it’s really self aware…”. It’s a very appropriate opening track, a mission statement if you shall, about what’s to be expected from the rest of the album, teasing the journey you’re about to embark on as the listener.
Peters’ created a record that plays like the soundtrack to a said coming-of-age movie, which feels ironic, considering at first glance, the track “John Hughes Movie” which, lyrically, takes the tropes of Hughes’ films, making a statement that romance is not like what those movies portray at all. The song builds up hope that Peters’ main character will fall in love with the man she sees at a party only for him to break her heart and completely shatter her hopes. Sonically, the song sounds like the song that would play over the credits to a sequel to Sixteen Candles with a simple pop structure and slightly overproduced vocals. Admittedly, I was not a fan of the song at first when it was released as the lead off single to the project but since then, it has grown on me. It’s not one of my favorite tracks but it’s important to record in a thematic way and that definitely shows her strong suit of songwriting and thematic connection.
Another song that sounds like it’s from a coming of age movie/tv show is “Outdoor Pool” which is the recollection of a story of a boy and girl who meet up on a Wednesday night after midnight in secret (“hope my dad don’t wake up”). The narrator builds up the meeting in their mind and hopes there could be more to it. However, their heart ends up broken and is left to pick up all the pieces. Peters’ ability to maturely sing about teen experiences (Peters is just 21) harks back to her idol, Taylor Swift, and it naturally draws a bit of a comparison of the two. “Outdoor Pool” sounds a lot like a Lover era song. The comparison to Swift, someone Peters is very vocal about influencing herself and her work, sounds outlandish to anyone taking a first glance/listen due to the mere fact it’s Swift but again, Peters’ ability to craft songs like “Outdoor Pool” hints at the comparison’s legitimacy.
Two “classic” Maisie Peters songs that sound more like her past EPs are “Brooklyn”, a mid-tempo pop song which Peters has said is about her sister and her trip to America which is when it was written, and “Volcano”, a mid-tempo pop song about a relationship that fell apart and the narrator is angry that the other person got away without feeling any hurt as a result of the ending of it. Both tracks are what fans of Peters first fell in love with and they’re perfect additions to this record in order to further display her growth over the course of making this record.
Speaking of comparisons, there’s a strong feeling of Peters sounding like the female version of Ed Sheeran. Perhaps that’s on purpose due to the obvious influence and his involvement with the project (he co-wrote three songs with her that appear on the record) and thus could feel lazy at first glance. However, it was 100% the first thought I had when listening to “I’m Trying (Not Friends)”, an upbeat pop song Peters calls ‘..bitchy and passive aggressive..’ about getting over a breakup, and “Boy”, a funky pop song about fuckboys, for the first time. Both songs feel like Divide outtakes that made their way to Peters. While Sheeran did help her write “Boy”, he did not with “I’m Trying (Not Friends)” which is funny to me because the latter sounds more like Sheeran than the first. She also draws similarities to a more acoustic Sheeran with the track “Talking to Strangers” which is a really sweet love song and one of my favorite moments on the record.
Regardless, Peters is proving she’s more than sad slower/mid-tempo pop songs (something she has gained a bit of a reputation for with her first two EPs and other singles) with those two songs, “Psycho”, the second single from the record and “Elvis Song”, an infectious pop song longing for the past with someone you loved very much. With “Psycho”, she creates a fun, very addictive, melody over a tale about a relationship gone wrong with the self-recognition by the narrator to leave the relationship despite him still calling her like a psycho. It’s unlike anything Peters’ has released up to this point in her career, including the other tracks on You Signed Up For This, and hints at the growth Peters has undergone since the start of her career. In the days leading up to the record’s release, Peters said “Psycho” was the last track written and recorded for the album which, again, makes a lot of sense for the reasons above. It’s a song that should do phenomenal on the radio and should be the single Peters runs with for promotion, especially in the US, where most are very unfamiliar with her.
Ultimately, despite all the strong points above, the place where Peters shines the most, sonically and lyrically, is in her vulnerability. The biggest example is on “Hollow”, the strongest song on the album, when she sings “the casualty of love is the price of being free” which feels very Swift-ian. The song is a mid-tempo/slow pop song with minimal behind Peters’ vocals that tell the story of a devastating breakup, leaving the narrator feeling miserable. On “Hollow”, her voice is able to be put at the forefront without anything else to really take away from it. Peters’ has a very strong, clear and unique voice among anyone in popular music right now and a lot of people don’t talk about that at all. This is also heard on the songs “Villain”, “Love Him, I Don’t” and “Tough Act”. “Villain” flips the breakup narrative and the narrator has the self-realization to realize that sometimes the other person in a breakup isn’t the evil one but rather they could possibly be.
It’s perfect for Peters to end the record with “Tough Act” because in many ways, she’s not only signifying the song’s story, she’s talking about herself and the record’s cohesive narrative, knowing she isn’t perfect but hopes that the story of herself is worth signing up for. It’s the song that rolls over the credits, it’s the ending of the movie nobody wants but is the most realistic that everyone will understand. “Tough Act” is an incredibly maturely written track about a breakup that’s mutual, it was no one and everyone’s fault, but the narrator hopes the other person sees them as “one tough act to follow” and ponders about whether or not they’ll get back together in the future. She writes “Everybody knows that a breakup is better when there’s someone to hate but you were my favorite way to stay up, and I’d say that still.” Again, this demonstrates how strong Peters’ songwriting is for a 21-year-old.
Overall, You Signed Up For This is a fantastic debut album for Peters. Yes the comparisons to Swift and Sheeran are large, but they are very valid and fully on display throughout You Signed Up For This. Whether it be the funky “Boy”, the emotional “Hollow”, the fun and infectious “Psycho”, the lovesong of “Talking to Strangers” or any of the others, you will find yourself slowly becoming more and more of a fan of Peters. Admittedly some songs took more listens than others for me (like “John Hughes Movie”, “Boy”, “I’m Trying (Not Friends)”), most of the record hit the ground running as utterly fantastic. Maisie Peters is a budding superstar and this record is her launch pad. What we are about to see is a rise very similar to the one her label owner, Ed Sheeran, took to become the big name artist he is today and I know I am excited to watch it, or rather listen to it, all unfold.
You can stream You Signed Up For This now.
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