The People's Pop Princess: A Frank Conversation With Mallrat

The “Rockstar” singer tells MTV Australia about her famous friends, her long-awaited debut album and how she’s handling her rising – and rising – success

"What I really would love is to actually not care what people think," Grace Shaw, better known as Mallrat, tells MTV Australia one afternoon last month. "I think I'm getting there, for sure."

It's a hard accomplishment for anyone to make, but especially so when your career has gone from strength to strength to strength in just a few short years. Shaw started her music career in her home of Brisbane making melodic rap songs, with monikers like 'Princess of Northside' and 'The Hannah Montana of the Rap Game'.

After dropping cult favourites like "Suicide Blond" and the anti-VIP anthem "Uninvited", she crafted a far breezier, summery pop sound that felt like all her own. Then, with three knockout singles in as many years "Better", "Groceries" and the ARIA-nominated "Charlie" in addition to two EPs, Australia was ready for their new pop icon to take her throne.

Now, as she gears up to create her long-awaited debut album which has a title that she won't share Mallrat dropped its lead single, "Rockstar". "Rockstar" is, in my opinion, the best song Mallrat's ever made. It is scorned, vulnerable and prophetic. And most importantly, it puts her biggest personal and professional career aspiration on paper.

"Not caring what people think is just the full rockstar attitude," she says, "and that's what I aspire to."

"I think there's an attitude about the song that is almost angrier, whereas,the stuff before that was kind of yearning or hopeful. 'Rockstar' kind of feels like, 'Whatever happens, I'm a little bit pissed off, but it's fine. I'll get over it'."

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It's a theme that's apparently consistent throughout the songs she's working on for her debut album, though she promises there is music more akin to her recent EPs, Driving Music, and In The Sky. The two EPs, while strong, were filled with songs about the more mundane details of love and friendship that end up becoming the most special. Both of them were glittering and understated, while "Rockstar" has a crunch, an edge and a vitriol that fans had never seen from Mallrat until now."There are still definitely songs that are on my album that are like Driving Music. And then there's a few that are a bit more like 'Rockstar' more aggressive. I feel like the only pattern that I've ever really noticed with music is that there is no pattern and every song feels so different."

Some might think it peculiar that, after attaining such huge success with her recent singles, Grace would want to change it up so drastically as she prepares to roll-out her debut album. She's riding a high, with "Groceries" scoring #7 on triple J's 2018 Hottest 100 and "Charlie" taking out #3 in 2019 the highest ranking song by a solo Australian artist of the year, something she says is "really hard to comprehend what that means".

Shaw also notes that even if her music did follow a pattern, she wouldn't want it to. "I get bored way too quickly," she says. "I don't even really listen to albums at all. I just listen to songs."

That boredom has stalled the release of her own debut EPs are a much faster way to get music out there and changed the way Shaw looks at some of the songs she's written for it, some of which are two years old.

"It's hard to know if they're finished or not, you know, if I'm just sick of listening to them, or if they're actually not good enough," she said. "And it's hard to keep perspective and finish something that you've heard so many times, I guess."

As for what Mallrat has been listening to lately, she's bumping the pounding electronic cuts of Ninajirachi alongside the invigorating drill rap of OneFour. She's into the smooth and crooning hip-hop of 070 Shake, and the legendary cuts of Three 6 Mafia. She even has Peggy Lee's iconic 1958 rendition of "Fever".

There's a smorgasbord of artists within Grace Shaw's playlist, a fair few of which similarly call themselves Mallrat fans. Pop pioneer Charli XCX, folk singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers, controversial rapper Azealia Banks and even famed production wizard Mark Ronson have all publicly shared their love for the once-Princess of Northside, something she still struggles to grasp. 14-year-old Grace would be "shook".

"It's just exciting, like really exciting," she says. "Good things just keep happening to me and my career, and I just feel giddy about it all."

In 2020 alone, Mallrat has also managed to lend her talents to quite a few songs on other artists' albums, like Cub Sport, goldenvessel, Kate Miller-Heidke and, most famously, BENEE the NZ superstar taking over the world, and who we also spoke with recently.

