Talking to strangers: the Mazziememes story

British+singer+Maisie+Peters+performs+at+the+El+Rey+theatre+for+her+%E2%80%98You+Signed+Up+For+This%E2%80%99+tour+

“Maisie Peters 2022 El Rey”/Justin Higuchi/Used with permission of the author

British singer Maisie Peters performs at the El Rey theatre for her ‘You Signed Up For This’ tour

Twelve and a half thousand followers.

That’s the number a meme account, dedicated to British singer Maisie Peters, boasts. Scrolling through their Instagram page, you stumble down a rabbit hole of bright pink, 1:1-sized nuggets of satire. Surprisingly, the most inspiring part of this account, run by Shayla Freeman and Malou van Vugt, isn’t the fact that it receives regular notice from the artist it was built for. It’s the fact that 12,500 people venture to the page every week for comfort. Twelve thousand five hundred people hailing from various countries across the globe…all for memes about a British pop star.

To exist so immaculately in a generally toxic online environment, Mazziememes must be doing something differently. Why on Earth is it so important to those 12,500 people, and furthermore, why has it been so critical in Peters’ career?

Peters at only 22 years of age, has managed to amass 3.7 million monthly listeners on Spotify and 374,000 followers on Instagram

After gaining some prominence by posting covers and original songs on YouTube, Peters released four singles between 2017 and 2018 before publishing her 2018 debut EP “Dressed Too Nice For A Jacket.” She released a second EP, “It’s Your Bed Babe, It’s Your Funeral” in 2019 and a long-awaited debut album titled “You Signed Up For This” in the autumn of 2021. She has also written music that was featured in mainstream media: “Smile,” a single for the Harley Quinn movie “Birds of Prey,” and penned a soundtrack for season two of “Trying,” a British comedy.

Peters was also the first artist to be signed onto fellow British singer Ed Sheeran’s record label, Gingerbread Man Records. The two are close friends and Peters was a supporting act on Sheeran’s 2022 “=” tour, resulting in cameos on each other’s TikToks. 

On the 2021 VMA red carpet, Sheeran spoke to Billboard about his admiration for Peters: “She knows how to work her fanbase. It’s the same with me in 2011 and Twitter. It’s the same with her amazing fanbase now.”

Peters’ relationship with her fans is quite possibly the most remarkable aspect of her career.

In an age where social media platforms like TikTok have rapidly produced hits that burn out in the span of mere weeks, Peters’ consistent fan base is anomalous. That’s not to say that her music doesn’t thrive on TikTok…it certainly does – as exemplified by trends using audio from her 2022 single “Good Enough”. The unique thing about Peters when it comes to being an artist on social media is her ability to keep her listeners engaged between releases. To understand why this is, one must first understand the fan powerhouse that is Mazziememes.

Freeman and van Vugt were respectively established in the Peters fan community prior to collaborating with one another. Freeman was a consistent commenter on Peters’ Instagram posts and eventually began posting memes centered around the artist for fun, while van Vugt was primarily active on Twitter and dabbled in fan projects of various kinds.

Freeman came to van Vugt in early 2020 with the idea of joining forces and creating what is now the most popular Peters fan Instagram account: Mazziememes. 

“Shayla DM’d me in February of 2020 and [said], ‘I don’t have any friends who are a fan of Maisie…do you want to be friends?’” van Vugt said. “I accepted her request. In March 2020, Maisie was teasing ‘Daydreams’ and then someone messaged us both if we want to be in a group chat…and that’s basically how we started talking. We know each other because of Maisie.”

It’s no doubt that social media, combined with the mutual love of Peters’ music, made the friendship possible. In fact, the two are from separate countries entirely. Freeman is from the United States, while van Vugt is from the Netherlands. 

Van Vugt specifically is rather notorious in the Peters community for her attachment to an unreleased song, “Girls House.” The song was teased by Peters in a TikTok and attracted van Vugt because of how much it strayed, sonically, from the rest of Peters’ discography.

