With a new EP out now, Sophie May is cementing herself as a singer beyond TikTok – where she’s already garnered over 200,000 followers, around 3.7 million likes, and defied the often-distant online world to create a cosy connection with her fanbase.
As if we needed any more proof of TikTok’s assertion in the music industry, Sam Ryder’s second-placed performance at Eurovision over the weekend (behind a popular Ukrainian display) emphasised it even more. The UK artist with the largest TikTok following, he demonstrated how an artist can be both popular on the platform and a real-life showman.
This skill is no easy feat. And whilst the music of 23-year-old Sophie May, from East Dulwich, is undeniably different to that of the Eurovision star – with her husky, tender vocals and poetic lyricism – the leap from digital popularity to acclaim beyond the app is one she looks certain to emulate.
Having bought herself a guitar at 19, this newfound hobby matched her long-held interest in writing and poetry. “I started getting better at it,” she says over Zoom on her phone, the device through which she’s accrued a major audience. “But I didn’t really take it seriously until around lockdown – when I had nothing else to do but turnout songs. So I kind of went the back route of finding myself through TikTok and those online apps, I suppose.”
Around the New Year’s heading into 2021, Sophie gained 10,000 followers in a single night – confirmation that her work was resonating with people. “When my videos started getting some attention, that was really encouraging. Because you never know. Of course family members are going to be nice; of course, the teacher will be nice, but when it was suddenly strangers caring, or at least liking something, it really pushed me.”
It’s easy to be sneering, even scathing, towards online stars – perhaps we feel achievements are somehow lesser when not carried out in real life -et Sophie’s TikTok account is an example of social media at its very finest, helping her gain over 200,000 fans and even receive a shoutout from Billie Eilish.
“I saw it and thought ‘that’s not Billie Eilish’.I was really hungover when I woke up.I was in bed, checking my phone. I didn’t expect that video to necessarily do very well. Then I saw the top comment was Billie Eilish just saying: ‘beautiful’. I didn’t think it was actually her, but then I looked at her account and it was.
“I remember just thinking, ‘what do I do with this information?’ Because it’s also just a comment on a video. So it was like, ‘Oh, that’s really nice. I guess I’ll just go and have a shower now’.
@sophiemay.uk Reply to @mclegopiece up there with one of my biggest fears #songwriter ♬ original sound – sophie may
@sophiemay.uk Reply to @ellie_dejoung ♬ original sound – sophie may
“It’s social media so it feels a bit like: ‘is it real? Is it not?’… I’ve processed it, but I guess she’s just also a human as well, who writes songs.”
Indeed, Billie Eilish would have likely seen the exact same thing anyone would in Sophie’s videos. Warm, intimate and, above all relatable, you see her brown eyes, which often catch the light, and feel like you know her. This is helped by the fact many of her songs even derive from requests in the comments section of her videos, which she carefully selects.
“I lean towards the more simple, open-ended ones; something I’ve probably been through or related to, such as, ‘can you write a song about feeling this type of way?’ If it’s just an emotion, usually that’s quite universal.
“But then again,” she adds, catching herself, “sometimes I get a really specific one talking about like dating a skateboarder. I like going to those ones as well, because I’ve dated a skateboarder, for instance… so it’s either broad things or quite specific that I can relate to. The ones I don’t go for are like the paragraphs about their lives because I think, ‘okay, maybe you need to write one’.”
Vocally, too, Sophie has a very promising style, which flips between the fluttering delicacy of Laura Marling, the subtle cries of Wet Leg and the deeper, huskier range of Lana Del Rey between videos – the latter being a particular musical inspiration.
“I can’t help it; when I was about 15 listening to [Lana], I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I get it.’ I found everything so melancholy and everything about her really appealed to me.” Incidentally, as though it were such an easy feat, Sophie’s even posted a 60-second tutorial on how to write a Lana Del Rey song.
Such connection with her fans on TikTok, though, has often created demand from her many followers for her to release full-length tracks. Scroll through just a handful of them and you often catch comments written with equal-part love and frustration. “Please release your music on Spotify,” begs one. “if u don’t release this I will go FERAL,” demands another. “Spotify or riot,” reads yet another, more threateningly.
For Sophie, however, an evidently wise soul, she knows when the time’s right – and when it isn’t. “I feel quite grounded within myself, and my music, and know when something’s ready. I think trusting myself has always been the right thing to do. So it doesn’t really stress me out when people ask or put pressure on for music [to be released], because I know that when I release, it will be right for me.”
Thankfully this pent-up demand has been at least partially satisfied by the release of two EPs, one at the beginning of last month and another just yesterday. The first consisted of ‘With the Band’ and ‘Bruises & Scratches’, tracks that have of course been previously teased to her many followers.
Both tracks bear similar lovelorn, Lana-esque themes of troubling relationships. ‘Bruises & Scratches’, for instance, is about being with “the type [of guy] who’s a bit of a skateboarder… who’s maybe not really listening ever, is a little bit in love with themselves, a little bit in love with some other substances.”
A similar figure also appears in ‘With the Band’, which uses “the cliché of the rock star onstage and the fan watching” to reflect past relationships. “You’re always looking up to them like they’re this god or something, but actually they’re just some dude who hasn’t washed their clothes in a week.”
The tracks have already garnered more than 550,000 plays on Spotify combined – demonstrating the trickle-down effect of streams between the two platforms. Dropping just yesterday, meanwhile, Sophie’s latest EP includes ‘Bad Man’, about accepting inner demons, and ‘High Life’, which recalls that same troubling rock star-type figure.
They’re an impressive build on the first two tracks that typify Sophie’s adept approach to song-writing – which has already drawn comparisons with the likes of the mighty Carole King. “Roll me up and smoke me in your living room… Fumigate my lungs with that funny laugh,” she sings on ‘High Life’.
No doubt the additional studio work she’s carried out with Celeste (“I was nervous because I really look up to her… she’s a classic”) and Luca Buccellati, who produced Arlo Park’s Mercury Prize-winning Collapsed in Sunbeams, will give Sophie an even greater musical footing, as she slowly but surely cements herself as an artist beyond TikTok.
Sophie even admits she’s started playing secret open mics as a means of acclimatising with live performances. Her latest EP demonstrates how if she can crack that, it’s only a matter of time before she’s a widely acclaimed artist. Indeed, the clock is ticking – tick-tocking.
Bad Man / High Life is out now.