'That music was my time of music,' the English singer-songwriter tells EW

By Ruth Kinane
August 09, 2018 at 06:24 PM EDT
Credit: Ant Palmer/Getty Images

For English singer-songwriter Anne-Marie (last name Nicholson, though like all the greats, she goes by just her first), it’s never been better than the summer of 2002. So much so that she wrote a throwback ode to that very year, when bubblegum pop stars like Britney Spears and NSYNC ruled the airwaves and appeared on TRL on pretty much a daily basis, providing a soundtrack for the summer for teens around the globe.

It’s fitting then that 16 years later, Anne-Marie’s “2002” is a contender for song of the summer 2018. Not only does it evoke the nostalgia of summers gone by, it also shares the catchiness of that era’s pop ditties by quite literally sampling their lyrics in its chorus: “Oops, I got 99 problems singing bye, bye, bye / Hold up, if you wanna go and take a ride with me / Better hit me, baby, one more time.” (You got all those reference, right?) Those lines alone ensured the track would be a hit for anyone who enjoyed their teenage years in the early 2000s, as well as providing an invaluable education for anyone born a little too late to get it.

With her first album, Speak Your Mind, out now and a solo tour stopping off in the U.S., Australia, and the U.K. before the end of the year, Anne-Marie is on the precipice of something big — even bigger than taking the Song of the Summer crown, that is. So EW caught up with the singer (before she took to the stage in Vienna to open for Ed Sheeran) to find out all about the summer of 2002 and the summer of “2002.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I hear “2002” everywhere I go right now. You’ve been an established artist in the U.K. for years, but is it exciting knowing your music is reaching a wider audience?
It’s the dream, really. It’s amazing being heard in this country, the country I was born in, but soon as you start seeing it trickling into other places around the world, that’s like the craziest feeling. It’s insane. It’s just the power of the internet really, being able to get all around the world. I love it. It really feels incredible.

You co-wrote this song with Ed Sheeran. How did that come about?
Me and Ed have been friends for a long time now and we’ve always wanted to be in the studio with each other, but we’ve always been in different places. Then there was this one time we were in London at the same time and he just said off the cuff, “Come to the studio and let’s get this song done.” He had the idea of it already, and we just finished it that day. It’s amazing being in the studio with someone that you’re friends with because you just feel completely comfortable, and you can make mistakes and not be embarrassed. Little things like that just make it extra-special. He’s obviously one of the best songwriters ever, and I just love that song. I love it.

Is it true that you weren’t originally planning to release it as a single but changed your mind when Ed started pressuring you via social media?
It was a more recent song that was added to the album. When you’re writing the album, you have your ideas of what singles are going to be and you’re like, “Yes, this is the way we’re going to do it” and set out a plan, and then Ed was like, “I’m not going to stop bugging you until you put this song out.” And I was like, “Do you know what? We should just do it!” We kind of just threw away all the plans and just put it out. So yeah, it wasn’t planned, but it was a good one.

It’s so nostalgic, but also so catchy that even if you’re too young (or old) for the references, you can still enjoy it.
That’s exactly the balance I want in songs. It needs to be emotional, but it also needs to be catchy. If you have one more than the other, then it’s just a s— song. [Laughs]

You sample lyrics from Britney, NSYNC, Jay-Z, etc. in there. Did you pick those artists because they were special to you or because they fit lyrically?
That music was my time of music. I was constantly listening to it after school, when I got home and on the way home on the bus or whatever. There’s so many songs that could’ve been in it, but I think the beauty of it is that even for the kids that don’t know those songs because they’re too young, it still makes sense as a sentence and as a chorus. I think that’s what we needed to think about when it was happening because we wanted everyone to understand it. We wanted people to reminisce, and other people to think it’s just a catchy chorus as well.

Is the lyric “Dancing on the hood in the middle of the woods / Of an old Mustang” a throwback to NSYNC’s “Girlfriend” video? Or am I just too far gone in my nostalgia?
[Laughs] To be honest, the whole song is referencing back then and that was just like a nice bit of imagery to think of. It is a memory of that and just something cool to think about. I did want to be on top of a bonnet in the video, but we couldn’t fit that in.

Let’s talk about the music video: You get to recreate the video for Britney’s “Baby, One More Time,” NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye,” Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” and Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me.” Was that just an absolute blast to do?
I was living the dream. I think being Britney was the moment of my life. The whole video was just so cool. I worked with Hannah Lux Davis on it; she did the “FRIENDS” music video too, so I knew she was amazing. She wanted it to be reminiscent of those times and came up with the idea of re-enacting it — and I was just like, “This is the best!” I loved those clothes they wore back then, so just to get to dress like that for the day was a lot of fun.

You absolutely nail Britney’s facial expressions when you’re standing in front of the lockers. Did you have to go back and watch it and practice, or was that just within you, ready?
I just remembered it! I didn’t even have to go back and watch it; I just knew it in my soul. [Laughs] Honestly, I don’t know what happened to me at that point; I kind of just blanked out and let Britney take over my body. I watch it back and I don’t even remember doing that part. I was just totally in the moment.

“2002” is one of several hits off your first album, Speak Your Mind, along with Alarm,” “Ciao Adios,” and now “FRIENDS” with Marshmello. How has the reception been to the album overall?
It’s overwhelming. It took so long to make it that it felt like it was never going to come out. I always wanted to put an album out. My aim was to have that first body of work and show everyone all the sides of me instead of just hearing the singles on the radio; that’s why I love albums so much. I was so worried that albums just weren’t going to exist by the time mine was ready. I was like, “Come on, we have to put the album out while we still can!” It’s the best feeling ever, it really is, and to be able to do a tour called Speak Your Mind and be able to do the whole album and perform every song is great.

I love that a lot of the songs on the album have this “take no s— from guys” message. Was it important for you to impart that message to young girls, especially in this current climate?
Yeah, totally. For me, music was there for me when I was a teenager. I just needed to listen to something to get me through what was happening, or remind myself why I shouldn’t go back. Music taught me so much that I didn’t get from speaking to people, so I know how important it is through my own experience. So the thought of putting a song out that didn’t really mean anything was just a no-no for me. Every song I do, I try and make it as real as possible. I have to have experienced it because then I can explain the situation more. It has to actually mean something to me because when I’m performing it on stage, I have to be able to perform it. I can’t just sit there and sing a song that doesn’t mean anything; it would just be so boring. It’s important to have messages in music, definitely.