“The reason I’m so personally invested in it is because I somehow decided to DM her, asking what I have to do for it, just as a joke-y thing,” van Vugt said.

Peters gave van Vugt a series of small tasks – getting the TikTok to 50,000 likes and scoring 1,000 comments – both of which van Vugt promptly achieved. Unfortunately, Peters did not stick by her promise to van Vugt and apologetically informed her audience that she could not tease any more of “Girls House” per her management.

“If there’s something about ‘Girls House,’ there will be comments like, ‘Justice for Mal.’ It’s not really about the song anymore. It’s been going on for so long, I can’t stop talking about it. Of course, I do want the song, but it’s just kind of my personality. If I can make something about ‘Girls House,’ I will.”

Understanding this joke is arguably one of the unspoken but quintessential initiation steps into the fandom…though it is understood to be more personal to van Vugt seeing as she sports a “Girls House” tattoo on her forearm.

Outside of Peters’ published catalog, ‘Girls House’ is one of her best-known songs, which proves the power fan communities wield when it comes to an artist’s success. The whole situation is nothing if not indicative of the sort of zeal an artist strives for and the sort of personal connection a fan hopes for.

Principally, a devoted fan community relies on the individual connections between the artist and the listener.

“She was the support act for a concert I went to and I [thought], ‘I don’t know this Maisie Peters girl, I’ll look her up,’ so I looked her up and listened to a few songs. A few days later I went to the show and I saw her perform and I was front row…and then I [thought], ‘Oh she’s nice…I love her,’ but I wasn’t into it immediately. I started listening more and more,” van Vugt said.

While Freeman and van Vugt found Peters through her music, they stayed because of her character, which ultimately led to something bigger.

“It was four years ago, she was on my ‘Discover Weekly’ on Spotify and it was ‘Worst of You.’ I was in a really bad space at the time and I heard that song and I [thought], ‘She is just like me.’ I started listening to all of her music and I followed her. I very quickly got obsessed with her and I was posting about her all the time,” Freeman said.

Although Peters’ relatability is undoubtedly rooted in the personal connections she establishes with fans, there is something to be said about her branding as an artist.

“She’s online a lot and she posts about her life, not just her music. That’s something that people really like seeing. She’s just a normal human being. That’s a good thing to have as an artist,” van Vugt said. 

Peters is able to use social media as a tool to gather a reliable audience. By channeling her intrinsic charisma – star quality, some may say – into minute-long videos, she is able to build a rapport with her listeners.

“At first she didn’t show a lot of her personality but as time progressed she got more comfortable. She started posting TikToks and showing her sense of humor. Maisie is definitely unique because you can see a lot of her personality in her music and all of her TikToks,” Freeman said.

By displaying a genuine personality and interest in her fans, Peters establishes herself as more of a musical confidant and less of a detached industry tool.

“There are a lot of bigger artists that I don’t see have that connection. [As a bigger artist], it’s harder to have that connection. Even if Maisie gets really big, she will still talk to us like she does now. Maybe she’ll have less time but she won’t just abandon that. When you commit to being an artist you have to decide what kind of role model you want to be,” van Vugt said. 

The online community surrounding Peters and her music is quite intimate, despite the fame and mystique that results from her celebrity. It often feels more like a large group of friends, one in the tens of thousands, than it does an Instagram demographic.

“If Maisie did something funny, sometimes a meme would just pop into my head and I would be like, ‘Oh my god, this is funny, I need to do this,’ so I would just make it and tweet it to her. For some reason, she would always see it and interact with it,” van Vugt said.

Beyond Mazziememes is a plethora of fan accounts dedicated to producing content inspired by artists. One such account is “dancingwithourreputations,” a fan account run by Abbie Anderson.

She is a 19-year-old from Scotland who found Peters’ music amid the marketing push for her 2022 single, “Cate’s Brother” and took a liking to the “You Signed Up For This” album.

