By Sara Radin
Maggie Rogers was not prepared nor planning for fame. In fact, one could say it’s something that happened to her, all thanks to a viral video from 2016 of Pharrell Williams delightfully listening to her song “Alaska.” At that time, Rogers was a senior attending New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, but found herself struggling with a period of writer’s block. In January 2019, she explained to The New York Times, “All my teachers were really frustrated with me.” Having spent time working for music journalist Lizzy Goodman and interning at publications such as Elle and Spin, Rogers contemplated a career in music journalism as a last resort.
“I’ve never heard anyone like you before,” Pharrell, then an NYU artist-in-residence, tells Rogers in the video. “That’s a drug for me.” The song she played for the famed musician that fateful day had only been drafted in 15 minutes but it still received millions of views and immediately thrust the singer-songwriter into the spotlight. Now, three years later, the folkie pop singer has released her debut album Heard It In a Past Life and gone on multiple tours (including one with Mumford & Sons), bringing her candescent, warm spirit to cities across the U.S. and U.K.
Yet despite her many accolades, sold-out shows, and hit singles, Rogers seems to present herself in a way that’s distinct from most pop stars today: Until recently she styled herself for all of her public appearances, she likes to shares bits of her process on social media, and has been incredibly open about the challenge of navigating virality you didn’t ask for and the highs and lows of being a public figure. In this way, she embodies a refreshing sense of approachability, making her feel almost within reach — like that friend of a friend you see out at parties sometimes who is always really kind and has cool style.
These days, as Rogers rises further into the spotlight, she remains humble and authentic, showing her fans that it’s OK to not have all the answers while also reminding them of their humanity in everything that she does. A few days before her big Coachella performance and three years after “Alaska” first spread like wildfire, the rising singer tells MTV News why she loves glitter, her latest self-care purchase — a pillow — and the importance of processing.
MTV News: I really appreciate how honest you’ve been about being unprepared for the spotlight and not having control over your song and story going viral. How did you work your way back to being yourself after going through that experience?
Maggie Rogers: I don’t know if it was coming back to being myself. I feel like I’ve been myself the whole time. It’s just I think that every time you’re in a new situation you’re forced to work through new variables. The challenge for me was processing this intense amount of information and energy coming my way and then trying to really sit down and make decisions that felt like me. I had to take a second to validate everything I was feeling and give myself permission to feel all these things and then use that to fuel my art.
MTV News: Do you ever have any regrets over not being a music journalist?
Rogers: Not these days. When you’re super passionate about something you’re more willing to do all of the grunt work. You know, like, I’m so willing to live on a bus for my whole life because that means I get that one moment on stage or that one moment in the studio that totally fills me. I didn’t have that for journalism but it made me really appreciate what I had with music that much more. I still love writing, talking to other artists, and thinking about music and culture. That is very much a part of my life, my creative practice, and the way that I think about the world. [Journalism] is just not my primary passion. I feel really lucky and grateful that I get to make my primary passion my real life.
MTV News: How do you navigate long periods of writer’s block and do you have any tips for getting through it?
Rogers: I’ve always used music to tell me who I am in a singular moment and I’ve only had one long period of writer’s block in my life, which was when I was in college, when I moved from the super rural area in Maryland to New York City. Like most people in college, I just wasn’t really sure who I was. I was changing, and tried to take the time to notice that change. Now, whenever I’m having trouble with writing it usually has to do with my self-critic being too loud so I’ve made a lot of effort to try and separate the process of creating and editing because I think if you’re trying to edit as you’re making stuff, you’ll just end up getting in your own way.
MTV News: What kind of things do you do for your self-care when you’re on the road?
Rogers: Self-care is something I’m learning a lot about right now. I’ve been trying out different things on the road to feed my brain, my body and my soul. I spend a lot of time reading and try to make sure that I can get a little bit of alone time every day. I’ve always measured a good day as one where I can read, write, and run. Recently, I bought myself a pillow for the bus from Bed Bath & Beyond, and that’s been a game changer. I also invested in a Bluetooth speaker because I don’t know where my home really is right now, but wherever I am living, there’s always been a record player and I love having music around me.
MTV News: Do you have any weird or unexpected pre-concert or pre-tour rituals?
Rogers: Everybody wants to hear the weird stuff, but I just do normal things like a vocal warm up. I try and hydrate. I tell my band I love them. Oh, and then, I put some glitter on.
MTV News: You seem to really love glitter. Are you still styling yourself or public appearances and how do you decide what you want to wear for different performances?
Rogers: I just started working with a new stylist but she hasn’t styled me for anything publicly yet. Dressing for the stage is something I’m really still learning. I’ve been through periods of time where I’ve worn really elaborate, colorful costumes but a lot of that had to do with the fact that I was really scared and overwhelmed. Then I went to a place where I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, but suddenly my daily clothes felt like a costume. So now I wear some kind of hybrid. It’s constantly evolving but I love being playful on stage. With glitter, it’s just so silly and there’s this sort of middle-school sleepover element that I like to incorporate into my stage life. It’s not everyday you get to be a pop star.
MTV News: In all of your music videos and the videos I’ve seen of you performing on stage it seems like you’re really letting go and that’s what your music inspires me to do for myself.
Rogers: Sometimes you just need to dance it out and physically move through things. It’s been special to see people at these shows really let go. Everyone knows what it’s like to feel sad and everybody is going through their own shit. And sometimes it’s just nice to be with a group of people together in a room and feel things at the same time.
MTV News: So how does it feel to be selling out venues you never dreamed you’d play at?
Rogers: It is very surreal. I’m very much still processing all of that. Everything is moving quickly but I’m so excited and grateful.
MTV News: What do you like most about being on tour?
Rogers: Touring is really hard. I mean, I live in a bus with 12 people and we have no real sleep schedule. But being able to see that moment at the end of the night where people are really radiating and moving through some things makes me feels like I’m doing some kind of energy work in the world and that is pretty fulfilling.