As fans streamed into The Sinclair on Tuesday night for Ella Mai’s show, it was likely assumed most were there for Mai’s smash single, and namesake of the tour, “Boo’d Up”. Although it was released last year, the song climbed the U.S. charts this year, peaking at the five spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in July alongside big names like Drake, Nicki Minaj, and SZA. Talking to more than a half dozen concert goers, I kept hearing a variation of the same reply: “Yes, I love ‘Boo’d Up’ but I really want to hear ‘10,000 hours,’ ‘My Way,’ or ‘Breakfast in Bed.’
In short, when Mai took the stage a few minutes after 9 p.m., the room was packed with enthusiastic, almost rabid fans who sang back each lyric with passion echoing Mai herself. Fortunately, there’s a video that illustrates the exact vibe in Cambridge on Tuesday.
“About a year ago I was touring I was unsure of performing ‘Boo’d Up’ because it was a slower song,” she told the excited crowd, “but I want you to know ‘Boo’d Up’ just went double platinum.”
Originally from London, Mai has long been focused on music studying at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute London (BIMM London). Although she appeared on the music reality show X-Factor in 2014, she got her real start after uploading a solo EP called Trouble to Soundcloud in 2015. Since being signed by DJ Mustard in 2016, she released three EPs, Time, Change and Ready. A little more than a year ago, she ventured out on her first tour as support for Kehlani.
This time at The Sinclair, Mai, backed by her band of Berklee School of Music alumni, showed no signs that the Boo’d Up tour was her first solo venture. She bantered with the audience, sharing stories of the bounce-back after heartbreak, and launched into songs with the precision of an industry veteran. Like her hit single, Mai’s voice is bright and beautiful and her music, a blend of ’90s R&B with a sprinkling of Mustard’s trap sensibilities, is instantly addicting, relatable and ultimately cathartic. At only 23, Mai has managed to channel the angst, heartache, life lessons we all go through as a teen and paired it with the hindsight that comes from age.
“I cooked, I cleaned, I ironed your jeans, I was the one, I would listen to you when you sound stupid,” she sang on “A Thousand Times,” one of the highlights of the night. “Treat you like a winner even when you’re losing, Now you got me feeling like shooting Cupid.”
On “Naked,” another fan favorite, Mai revealingly sang: “Okay, I don’t wear no makeup, no purse in my hands/My resting bitch face is mistaken for the mean girl.” And though she only played for a little over an hour, she packed in more than a dozen songs, including playing “Boo’d Up” twice at the end, inviting up fans for a singalong for the encore. Mai has the star power and talent to be huge, a fact not lost of fans who managed to secure tickets to Tuesdays sold out show.
“I had the chance to see Drake at The Middle East way back and I figured whatever, he just has that one good song,” one fan said. “Ella is incredible, and I’m not making that mistake again.”
Featured image by Dana Forsythe; follow him on Twitter @danafour.