Rising British pop star MNEK wants to be visible for younger, black gay men. Matthew Wade spoke to him about coming out, music, and living in a white world.
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As a child, pop star MNEK couldn’t see anyone like himself in television or film.
White gay men had Freddie Mercury, Elton John, and more recently Sam Smith, but there weren’t many black gay men bringing visibility to the table.
“And when you’re a minority within a minority, you struggle to find a place where you belong.
“I never saw anyone who looked like me, and it played a major role in me not feeling accepted.”
MNEK is a British singer and songwriter, and has written and produced songs for the likes of Beyoncé (“Hold Up”), Madonna (“Living For Love”, “Hold Tight”), and Kylie Minogue (“Feels So Good”).
Now, he’s gearing up to release his own debut album after dropping the hypersexual and unashamedly gay anthem ‘Tongue’.
Despite the outspoken nature of the track, MNEK says he wasn’t always this comfortable being gay. Rather, it was something he wasn’t entirely sure of until he finished high school.
“It was something I thought about, but when you’re in school the last thing you want to feel is ostracised or like an outcast, and that was going to happen if I’d come out,” he says.
On a final trip with friends before the end of high school, MNEK’s classmates only had two goals: to get drunk and sleep with women.
However, while there, he was interrogated about his sexuality and the issue was pressed until he felt compelled to consider it himself.
“I asked myself what I really wanted, and what the truth was, and I knew I didn’t want to try and be with women anymore,” he says.
“So I ended up coming out as gay. It wasn’t easy telling my parents and that’s had its complications, but we’ve come to a good place and they love me for who I am and respect the journey I’m on.
“But my friends, my management, and my label were great – I’ve been open about it for a big chunk of my career and I’ve been growing into myself during that time. This is who I am.”
“There’s so much pressure for black men to by hypermasculine, but I’m the complete opposite and I don’t care”
He says by being open and visible now, he hopes to be able to inspire younger black gay men, and counter the overwhelmingly white representation currently on offer.
“We’re in a white world and it can be as diverse as it wants to be, but the companies and media in which gay related issues are being documented are run by white gays,” he says.
“So no-one ever gets to read about the experiences of someone of colour.”
He adds that he wants to break boundaries through his music, and hopes his “very gay” debut album will go some way towards doing that.
“There’s so much pressure for black men to by hypermasculine, but I’m the complete opposite and I don’t care,” he says.
“I don’t need to prove anything, I want to show people they can dress and act however they’d like… I’ve been really open with who I am and actively doing things to break that wall.
“I know a lot more about myself and what I want.”
MNEK says his primary focus will always be his music – having grown up in a household that played New Jack Swing and Whitney Houston on heavy rotation – but he also would like to speak out about gay issues, as he’s part of that community as well.
“I’m still learning as a young gay man, and there’s this pressure to know everything and figure everything out,” he says.
“You have to live it to learn it.
“I want to break the stigma around gay men and have fun – I want to show that you can be black and gay and have the best time as well.”
Listen to MNEK’s just-released new song “Colour” ft. Hailee Steinfeld from his upcoming debut album here.