By Ethan James Young
Have you ever listened to or watched an artist perform and thought that they were bigger than they actually were? Where they and everyone else on stage were just oozing talent, commanding the room to dance and feel empowered? For me, that person is Nicole McMahan.
The first time I saw her play live was one of those concerts I will always remember. Before she got on stage at The Boardwalk, I felt inspired by each of her various openers doing amazing things with the music they were performing. When it was finally her turn, Nicole McMahan ended the night with me disappointed that her set couldn’t have been just one song longer. While she may still have more opportunities to grow as an artist, Nicole McMahan has still made a decent splash with her music the last couple of years.
“I honestly can’t imagine writing songs and never releasing them,” Nicole McMahan said regarding finally releasing new music. “That sounds like purgatory.”
But for a while, Nicole McMahan was in her own self-inflicted purgatory. Like most people, Nicole McMahan was blindly confident and open in ways that could best be described as harmful boundary-less-ness during her high school years. The blissful ignorance of being a teenager. As McMahan put it, “I’ve spent too much of my life trying to please people and institutions that were incapable of fully accepting me in what I feel is my true essence.” Through her years going to university and simply being an adult, she began to grow to understand that confidence isn’t necessarily putting your heart on your sleeve. Even being quiet can be a sign of confidence.
Nicole McMahan’s musical journey followed a similar path. Originally, Nicole McMahan wrote mostly in the acoustic folk style, a very heartfelt, vulnerable genre, and performed musical theater – a genre that, by its nature, tells it all. Once she broke her elbow and was forced to write and produce in a different way, Nicole’s musicality grew.
Nicole McMahan found her cup of “cozy hug Chai Tea” in 80s inspired RnB Pop with the help of her husband, Gavin McMahan.
“I think funk and RnB have such a wide variety of sounds, feels, and colors that it makes being an artist in those genres really exciting,” she says. And what a genre she has curated: with such a wide variety of sound and approaches to RnB, the colorful sound of her music seems to say that nobody is just one thing.
The messages that Nicole McMahan has to share go beyond the music. With so much personal growth and a background of storytelling in her music, Nicole McMahan’s songwriting approach reflects that. Nicole McMahan takes a lyrics-first approach, allowing a greater focus on the words and thus the message of the song before adding the vibrant colors of the production and arrangement.
“Cup of Tea,” her latest single, is a perfect reflection of Nicole McMahan and her music. The lyrical message is that if you are going to please anyone, you might as well please yourself. With a bright, empowering arrangement where even the cliché-yet-confident 90s styled orchestra hits sound cool as cucumbers, Nicole McMahan seems to have figured out her artistry. I can see her making big, confident strides in the wider music industry.
“I hope that my music cultivates a feeling of confidence and self compassion,” she says. “Being a woman, I am very concerned with feminine empowerment and hope that my women listeners get a boost and feeling of solidarity from my music. I hope that when people listen to it they can feel like they can take up space, speak their mind, and live more authentically to themselves.”
Nicole McMahan is working hard in the studio making her next hits. Hopefully, with the songs of Nicole McMahan, RnB Pop can find its confident place in the Utah music scene and, more importantly, your music rotation.
Make sure to follow Nicole McMahan on Instagram. You can listen to “Cup of Tea” below!