mxmtoon performs 'Prom Dress' for EW's In the Basement

November 15, 2019 at 12:00 PM EST

mxmtoon can remember her exact order at In-N-Out the night she wrote the chorus to “Prom Dress”: a Double-Double, animal-style fries, and a milkshake. This was 2018, and she was with her parents three weeks before her senior prom. mxmtoon’s vivid memory plays an important role in her recently released debut album, The Masquerade. The 19-year-old singer-songwriter tells EW that when she got home from dinner, she broke down into tears on the floor of her bedroom when she couldn’t fit in her dress, an image of teenage despair that propelled her to write — first a tweet, and then what would become her album’s second track, “Prom Dress.”

“I went to Twitter and said, ‘Crying in a prom dress. What a mood. Wait. I’m going to write a song about that. Don’t steal my idea,’” she recalls.

“Prom Dress” features mxmtoon, who also goes by her first name, Maia, and her signature ukulele as she ruminates about her high school experience. She recently performed the song for EW’s In the Basement series, where the Oakland-based artist opened up about the months-long process of molding the buoyant, introspective breakout.

“The moment that I had that experience with my prom dress, I sat down to write the chorus of ‘Prom Dress.’ I had the chorus for the song for a really long time,” she says. “I ended up changing the verses for almost a full year after I had written the initial chorus. It was the longest I had ever worked on a song before.”

“Prom Dress” is one of 10 songs featured in The Masquerade (the follow-up to her 2018 EP, Plum Blossom), which was recorded in Brooklyn in May and June along with acoustic versions of each of the produced tracks. “I always knew I wanted to do an acoustic version alongside all these produced songs because that’s where I started originally,” mxmtoon says. “It was just me and my ukelele and a vocal. That makes music a lot more accessible for the people that are listening to it to feel like they also can play those songs.”

The album’s title was inspired by a recurring experience with her mother, who walked into mxmtoon’s room the night she wrote “Prom Dress.” During late-night trips to the grocery store, they would sit in the parking lot and begin to tear up — even cry. “My mom would tell me that it was just us taking off our happy faces that we had to wear during the day,” she says.

That idea, of a “collective group of individuals walking into a place wearing faces that aren’t always genuine to what they’re actually going through,” resonated with her.

Her artist name was inspired by her father, who helped her come up with an Instagram username when she was 11 while she was pursuing visual arts. Maia’s initials are MXMT, and the “-oon” played off the word “cartoon.” It became her username for everything, and it stuck.

And as to what mxmtoon’s prom was really like?

“I didn’t’ have a date, but I went with my friends. I ate the food that was there. I did the Cha-Cha slide. I did the Cupid Shuffle. In my mind, that’s all you’re really required to do at a school dance,” she says.” “I texted my mom and said I was ready to come home and watch movies with them. I went home, took off my prom dress and donned my pajamas, and we watched Chef together.”

Watch mxmtoon perform “Prom Dress” above.

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