Ella Mai Wears Her Heart On Her Sleeve: Every Song Felt "Like A Therapy Session"
Ella Mai

Photo: Adrienne Raquel


Ella Mai Wears Her Heart On Her Sleeve: Every Song Felt "Like A Therapy Session"

On her sophomore release, 'Heart On My Sleeve,' R&B singer Ella Mai is truly stepping into her own. Four years after winning a GRAMMY, Mai is wearing confidence well.

GRAMMYs/Jun 3, 2022 - 06:08 pm

"Being in the studio…[feels] like my second home," R&B artist Ella Mai says over Zoom from her sun-drenched Los Angeles abode. The singer's eyes brighten as she recounts her stream of consciousness creative process, where she transforms the disorienting unfamiliar into art. "I made almost 80 songs during this process," she confesses, chuckling. "Narrowing them down to 15 was very hard."

Those tracks now comprise Ella Mai's long-awaited sophomore album, Heart On My Sleeve. Out in May through Interscope Records, the album is an introspective compilation of poetry outlining the healing that produces emotional growth. At the soul of Mai's sophomore record are lyrics orienting honesty, womanhood and emotional prowess gained from years of turbulence; her heartstrings are utterly exposed from the album's opening track.

Yet that growth, and commitment to self-work, has long been present in Mai, a UK-born singer who moved to New York at age 12. The past four years have been big for Mai, whose debut single, "Boo’d Up," won the GRAMMY Award for Best R&B Song in 2019. At the 62nd GRAMMY Awards, her eponymous debut album was nominated for Best R&B Album. Now 27, Mai is more surefooted about herself and what her music stands for. 

But her ascent hasn't been without tribulation. "I have always thought I had it together but sometimes, you will make the wrong decision," Mai says, reflecting on the emotional hurdles she faced in 2020, as well as mistakes made throughout her early career. "The important part really is how you pick yourself up, and that is [what] I learned making this album that made me think: I am really proud of myself.

"Heart On My Sleeve is about the chaos and the peace put together," Mai continues, adding that "it was difficult at times to find that balance."

The album's varied styles and sonics reflect that balance. The first single closes with a trailing violin, leading into the lustful composition of "Not Another Love Song." The turbulent song features a recorded memo from Mary J. Blige, who  praises Mai for being open and advises her to love with faith despite the existence of pain. On "Fallen Angel," Mai testifies to a potentially deceitful lover buoyed by a suspenseful chorus that ushers into a gospel sermon featuring choirmaster Kirk Franklin. Other collaborators include L.A. rapper, Roddy Ricch, as well as Latto and Lucky Daye.

Heart On My Sleeve is an R&B symphony of sentiments that shows the capriciousness of human nature. Prevailing through the protection of her own heart and learning from emotional turbulence, Ella Mai is emphatically going to do as her album suggests and wear her heart out in the open. Ella Mai spoke with about the multi-year journey that it took to be here. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What have you learned about yourself in the past four years since you exploded in the R&B scene?

When I was recording my debut album, I was 21, 22 and thought I knew everything. The last four years I realized I know absolutely nothing. It's funny because albums are great ways to look back on areas of your life because they are eras. 

In terms of being an artist, in 2018 when everything blew up for me and "Boo’d Up" went crazy and then "Trip." I didn't really have time to even realize what was going on. I was checking off so many things on my bucket list…but the world was moving so quickly that I didn't even realize the impact of it all. When I went on tour, I was able to tour the whole world and really experience that with my fans.

Where do you see Heart On My Sleeve landing in terms of your development as an artist?

There was a lot of pressure coming off of my debut album and I tried my best to not get caught up in that cycle. With "Boo’d Up" and "Trip" being so big, that was what a lot of people knew me for and still know me for. 

With this album, specifically, I was so heavily invested and involved with the entire process. I knew what I wanted to say and what I wanted to sound like. I've always been a confident person, I think that helped me out a lot. Touring was a big part of my confidence, it helped me believe in myself even more as an artist. Especially, for somebody who really loves R&B music and really loves to make music.

Why were some of the songs healing for you to create in the studio? 

I was so inspired and so excited to be back in the studio in 2020 because it had been a while and I took some time off for a whole year. Every song, every session, it did kind of feel like a therapy session for me. 

I was wearing my heart on my sleeve in the studio, and just really explaining how I was feeling at the time. One thing I didn't even realize is that with the album out, it's almost like reliving those moments. I'm so excited to tour it because I feel like it would just mean that much more when you're super, super connected to the music.

Were there any songs that were extremely hard for you to apply your pen to? If so, why?

"Fallen Angel" was actually one of my most favorite sessions. It definitely has a gospel feel, which is why I wanted to put Kirk Franklin at the end of it. I grew up in church, my grandma was a minister, and everyone in the session comes from that type of background. 

"Pieces" was a difficult song to write. I think the production moves more, the second verse changes from the first verse sonically, which I've never done before. At the same time, it was exactly what I was feeling. So I think the difficulty comes from wondering, is this too vulnerable? But actually, it was everything that was on my heart. 

Did you receive any revelatory musical guidance that pushed you closer to completing this record?

I've always been confident and I've always known how strong I am as a person. But I think through creating this album, I realized how resilient I am, even if I'm in a situation that I haven't really experienced before. 

Even though I'm vulnerable, I'm not ever a doormat. I am always conscious of who I am in my own life. I know a lot of my fans are my age, and they're probably going through similar things with me because we kind of have grown up together. So I always want to make sure I'm a role model, I guess.

Why do sports have deep symbolism in your songs?

I played football for nine years and I've always been an athlete and it's really the influence I received from my brother. I have an older brother…that's my only sibling. When I was younger, I just wanted to do everything that he did. So I started playing soccer because he played soccer.

When we moved to New York, he got into basketball. So I got into basketball. I play tennis now and I think being active is always something that I've always found really fun. When I got to a stage in my life where I wanted to decide what I wanted to do, in my head it was music or soccer. So [sports have] always been a very, very prominent part of my life. 

Most of the songs on your past album had spoken poetry at the end. Was that an artistic element you wanted to option out on Heart On My Sleeve?

I love to storytell, but I do understand sometimes that it doesn't always need to be there. I was aware of that and I love it, which is why I had Mary J. Blige and Kirk Franklin on this album. I still didn't want to take that element out of it completely. Even the start of my song with Lucky Daye, that audio [was] obviously from our session. 

Are there any female R&B artists you really would love to collaborate with in the future?

There's a lot of different types of R&B artists, especially women. I personally would love to collaborate with them all, but who comes to mind right now is Snoh Aalegra.

What is the key message you want your fans to resonate with when listening to Heart On My Sleeve?

Honesty. That's what I've been saying really throughout Heart On My Sleeve. I'm…definitely an honest person. I will say that I also am aware of how scary that feeling is, but I've been trying to embrace it. 

And… Wear your heart on your sleeve. There is a certain…feeling of freedom if you're honest with yourself and, not even just to everyone else, but being honest with yourself. An honest way of living is as cliche as it sounds, but I think it's incredibly freeing.

Revisiting 'Supa Dupa Fly' At 25: Missy Elliott Is Still Inspired By Her Debut Record


GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.


Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year


Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy


Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images


Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards