How TikTok’s most viral indie star Mxmtoon challenges the music industry


“My therapist once asked me if I wanted to be in love / And I said, ‘I don’t know? I guess, maybe? Kind of?”, Sings a teenage Mxmtoon (em-ex-em -toon) on his debut album of 2019, The Masquerade. It’s the kind of music that only a teenage girl can do – navigate raw emotion and seek to express those overwhelming feelings at the same time. And this is the kind of music that launched Mxmtoon – known the world over as Maia – from recording music in her parents’ spare bedroom to becoming one of the hottest young stars. brilliant indie pop.

First posted on SoundCloud, then Instagram, then YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok, Mxmtoon is a marker of a new kind of celebrity. His unfiltered, cutting-edge songs, from “Seasonal Depression” to “1-800-DATEME” to “I Love Suffering”, all speak candidly about the feelings of growing up in the post-flip phone era. But, in a very Gen Z way, Maia makes the distinction between sharing herself with her audience and drawing her own privacy lines.

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Mxmtoon explained what her online community means to her, making music in the digital age, and how her social identities as a queer and multiracial young Asian woman have rocked the stronghold of the world. music industry.

Note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

You said on an Instagram Live with BuzzFeed: “It’s hard to grow successful with a lot of people watching you.” Tell us about when people started watching.

By then, I had played instruments all my life. I learned to play the ukulele in college. Writing songs is something I have done for the people in their lives. I didn’t see them as a job opportunity – just like it’s a great way to honor the people I have in my life, and ultimately a way for me to explore my emotional state as a teenager. So I wrote songs about what I was going through and things I was thinking about, and I posted them on SoundCloud.

When I was 17 I started posting original songs, and these got more love than any covers I had done. And I was like, “This is really weird. I guess people like it! My parents had no idea for a very long time, because I was doing it right in the back of my room on my computer in the dark, when everyone was in bed and asleep. Finally, I had to tell them when it got out of hand and I couldn’t hide it anymore.

They dug deep into the Google search for “mxmtoon” on the family computer in the kitchen when I first told them this. I was mortified! I could hear my songs playing on the kitchen speakers. But both of my parents were teachers, I think I learned the importance of privacy really well, so I didn’t share a lot of personal information or anything online. I think they were kind of blown away.

But you are still 21 years old! Has this privacy issue always been something you always keep in mind, as you continue to gain momentum?

I definitely do! My biggest philosophy regarding my family’s privacy is this: I signed up for this. They did not choose to sign up for it. In the age of the Internet, people feel entitled to have as much information as they can find about people, and that is simply not true. Everyone deserves some sort of base of privacy and secrecy in their own life. Sometimes the public needs to re-evaluate their expectations of people online because we don’t do it for people! We do not completely engage with an audience. This should never be what happens. I think it’s something that growing up made sure to keep repeating myself. Saving myself at the end of the day is more important than giving everything away to the people who consume my content. But it’s also a hard lesson that I had to learn growing up.

Mainly because we grew up in the internet age and Stan culture. Do you think the times we live in have shaped the way you interact with the internet?

Ah, absolutely. Because I was part of stan culture even before I became a person people stigmatized, I’m just hyper aware of the mindset that takes hold of people when they support a person. The only reason I didn’t create a BTS fan account is because I realized I need to promote my own music!

As someone who has an audience now, I do my best to remind people who follow me, “I’m a real person. You shouldn’t put me on a pedestal. I’m an individual, and I’ll mess it up as many times as you mess, and I have no idea who I am yet! Reinforcing the imperfect nature of individuals – especially myself – has been very helpful. I’ve had a series of weird, crazy events that have led me to become someone people follow, but I’m not much different from anyone who follows me.

It’s interesting to hear about your relationship between private and public life in your music over time. Has it changed over the years?

Because I kind of fell into this career, when I was 17 I was like, “I have to work 200% harder to keep everything, because it might just fall off in an instant.” I still feel a little bit sometimes. But I think there was a lot of a sense of immediacy before, that I’m trying to practice patience now. Where I was like, “Oh my God, I’m a teenager and no one will care in six months!” Even though I always care about people’s opinions, I’m not in that state of panic all the time, which is really nice. Maybe it’s just me growing up.

I’m really starting to protect myself a bit more. Being emotionally vulnerable at this level, all the time, is something I didn’t know was wearing me out. I would use Twitter in a pretty self-defeating way; I just tweeted whenever I was depressed, tweeting whenever I was anxious. I think I got better at separation. The intentionality of when you do something makes it more powerful, so being able to write lyrics that are emotionally vulnerable – without it constantly creeping into my social media or anything – feels like that these songs become more powerful, because they have intention behind them. I choose to use my emotional energy in these times.

What has it been like to navigate your identities in the public eye, as someone so vocally queer, Asian, female, multiracial, and young?

I think all the time about, for example, how do I navigate my identities? Because I know that in a way, especially white males who run this industry, people see me as an acceptable minority. I know that. I’m a mixed race, bisexual Asian person so I’m kind of going along the line to be a diverse person – but not quite [saliently so]. I recognize that this gives me a lot of privileges. So we have a very long way to go to develop a space where people of all marginalized identities can invite themselves into these spaces and be truly heard.

The music industry is changing – my presence is definitely something I never could have seen growing up. I’ve never seen someone like me on screen, make music, do anything. That I can even exist in a place like the music industry is very different from the landscape I grew up in, but we also have a very long way to go. We need different people. Specifically in positions of power, when it comes to the record label and A&R executives of the pop world. From an outside perspective, I think we see more diverse types of people being at the forefront of those who make music, but the people who decide what music blows up need to be more diverse.

So with what you’ve built, what do you hope Mxmtoon remembers?

I really hope people can look at the trajectory of what I did, and see that it can happen to them. Whatever I do – my music, my podcast, my live broadcast, or my video creation – my goal is for people to watch this and say, “Oh my God, I could do that too. I started on my own. I still do a lot of these things on my own. Being able to diversify the type of content I create in and outside of music helps audience members recognize when something resonates with them, I think. Maybe it’s not writing songs! Maybe it’s streaming or podcasting on Twitch. The lasting impact, I hope, is being able to show people that you can be a multi-hyphenated creator who does all kinds of things. Anything that interests you. No one is limited to one path of creation.

It’s a very Gen Z state of mind, the idea of ​​the multi-hyphen.

The bonds you forge with members of your audience are much closer. I really grew up with my audience. There are members of the community that I created who have been with me for four years. I saw them go from first year to last year in high school, even college! It’s pretty crazy the closeness, because when you’re part of the internet celebrity generation that has really exploded like I did, you’re naturally able to connect with people on a more personal level. I think the biggest difference between these glass-walled superhuman celebrities and the way I grew up is really like normal people do normal things, somehow explode and then that more normal people were watching. I’m still not the cool girl, I’m still anxious and still need to be home by 9pm! There is no shame in that. I have never been the cool girl. I’m still not and that’s great.

Well you’ve played Lollapalooza. You are a bit of a cool girl.

May be? May be! I have my moments. And then I go back to being like a little gremlin player who’s always following BTS and everything, so, you know, it’s okay.

So where do you hope to continue growing from here?

I have no idea where I would like to be in five years. I think that’s the exciting part of finding out, it’s just seeing what else there is. I really hope I can keep trying to find new ways to do projects. Music is definitely the common thread running through everything I do in my career. I would like to work more in the world of video games. Get involved in a creative process and make something my own. But I wonder what else can happen outside of that. There are probably things that don’t even exist yet that I’m going to dig into and figure out how to do them. So I have no idea, but it’s part of the fun.

You can follow Maia on her SoundCloud, Podcast, Tic, TIC Tac, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and Spotify. His latest EP, True colors, is available now.


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