You probably know more Anne-Marie songs than you realise. The 26-year-old from Essex turned painful experiences with cheating boyfriends - ex-boyfriends now - into the infectious radio hits "Ciao Adios" and "Alarm". She also supplied the soulful vocals on "Rockabye", Clean Bandit's chart-topping celebration of tough single mothers. Now she's back in the charts with "Friends", a playful pop song about placing an unwanted admirer firmly in the friend zone.
"There are times when I lie in bed and think, 'I've achieved all this stuff. Fucking hell. This is actually me,'" Anne-Marie Nicholson says, sounding a little freaked out by her success. "But most of the time when I'm travelling the world and meeting all these different people, it's almost like an out-of-body experience or something. Most of the time, I just feel like normal Anne-Marie from Essex."
Her schedule doesn’t sound normal. She battling jet lag following a work trip to L.A., but can't stay in bed because she has tour rehearsals. She's busy promoting Speak Your Mind, her upcoming debut album, and preparing to open for Ed Sheeran at his European stadium shows. It's a gruelling schedule, and no one could accuse her of being a shirker. Before she committed to music around five years ago, she did stints in West End musicals and, get this, won several international Karate championships. She says songwriting gives her the same emotional release she once got from Karate – “only this way, it’s a bit less aggressive."
Anne-Marie is chatty, honest and surprisingly self-deprecating. It's a vague term blunted by over-use on second-rate reality shows, but Anne-Marie's 'realness' is what makes Speak Your Mind compelling. Whether she's getting political on anti-gun anthem "Trigger" or nostalgic on the breezy Ed Sheeran co-write "2002", Anne-Marie is a singer you believe.
On standout track "Perfect", she reels off her insecurities. "Sometimes I wake up late and don't even brush my teeth," she sings. "Just wanna stuff my face with leftover mac and cheese."
I just wrote down everything I'm embarrassed about, all the stuff I do on my own when no one else is watching
"I've probably tried about 10 times to write a song like this,”she explains. "But it's always ended up being really preachy. Like, 'love yourself, you gotta love yourself.' Honestly, I couldn't deal with having a song like that. No way. But this time, I’d been watching loads of YouTube videos of women talking about body-confidence. I felt really empowered and just wanted to write a song that reflected that. So my co-writer Jennifer said to me, 'Right, tell me all your insecurities about you, your body and your life in general. So I just wrote down everything I'm embarrassed about, all the stuff I do on my own when no one else is watching. And it all ended up going into the song."
By singing about her insecurities, Anne-Marie feels she's taken ownership of them. "Now, every time I sing that song, I actually feel better. Hopefully the song does that for other people too. There's some quite funny stuff in there, but mainly I want people to put it on if they've had a bad day. If someone's taken the piss out of them, or they've seen a bad comment about themselves, I want "Perfect" to be the song they reach for to make them feel better."
On the song "Machine", Anne-Marie deals with the realisation that she's an empath - defined as someone with an enhanced ability to feel the emotional or mental state of others.
"At first I thought I had bipolar because I was really high and then low," she recalls. "My mum has SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) so I also thought it might be that. After really major bad events, I'd be in bed for, like, three days. I was getting like, 'What is this?' So I did some research and went to a therapist and eventually we figured it out. You know, it does affect my daily life. Because if I'm around any kind of feeling, I become that feeling. Even if I'm just in a taxi, I'll pick up whatever mood the driver's in. It's quite scary knowing I could wake up in a really great place and then have a really bad taxi journey and end up feeling really low. It's a lot to deal with."
She believes this helps her songwriting. She wrote the album's most emotional ballad "Then" after hearing that a musical collaborator had split from with his longtime partner. "I love being able to feel how someone is feeling because it helps me understand people's points of view and why they act the way they do," she explains. "I do love having it, but it can be exhausting. I want to be able to step out of that bad mood after it happens rather than staying in it for two hours. The main thing I'm trying to achieve now is just being able to control it.”
Encouragingly, Anne-Marie says she’s never had any trouble controlling her own career. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot about music industry "sharks" who tend to disregard the opinions of young female artists, but she says she has been respected. “Most people I've surrounded myself with are very trusting of my opinion. Maybe I've done a few things along the way that have made them trust my instinct? Either way, I've definitely got good people around me. I don't know what other people deal with in the music industry. But because of the kind of person I am, I don't think I'd put up with that shit. I'd just be like, 'Fucking listen to me!'" There's no doubt people are listening to her now.
Anne-Marie's album Speak Your Mind is out 27th April and she tours the UK and Ireland with Ed Sheeran from 4th May. Find her on Twitter @AnneMarie