"I've been a big fan of her for a while," Mallrat says of BENEE. "And then we kind of like started an online friendship. And then we met at Laneway earlier this year, and I was just blown away by how lovely she was."

While she confirms that there's no features on her album yet Mallrat has two conditions that determine if she'll collaborate with an artist: they have to be good friends and she has to be obsessed with their work.

"That's why I work with Cub Sport so much, I'm obsessed with them and their music. It's just such a joy to make anything with them. Even though we have so many demos that are unfinished, anytime something does come out, I'm so happy about it."

As Mallrat continues to soar beyond conceivable heights, she's all too aware that life, in all its contradictions, could bring her back down to earth. Thankfully, Grace finds ways of keeping those fears at bay. "The way that I've been thinking about it is, like, I haven't even really dug into America or Europe yet," Shaw says.

"I have done really well here in Australia. And now I would like for it to continue and keep growing. But then when I think of the growth that's left to happen in my career, I immediately just think, 'I haven't even played a show in Japan yet'. I just kind of think of all these places that I want to build a fanbase in and it's like, 'I'm not done yet'."

There's a vigor and a passion in Mallrat's voice when she says this, beaming of assertion in herself and her craft. She makes you feel like it's not going to be a matter of if she breaks it in other nations, but when. And, to be fair, she's got the resume to prove it. She's already supported artists like gnash and Maggie Rogers on their international tours, had her music premiered on US juggernauts Billboard, and been dubbed an artist to watch by UK publication, NME.

When asked why she thinks her music has attracted fans across all genres, she muses that it could be her honesty and aversion to unnecessarily frivolity. Mallrat songs aren't soaked in metaphor she means exactly what she says.

"I love poetry and I love writing and everything, but I think a cliché metaphor ruins something straight away," she said.

"I don't like pretending that something is more heartbreaking than it is, because everything feels complicated, people feel more than one feeling when something happens. Usually, the most memorable feelings aren't just sad or happy. It's like, lonely but triumphant, or it's regret and ambition.. usually like two really opposite things, together."

"Over-simplifying things and pretending that they're just one emotion is a really quick way to make it uninteresting, to make it a little bit pretentious. I try to avoid that."

Right now, Mallrat remains bunkered down in an effort to finish creating the songs set to make up her debut.

"I know I want it to be eleven tracks long, and I don't want any filler," she said.

"There's about 13 songs in a playlist of demos that are varying degrees of finished. So I would say it's 60-70% finished and now it's just about choosing the songs that I want to finish. Maybe even chucking a few new ones in there that I don't know about or that haven't written yet."

She's given herself the liberty to work on the album on her own timeline and schedule, to her benefit and her hindrance.

"I feel like maybe I'm being a bit too crazy," she said. "I'll be like, 'Okay, this song is finished, except it needs a second verse. That's the only thing it needs.' And then I'll open it up and be like, 'Actually, what about that other song I started the other day?' and then I'll start something new. I'll make beats for four hours, and then I'll remember, 'Oh, that's right. My one job today was to try and finish that song'."

She tells us it's either hard for her to step away from a song and acknowledge its completion, or she does so way too easily. "It's not really a logical thing. It's just my little brain."

That 'little brain' has produced hit after hit and won some of the biggest names in the industry over. Mallrat consistently has delivered tracks that are as heartwarmingly sweet as they are piercingly honest, and her success continues to boom. It can be quantified in her millions of streams, consistently high Hottest 100 placings, her rapidly growing fanbase of music icons and countless spots on festival lineups around the world. All this with no album.

There's an intrinsic honesty in every lyric Mallrat pens that helps listeners make sense of even our most complex and contradictory feelings. In a pop world where more is more, and everyone's going for it full-speed-ahead, Mallrat is happy sitting in the backseat, watching the clouds roll by. She drives her career, but her spirit and her ambition to succeed on her own terms drives her, and she's content with that.

In that way, trying to find logic in her success seems pointless. Whatever conclusion anyone draws, her music is successful simply because it is – just the way Mallrat would want.

Written by Jackson Langford, music contributor at MTV Australia. Hot takes at @jacksonlangford and hotter pics at @jacksonlangford.

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