Maisie Peters – You Signed Up For This
It’s funny how the questions that are hardest to answer are often the ones which have been in front of us all along. We’ve put men on the moon and yet we still don’t know how we stay upright when riding a bicycle. “Why is the sky blue?” is one of the first questions posed by curious children, and yet how many of us can genuinely remember the answer. Sometimes we just seem to take the obvious for granted to the point where the questions don’t even occur to us in the first place. Jumping into You Signed Up For This, one such question suddenly occurred to me: what makes a great pop record? By its very nature, pop music is all around us; even if you don’t actively press play you’ll still be exposed to it all the time. Yet somehow certain tracks just evoke a feeling within us that makes them stand out from the crowd, without us ever stopping to note the patterns or explain the reasons why these particular songs stay with us. The best you can hope for is to simply know it when you feel it, and for me the long awaited debut from rising star Maisie Peters consistently sparks that feeling.
One thing I think we can all agree every great pop record needs is strong hooks, and YSUFT has them in spades. Whether you’re looking for a chorus that resonates with you lyrically (“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?” on the title track), or irresistible earworm melodies like the effervescent bop of ‘Psycho’ and the 80s vibes of album highlight ‘John Hughes Movie’, you’ll be spoilt for choice here. They’re often enough redeem the few weaker tracks all on their own. While ‘I’m Trying (Not Friends)’ falters out of the blocks, stumbling over the word-vomit verses and the clap percussion falling flat, by the time the line “Well I might be bitter and twisted and broken and petty and lying, But at least I’m trying” rolls around, it soon worms its way back into your affections. It’s only the overly simplistic rhyming of ‘Outdoor Pool’s chorus that fails to gain traction; the rest of the album’s hooks at the very least never outstay their welcome, and at their best are the driving force behind some of the best songs of the year.
I think for many of us, heart is also a key ingredient of a great album. Looking back at the songs that I’ve connected with most over the years, those which carried a sense of honesty and openness to their lyricism are often top of the list. Usually that tends to mean a confessional singer/songwriter baring their soul, but Maisie takes a different approach that still manages to feel no less honest or authentic. YSUFT is less peering into an artist’s inner thoughts and more being privy to a friend’s ramblings. That feeling of catching up, putting the world to rights, and all the inside jokes and anecdotes that come with it. The lack of airs and graces in this conversational approach, and the down to Earth vignettes of hanging out at HMV or comparing her love life to Skins, feels really refreshing. It lets her personality shine through naturally, perhaps reflected best in the utterly charming ‘Talking To Strangers’ depicting her compulsively talking about her crush to everyone she interacts with. Though I found myself gravitating most to her relaxed lyrical style, she also proves to be a dab hand at Swiftian turns of phrase, like “We never struggled for a conversation, Till you couldn’t find the words to say, Now I’m a comma in your explanation, Of your learning curves and your mistakes” on ‘Hollow’.
And while it’s more a personal box to tick than a hard and fast rule, I’m also of the mind that consistency is key to a great album. With pop records setting their sights on playlists, often they play like a collection of disparate singles with some filler tracks mixed in. Debut albums from acts who have already established themselves with a multitude of EPs and singles have their own unique hurdles to boot. Often they feel like merely a portfolio of their latest work, rather than a reflection of them at their best, which leaves them falling short of earlier hits. Most every song here can stand on its own, but all feel part of a distinct connected era, and one which contains some of Maisie’s best songwriting to date.
But if I could break down everything that works so well on You Signed Up For This into some simple formula for pop perfection, then a lot of the charm would be lost. Big hooks and clever quips are one thing, but the personality behind the music is what really makes this album for me, and there’s no easy recipe for that. I love how there’s no false façade to this debut, how it’s all just Maisie being herself through and through for the world to hear, and it’s wonderful to see such a genuine and sincere artist gaining recognition after many years of grinding. After everything, I still can’t entirely describe what makes You Signed Up For This a great pop record, but my heart damn well says it is and maybe that’s enough.