Coat: Xiao Li
Top: Topshop

Words: Alim Kheraj
Photography: Lillie Eiger
Styling: Luci Ellis
Hair: Kim Rance
Make Up: Mary-Jane Gotidoc using MAC Cosmetics

For her most recent single I Wish I Missed My Ex, Mahalia filmed the accompanying music video backwards. “Never do it!” she shouts, before cracking a grin. “During one scene I walked off set crying. I went to my manager and said, 'You'll never hear me say this sentence again: I cannot do this.' It's a lot, man. Everyone has cue cards with the lyrics written backwards. You’re looking everywhere to try and get it right, even though you know the lyrics because you’ve been learning them. So I think [the crying] was because my brain was panicking.”

Top: Atika Vintage
Jacket: Urban Outfitters
Trousers: Rokit Vintage

Thankfully, the songwriter is happy with the results, even if she is convinced that her friends only like the video because they’re impressed that she managed to do it at all. But the rising 19-year-old singer has been impressing plenty of people outside her friendship circle, too.

For Crack Magazine’s shoot, Mahalia glides through looks, including a gloriously pink fluffy jacket matched with some high-waisted jeans which she later, rather gleefully, gets to keep. With glitter under her eyes, she bounces around the studio to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. When we chat later in the studio’s ramshackle garden, sat among old trainers and plastic figurines, she’s effusive and so likeable that it already feels like we’re best friends sharing secrets.

“I think everybody would say that I was super confident at school,” she says. “I definitely was in class and with music. But I don't think I was very confident as a person. As much as I never used to admit it, I was actually quite insecure, which I think is normal when you're young and you're working stuff out. I was a minority in my school and always a little bit different. I struggled to really feel like I had a place. Now I'm older, I'm super happy that I had that experience in school because now I'm super confident in myself.”

Growing up in Leicester, both of Mahalia’s parents were professional musicians, and she signed a record deal at 13. Still, she really wanted to be a 'normal' teenager. “I am a bit of a free spirit and I wanted to be around other kids and date boys and go to clubs,” she explains. “[But] when I finished school and I turned 18, I was just ready to fly and see what I could do.” At 18 she moved to London, an experience she describes as “the worst thing I ever did”. Struggling financially and increasingly lonely, she moved back to Leicester to live with her mum. She got a boyfriend and “did all the stuff that I thought would make me feel better. It was exactly what I needed,” she says. “A feeling of stability and comfort.”

Top: Atika Vintage
Tie: Rokit Vintage
Trousers: Rokit Vintage

Leicester is also musically significant for Mahalia. Growing up, she was immersed in the city’s folk scene – something clear from her early acoustic-driven material – but she was also surrounded by the hip-hop her brother loved as well as the soul and R&B her parents played. “I naturally married them,” she says of her current sound, which sits somewhere between the wooziness of Erykah Badu and the vibe of Amy Winehouse’s Frank. “That's why I've always called my music 'psycho acoustic soul'. I guess I was scared of being pigeonholed and being branded an R&B starlet or a girl with a guitar. I wanted to be my own.”

Songs like Sober, a hazy meditation on drunk dialling, Proud of Me (featuring Little Simz) and its sibling No Pressure, both about her experiences in the music industry, ooze with knowing humour and candour. It’s replicated IRL, too. Discussing the importance of her dual heritage – her mum’s family are from the Caribbean, while her dad has Irish roots – she’s eager to talk about the fact that she wears a wig. “For me, as a woman of dual heritage, it's important that other girls know that my natural hair is me, but the wig is also me. It's super important to me to be true to yourself. My mum always said to me, 'You can have a blonde wig if you want, as long as you know who you're wearing it for. If you're wearing it because you don't like your hair then it's a problem.'”

Top: Atika Vintage
Tie: Rokit Vintage
Trousers: Rokit Vintage

All this self-assurance is a promising sign for an artist still in the infancy of her career. Mahalia is making music that throbs with relatability and is vibrant with youth. It’s echoed in the way she engages with people, seeking out common ground. “I always feel that what kind of music you make plays into your style and your being,” she says as our time together ends. “I think it's a subconscious thing: you naturally wanna be that bitch.” We’d say she’s just about there.

I Wish I Missed My Ex is out now via Atlantic Records

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