Ella Mai, a 23-year-old from south London, is currently at number one with Boo’d Up, a soulful infatuation anthem she first released last year.
It makes her the first British to reach the summit since Lisa Stansfield hit number one with All Woman in 1992.
Originally from London, Mai moved to New York City at the age of 12 before returning to England after graduating from high schoolIn 2014, she competed on season 111 of THE X FACTOR as part of a trio, Arize, but didn’t advance beyond the initial audition for the judges. The group broke up shortly thereafter. The following year, Ella Mai uploaded a four-track solo EP of originals to SoundCloud titled Trouble. After being discovered on Instagram, she signed to DJ Mustard’s label 10 Summers Records.
In February 2016, she released Time, the first in her EP trilogy. The six-track EP included the single, “She Don’t”, which featured Ty Dolla Sign. She released her second EP, Change, in November 2016 and third, Ready, in February 2017.] Ella Mai toured with Kehlani on her SweetSexySavage World Tour.
On April 26, 2018, she released a music video for “Boo’d Up” after it unexpectedly started to gain popularity. The single peaked at number five on the US Billboard Hot 100,as the singer topped the Emerging Artists chart
Fellow Brits Charli XCX, Paul McCartney and Kyla have recently appeared as featured artists on US R&B number ones, but Ella Mai is the first to reach the peak as a lead artist for 26 years.
Boo’d Up, which originally featured on Ella Mai’s six-song Ready EP last February, has had a slow rise to the top – receiving a recent boost when Nicki Minaj and Quavo jumped on a remix.
But its success really started in San Francisco last December, when someone asked Bay Area DJ Big Von to play it in a club set.
He hadn’t heard the song before, but downloaded it and cued it up. What happened next took him by surprise.
“I’ve never seen a reaction like this,”he told in an interview. “When I played it, the whole place went, ‘Woo!’
“I saw a fat dude do a cartwheel – a solid cartwheel, he didn’t even fall.”
The next day, Big Von played the song five times on his radio show, and it took off from there. It first reached number one in May, and returns for a second run at the top this week.
Ella Mai wasn’t prepared for Boo’d Up’s success, but says she understands why people latched on to it.
“It has quite nostalgic feel to it,” she told The Fader. “There’s no cursing, it’s super innocent, and everyone’s been through that puppy-love sort of thing.”
However, the song, which recalls the smooth 1990s R&B of Mariah Carey, SWV and Erykah Badu, has not found similar success in the singer’s home country.
It’s currently at number 62 in the official charts, prompting Vice to publish an article headlined: “The UK is sleeping on Ella Mai and it’s embarrassing”.
“I think R&B is way bigger in America. It’s not really that mainstream in the UK,” the singer explained to Newsbeat last month.