“My voice was taken by an institution [the Church] that actively caused me to hide parts of myself that I should have been able to live in”
BY ELLA GAUCI, IMAGE BY DOLLGIRL/AWAL RECORDINGS
It’s 2022. I’m in my childhood bedroom sobbing. I’ve just heard Fat Funny Friend by Maddie Zahm for the first time.
Maddie Zahm burst onto the music scene with her viral song Fat Funny Friend in 2022 after a small clip blew up on TikTok. Shortly after, her coming out song You Might Not Like Her also broke the internet, detailing her experiences with her queerness and religious trauma.
One and a half years after she released Fat Funny Friend, she joins me on a Zoom call after headlining for P!NK at BST Hyde Park this year. You rarely get to meet the singers that have impacted your life, and for once I’m tongue-tied. How can I tell Maddie that her songs have made me feel less alone? That they’ve nursed my tears and held me when no one else could? That she’s single-handedly given so many queer kids a voice?
Instead, we start talking about the heatwave in the UK, and (more importantly) her new single Where Did All The Good Kids Go which is out now.
Your song You Might Not Like Her has been such an important song for the queer community. What was it like releasing such an intimate song?
You Might Not Like Her wouldn’t have come out if it hadn’t been for my song Fat Funny Friend. At the time I wasn’t considering myself as an artist anymore, and I was just writing for other people’s projects. When I first wrote Fat Funny Friend I remember telling the people in my orbit that there was no way that the song was going to be released. It was too specific. I didn’t think anyone would relate to it. Some people told me to take the ‘Fat Funny Friend’ part out because it isolated people from connecting to it. For seven months it sat as a voice memo on my phone.
When I put a clip of it on TikTok it just blew up. That’s when I realised that my most personal, specific, and original experiences were universal. I felt less alone. It was around that time that I wrote You Might Not Like Her. I remember having the same thought again that it was never going to be released. But after Fat Funny Friend I realised that the things that scared me the most were the things that people related to.
If I didn’t do Fat Funny Friend, I don’t think I would be out right now. That EP made me step into the person that I knew I was.
What was it like in the lead-up to You Might Not Like Her? Were you worried about coming out?
Obviously, I was scared. But in the months leading up to You Might Not Like Her I had been forced to do a lot of self-discovery and have these really hard conversations. I finally came out to my parents and they asked me: “Are you sure that you’re ready to tell everyone this?” That was a question that stuck with me, and I had to decide whether I was ready to own it. I was a baby gay – I still am!
I had all of these fears that I had to catch up to really quickly. It forced me to acknowledge all the things that I had been pushing away. But by the time that I posted the song, I had done the hard couple of months of coming out to people.
So I just fully sent it, and I’m so glad that I did. It was the perfect coming out for me. It wasn’t perfect, but it was my version of perfect.
Your songs have connected to so many people, and seeing you perform them live is so magical. You speak about religious trauma in the song, what’s been the response from other people in the same situation as you?
For me, one of the things I struggled with in my song If It’s Not God is that a lot of people made my religious trauma about whether or not I believe in God anymore. I think anyone wondering about it missed the point of the song. The biggest takeaway from that song is that I don’t know what my faith is. I don’t feel like I have to know, and I don’t feel like it’s anyone’s business to know. I don’t feel the need to adopt a label.
My voice was taken by an institution [the Church] that actively caused me to hide parts of myself that I should have been able to live in. I believe that any institution that is saying that they are an abundance of love while actively hurting people that I love – and myself – isn’t something that I’m going to stand behind.
If It’s Not God was about me being a worship leader who was taught to use my voice to actively harm a community that would have loved me a lot better than the community I was supporting. Looking back, If It’s Not God was a way of me reclaiming that and using the voice that the Church taught me to use against it.
For the people in the Church, I hope my music starts a conversation and I hope it’s really uncomfortable. And for the people outside the Church struggling with their sexuality or faith, I hope that I provide an example of not having an answer and allowing yourself to live on a blank canvas for a bit. You can take a breath. If people want you to immediately say what you believe or don’t, those are not people that want to see you grow.
Your song Where Did All The Good Kids Go has just come out, and then your album Now That I’ve Been Honest is coming out in October. What can we expect from these new releases?
With the EP I tried to make it sound like worship music sounds like in the Church, and I wanted to continue that in the album. Where Did All The Good Kids Go is an introduction to all the journeys I’m going to take people on in the album. It’s a perfect way to start the album as it opens up the question of ‘I’ve deconstructed, now what?’
The album is chronological from the moment I released the EP going forward. It tells a story of me figuring shit out. I thought the best way to transition from the EP was to start with something that sounded similar and then immediately go into the first love song I wrote about my best friend who was a girl.
How does it feel to be able to sing about queer love?
Amazing! The songs that I write about girls are so much better. I became a better writer when I came out. The emotion is different. The feeling is different. There’s an intentionality and a deepness that I didn’t get when I would write about boys. It’s liberating.
What do you wish that you could tell your younger self?
That I’ve got time. And that you don’t have to be certain. You don’t have to feel like you have everything figured out. The moment you feel like you have it figured out is the moment everything changes. I would tell her to live in the grey a little more.
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