“The video the song “unspoken words” is perfectly timed for the holidays and celebrates family and what it means to come together. Maia AKA: mxmtoon tells us. This music videos means a lot to me, as I was really able to dive into my experience growing up as Chinese-American! It’s rare and wonderful when you’re able to share pieces of your world, and working on this video was both challenging in trying to express a personal story in a fun way but to keep it meaningful as well. Videos have been my favourite way of expressing my songs visually so far, and this one is no exception.”
The Masquerade, the debut album from the 19-year-old singer/songwriter delivers what she calls “rhyming diary entries”: an off-the-cuff account of her most private thoughts and feelings, usually dashed off very late at night, straight from her brightly lit brain. In her deliberate refusal to hide behind metaphor, the Oakland-based artist otherwise known as Maia achieves a quiet bravery, an unrestrained honesty that gives voice to those who often go unheard.
Her debut EP plum blossom which was released in 2018, was recorded alone in her parents’ guest room. In less than a year she is now amassing millions of followers and subscribers across YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram and Maia has made a point of using her ever-growing platform to speak out on issues close to her heart. “As a young bisexual woman of color from a family of immigrants, a lot of current events directly affect who I am,” says Maia, who’s mixed Chinese-American. “I firmly believe it’s my obligation and opportunity to speak on issues that affect us all.”
In bringing the masquerade to life, mxmtoon crafted most of her songs on her ukulele, adorning the album with occasional sonic flourishes—effervescent beats, gauzy guitar tones—created in collaboration with musician/producer Robin Skinner (aka Cavetown). First introduced to Cavetown’s music by her dad, Maia selected the 20-year-old Robin based on their mutual admiration and unique kinship as emerging artists. “I didn’t want to make my album with someone who’s been in the music industry a long time,” she says. “I wanted to work with someone close to my age, who exists in my world and can understand where I’m at right now in terms of this transitional period of being an artist.”
In the recording process, Maia and Robin purposely preserved the warm intimacy that’s always defined mxmtoon’s material, including her 2018 debut EP plum blossom. “Robin and I are both artists who mostly work out of our bedrooms, so even though we had this gigantic studio, we made almost the entire album sitting right next to each other in the control room,” she says. “Looking back, we probably could’ve just recorded in a closet.”
In each track on the masquerade, mxmtoon turns her detailed narrative of the most mundane moments into songs with deep meaning, a transformation propelled by her delicate melodies, disarming vocal presence, and utter aversion to self-seriousness.
In her constant questioning and engaging with the world around her, mxmtoon has attained an undeniable solidarity with her listeners, ultimately providing some much-needed solace for the shy, the sensitive, the routinely underrepresented. “When I listen to the album, it feels like a musical of the things I’ve gone through and the life inside my head,” says Maia. “I hope people come away from it feeling like the songs belong to them too—like now there’s a piece of art in the world that speaks to their own experiences, even if they’d always felt like they were alone.”