Maggie Rogers: Meet Pharrell's New Folk-Pop Protege

How a banjo-playing NYU student became the star producer's favorite new songwriter

Maggie Rogers did not know she was about to become a viral sensation when she stepped into class at NYU's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music last spring. "We knew there was going to be a guest, but we had no idea it was going to be Pharrell," says Rogers, a freckled 22-year-old in jeans and big earrings, over coffee in New York. Pharrell Williams had come to give feedback on student music. The class would be filmed and put on his YouTube channel. Rogers played him "Alaska," a synthy folk-pop tune about walking off a failed romance on a hiking trip. The performance nearly moved Williams to tears. As Rogers grinned, he compared her originality to Stevie Wonder and the inventors of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Someone posted the moment on Reddit, and it went viral. "I started getting a lot of texts," says Rogers. "I didn't even know what Reddit was." She has since signed a deal with Capitol and just released an EP, Now That the Light Is Fading.

As overnight as Rogers' success may seem, she has been prepping for it most of her life. Growing up, she learned to play harp, guitar and banjo, impressing high school classmates with covers of Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. During a semester abroad in 2015, she visited a dance club in Berlin. "It changed everything," she says. "I wanted to play a show that kids my age would want to come to and get high for."

Before graduation, Rogers planned to work as a freelance writer while releasing music independently. Now, she's planning a full album and a tour that includes a stop at Lollapalooza. "I spent last summer having weird label dinners with 50-year-old men," she says. "There are a lot of things worse to be than the 'Pharrell girl.' I hope that'll wear off. I really want to make a great record, like my Rumours or Thriller."