After making a name for herself with her singles such as 2017’s “Places We Were Made,” a lyrical love letter to her hometown, and 2018’s wildly popular “Worst of You,” it finally appeared as though 21-year-old Brighton native Maisie Peters was going to have the chance to break out into the mainstream. It was February 2020, and she was set to be accompanying Niall Horan on tour later that year.
And then COVID-19 happened.
With a potentially career-altering tour canceled, many would have succumbed to the gut-wrenching devastation of these unfortunate circumstances. But Peters did not allow the setback to break her stride. She used the remainder of 2020 and the newly freed-up schedule quarantine provided her to begin penning not just one, but two original albums: the 14-track, 46-minute-long You Signed Up For This (2021) and another album of 9 originals for Apple TV’s Trying season two.
On You Signed Up For This, an album of growth, wit, vulnerability, and self-reliance, Peters hits a wide-range of emotional beats with a remarkable finesse that will leave you wondering why you have not yet seen her name popping up on the U.S. Top 40 charts. At only 5-foot-1, Peters may be small in stature, but her stunning lyricism and breathtaking vocal performance certainly place her among the pop giants.
In many ways, this album feels like the older sister of Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour (2021), a similarity that can perhaps be attributed to Rodrigo’s and Peters’s mutual citation of the one and only Taylor Swift as a key inspiration for their songwriting. Both albums grapple with similar themes of playful self-deprecation (especially in their openers), innocent, wide-eyed longing, and the cruel sting of a lover’s betrayal. However, where Sour captures a distinctly teenage, more melodramatic outlook, You Signed Up For This approaches these scenarios with a graceful maturity that only more life experience can bring (even though Rodrigo got her driver’s license first).
One of the most important details of this debut album is its seemingly effortless ability to capture the duality of the young adult experience. Like Walt Whitman in his famous poem “Song of Myself,” You Signed Up For This contains multitudes (a quality perhaps reflective of the “gemini panic” she mentions in “Brooklyn”). It cannot be summarized in one or two simple feelings. Instead, an entire color palette of emotions is on display and these kaleidoscopic complexities add immense depth to the album. Back-to-back tracks “Psycho” (a collaboration with Ed Sheeran) and “Boy” are edgy, brash, and angsty. “Hollow” and “Tough Act” encapsulate brokenness following a breakup. “Volcano” and “Villain” are soft yet sharp, fragile yet fiery. “Outdoor Pool” and “Talking to Strangers” are tender and innocent in their childlike adoration. This wide range of tones perfectly reflects the authentically multifaceted and often confusing nature of the young adult experience while still feeling cohesive as a body of work.
Even when things do not go her way, Peters bounces back from every devastation with resilient optimism and an affirmed sense of self.
Nowhere is this resilient optimism and strong sense of self more apparent than on the opening track, “You Signed Up For This.” The synth-filled autobiographical title song instantly captivates with its unflinching honesty and fervent positivity in its motivation towards self-improvement. Peters unapologetically lists her many quirks rapid-fire, embracing all of these details as an intrinsic part of the wonderful collage that formulates her identity.
The third song on the album is the electric “John Hughes Movie.” A song soaked in a crystal clear confidence, the protagonist of this tune is turned down by her crush, but gracefully accepts the romantic rejection without internalizing it. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, she laughs it off, relieved to have not wasted her time with someone who could never love her the way she deserves to be loved. This message is incredibly refreshing and the chorus is utterly explosive and infectious. “John Hughes Movie” is a clear highlight of the album, and every repeat listen solidifies it more as one of the best pop songs of 2021.
From the vivacious snaps and claps that mimic a drumbeat in the background of “I’m Trying (Not Friends)” to the soft “ooh’s” and strings in “Love Him I Don’t,” the production on You Signed Up For This is especially impressive for a debut. One of the most unique instrumentations is on “Brooklyn,” a song detailing Peters’s heartfelt relationship with her twin sister, Ellen. The piano coupled with the rhythmic clicks combine to create a track that is simultaneously upbeat and lowkey. And these are only a few notable examples—the album’s sound design is truly solid all around. The vocal production, too, is stellar: Peters’s light and wispy, almost fairy-like soprano voice floats over every song with a stunning tonality that is oh-so-pleasing to the ear.
Peters’s songwriting is fast-paced and narrative-focused. Each song bursts at the seams with witty, layered lyricisms that are a pleasure to unpack upon repeat listens. Songs like “Talking to Strangers” and “Outdoor Pool” use their acute lyrical reflections to tell stories that are both specific to her life and universally identifiable, a style reminiscent of Swift. Additionally, the album derives a vibrant and youthful ambiance from several hilarious, irresistibly quotable lines. Some might argue that these borderline cheesy lines, like one that self-deprecatingly details Peters’s embarrassing affinity for “calling guys with guitars in a cemetery,” feel shoehorned in for the sake of t-shirt-worthy manufactured eccentricity. However, Peters’s endearing down-to-earth charm more or less allows her to get away with it, and listeners simply end up laughing right alongside her.
This album came at the perfect time for me. Although adolescence is characterized by confusion, no time is more disorienting than the transition to college when you are on your own for the first time. Amidst the jumble of emotions that have accompanied the start of my freshman year experience, You Signed Up For This has been able to verbalize many of the previously stirring—yet dormant—musings that have been racking my brain.
As the album title suggests, we signed up for this. We signed up to hear about all of the different, intimately intermingled facets of Peters’s life—and by the end of the album, we are so glad we did.