By Marc Hirsh
October 16, 2018 at 06:24 PM EDT
Ser Baffo/Getty Images

More than a year after its appearance on her 2017 EP Ready, Ella Mai’s smash hit “Boo’d Up” became the little heartbeat-flutter that could, turning the 23-year-old artist into a household name. Now, the British singer has set pulses skipping anew with the release of her self-titled first album, which dropped earlier this month. Along with “Boo’d Up,” the LP includes Mai’s second R&B No. 1 hit, the piano-heavy groove “Trip,” along with appearances by John Legend and H.E.R.

The previous EPs were “like a little introductory peak,” she tells EW, adding that the new album is closer to “a full, complete story.” Ahead, Mai chats further about what that story means to her, growing up in England, and how “Boo’d Up” changed her life.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Ella Mai is your first album after three EP releases. Does this feel like a debut to you, or is it just another release, only longer?
It definitely feels like a debut. I think with the EPs, they were only five or six songs. Quite short, 20 minutes each. You can tell a story on an EP and you can show versatility, but I think that albums are really made for storytelling.

What was different from before “Boo’d Up” became a hit and since then? Is it just a signpost that tells you that you’re on the right path?
Ultimately, as a human being, I think I’m still very much the same person, but there’s definitely been a difference in my career and having a lot more eyes on me and a lot more people aware of who I am and the music that I make. I think that’s also why the debut album was so important, for people to really hear my versatility and how I like to put stuff together and make it into a story.

Is that why you also included “Boo’d Up” on the album in addition to on Ready?
Yeah. “Boo’d Up” has changed my life, and I think it would be a disservice to the song to not be on my debut album.

You were born and raised in England until you were 12, when you moved to New York, and then later moved back. Did that give you any kind of advantage as an artist?
I think so. Even just as a person, I think moving to New York and being taken out of my comfort zone and being placed somewhere where I didn’t know anyone, it helped me adapt in a lot of situations that a normal 12-year-old or 13-year-old wouldn’t probably be comfortable in. And it opened my eyes to see how different everywhere in the world is and how different people live.

Your album has appearances by John Legend, H.E.R., and Chris Brown, and you’re currently touring with Bruno Mars. I’m sure they probably gave you advice, but did you have any advice for them?
Um, no. Well, being that me and H.E.R. are in similar situations ­— we’re around the same age, we’re both up-and-coming R&B artists — I think it was very important for us to come together. Especially as women and as black women in an industry that’s so male-dominated and so focused on pitting women against each other, I think it was very important for the culture for us to really come together and make a real R&B song that everyone can love. But I don’t think there’s anything I can really tell them as advice, I think. Everyone’s path is a little bit different.

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