Popping Up is our recurring look at new artists making noise on the music landscape. Because, hey — Madonna and Britney were once unknown, too.
Not every 20-year-old counts Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder among those they look up to — or has “Let Me Love You” crooner Ne-Yo as their musical mentor. But then, not every 20-year-old has a voice quite like Brighton, England’s Conor Maynard.
Already a certified hit-maker in his home country, thanks to smash singles like “Vegas Girl” and “Can’t Say No,” Conor is now aiming for taking a crack at the US, where his debut LP Contrast was released today (January 8). Perhaps you caught his performance of the Ne-Yo-featuring “Turn Around” on The Late Show With David Letterman last night? Or maybe you’ve read about the comparisons between Maynard and a certain pair of Justins (that would be Timberlake and Bieber).
Well, you’ll hear from him on that later. For now, let’s head below and find out more about pop’s new smooth-voiced sensation, in his own words.
FULL NAME: Conor Paul Maynard
BIRTHDAY: November 21, 1992, which makes him two days older than Miley Cyrus
HOMETOWN: Brighton, England
HOW HE GAINED A FOLLOWING: Conor began uploading videos of himself singing covers of popular songs on YouTube in 2006, at the age of 13. “For me it was just a hobby. I’d come home from school and just record a new cover,” Maynard tells us. “I was always just so excited to show people what I’d recorded. The best part for me was getting my mom into my room to listen. As it started to grow and get onto a bigger scale, that’s what was crazy.”
HIS INFLUENCES: “When I was really young, my parents listened to people like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder — a lot of R&B-pop acts. And then as I got into the early teens — 13 and 14 — I listened to Green Day and Good Charlotte. As I got older, in terms of mid-teens, that’s when the real R&B started to come in. So I was listening to a lot of Usher, Mario, Justin Timberlake, Ne-Yo, Brandy. For me, R&B was definitely the more influential music I used to listen to. I was so inspired by the way they would sing, kind of the technical thing they would do with their voice. It made me figure out I wanted to be able to sing like that.”
Conor Maynard — “Can’t Say No”
HIS BIG “BEAUTIFUL” BREAK: It turns out his YouTube shenanigans got the attention of none other than his idol, Ne-Yo. “One of my first covers to ever hit a million views was a cover of Ne-Yo’s ‘Beautiful Monster’,” Conor says. “His management reached out to me. They found my number…back before anyone realized their numbers were on Facebook! They said, ‘Ne-Yo’s seen your stuff, he would love to work with you, he’d love to have you out here to America and meet you.’ I wanted to believe it but I was a bit skeptical at the time. I asked, ‘Is this real? Is there any way that you guys can prove that you know Ne-Yo?’ And then sure enough I ended up sitting on Skype with Ne-Yo, with him telling me that he wanted to sign me. It was pretty mad the way it started.”
THE DOWNSIDE OF HIS LUCKY BREAK: “I was actually sitting on Skype in my pajamas because I didn’t actually expect it to be him. And then it was him.”
ON MAKING HIS DEBUT ALBUM CONTRAST: Maynard says, “For me it was getting used to leaving the covers behind and writing my own original material. I think that was one of the challenges of making my album. But I realized that rather than work with the biggest producers in the world, I preferred creating a relationship with certain people and working that way. For me, a lot of songs the songs I wrote were created with The Invisible Men. I had a relationship with them and they were really cool.”
HE AND NE-YO RECORDED A SONG TOGETHER: “I got to shoot the video [for 'Turn Around'] with him. I got to work in the studio with him. He’s a really cool guy, a close friend of mine within the music industry.”
Conor Maynard performs “Turn Around” on The Late Show With David Letterman
THERE’S ALSO A DUET WITH RITA ORA ON HIS ALBUM: “I actually met her before we got to work with each other,” Conor explains. “We are both kind of under the same management so I’ve known her for quite a while. I remember when she used to play me her stuff, and now it’s just blown up for both of us at the same time. I’m just really happy we got to go into the studio before that all happened, because right now it’d be absolutely crazy trying to get a duet [with her].”
SO DOES WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS STAY IN VEGAS?: Maynard laments, “That’s the problem. ‘I’ve got a song called ‘Vegas Girl’ and we’re gonna shoot the video in Vegas and be crazy and popping bottles!’ But, oh wait — I’m actually legally too young to do any of that in America, because [the legal age is] 21 in America, not 18.”
Conor Maynard — ”Vegas Girl”
Still, he makes lemons out of Limoncello. “The idea of the song in the end is that everyone knows that Vegas is the party center of the world. But I think the message is saying that you don’t actually have to be from Vegas or be in Vegas to party like you’re in Vegas. It’s more about who you’re with than where you are.”
We’ll raise a glass to that!
DON’T CALL CONOR THE NEXT JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: “Comparisons in general, you know, I’m not really trying to be the next Justin Timberlake,” he states. “I’m not really trying to be the next anything. For me it’s all about being the first Conor Maynard. [Timberlake] was a massive influence for me growing up, but at the same time I still think it’s a different thing. I think there are some songs on the album that you wouldn’t really hear him doing. Some songs would fit [with making that comparison], but some really don’t. Even when I was creating my album, I suppose, the motto I went with was that it’s better to fail in originality than it is to succeed in imitation. I wasn’t trying to copy anyone else. I was trying to be as original as possible.”
Conor Maynard feat. Ne-Yo — “Turn Around”
HIS THOUGHTS ON THE KING OF POP, MICHAEL JACKSON: “I’ve never seen a performer that’s greater than him,” Conor says. “I definitely still consider him one of the all-time greatest performers. He had it all. He had the voice that was incredible. His musical style was amazing. He was very professional about everything that he did. I heard that before he recorded a demo, he would warm up his voice for an hour. Everything he did was very on point and clever. He’s definitely an artist that I look up to.”
Does Conor’s debut album Contrast have you turning around? Brush up on his lyrics over at DirectLyrics.com, then let us know your thoughts on the talented Brit below, or by hitting us up on Facebook and Twitter!