She began her account primarily for Taylor Swift fan art, although she does have a few Maisie Peters-related posts, namely a hand-drawn rendition of the cover art for Peter’s recent single, “Blonde.” 

She has been creating art for her entire life, however, she pursued it more seriously via Instagram when she became a “Swiftie” and took an interest in colorful portrayals of the artist’s photos. 

“Being in a fandom is always mainly about the love for the actor/musician, but a welcoming and supportive fandom can solidify your place,” Anderson said. “Fandoms really help me have fun and keep me distracted when I’m having a hard time…Maisie and Taylor’s communities have been the most supportive and kind I’ve ever come across. I’ve made lifelong friends from having a common interest.”

Online communities such as Mazziememes provide a safe space for fans to express their love of artists and even personally connect with them. Thanks to the glory of networking and the unlimited potential of social media, the outreach of internet communities transcends national, or even continental, borders.

“I’m not a different person when I’m on Mazziememes, but there are different versions of [myself]…I feel like sometimes I do want to escape to that version that I am on Mazziememes. It is nice because sometimes you know that if you post on Mazziememes, people will mostly give you positive feedback and kind of…worship you sometimes,” van Vugt said. “That is really surreal. It does kind of feel like a nice escape from reality.”

Because of their influential involvement in the Peters community, Freeman and van Vugt are considered niche internet micro-celebrities. As reflected in van Vugt’s sentiments, this minor prominence in a community can serve as an escape from the real world by forming a sense of importance in the creator. Van Vugt obviously knows that very few people on the street are going to ask for an autograph, however, it is still a comfort to know that there are still tens of thousands of people who tune in for her and Freeman’s memes on a weekly basis.

While van Vugt is a young adult, Freeman is still in high school. The teenage years are among the most formative in one’s life, and feelings of loneliness are not uncommon. Because of Mazziememes and the entire internet empire it supports, Freeman has something to fall back on in her darker moments.

“Mazziememes is a huge comfort for me. It’s given me so many opportunities to get closer with Maisie and I’ve met so many friends through it, some people who are now my closest friends,” Freeman said. “A few months ago, people started making fan pages for us. That was so funny. No matter what happens in my life and how many people at my school don’t like me, no one else at my school has fan pages for them.”

No matter what happens in my life and how many people at my school don’t like me, no one else at my school has fan pages for them. ”

— Shayla Freeman

One could say that Mazziememes’ biggest fan is Peters herself, who has been jokingly quoted by Mazziememes as saying it is the “backbone of my entire career.”

“A few months ago, I went to Colorado to see her [in concert]. She was so excited to see me…she ran past everyone to hug me. It was the sweetest thing ever, I [thought], ‘I am never shutting up about this,’” Freeman said.

And while Peters values all of her fans, the personal connection between her and the Mazziememes administrators is special.

“If we didn’t have Mazziememes I don’t think that whole thing would have happened,” van Vugt said.

Peters’ online community, and many others, have enabled fans like Freeman and van Vugt to connect with the artist and, of equal importance, fellow fans.

“Everyone is so nice and so sweet to each other, it really is a different experience to be on the other side of that. It’s very heartwarming, I would say. Social media can be a good thing – it can be a great way to connect with people who have similar interests as you,” Freeman said.

Through social media, Mazziememes and their followers have been able to connect with Peters and support her in ways the typical music fans cannot. While it would be unfair to say that Peters’ career has been entirely reliant on her deep relationship with her fans, it isn’t much of a stretch to attribute a good portion of her success to strong fan communities such as Mazziememes.

Mazziememes can be used as a case study for the positive impacts of social media and the connections it forges. While social media can undoubtedly be harmful, it can also bring people together and build a sense of community that would have been harder to achieve in the days preceding its creation. Whether a teenager going through the motions of growing up, a young adult navigating independence or any identity in between, online communities –  when constructed carefully – can reap many benefits.

“It feels kind of like a warm hug,” Freeman said.