(Words: Jamie Tabberer; pictures: Baluga Media)
“Exhausted!” is how MNEK feels after his mad, “bittersweet” 2020: a year in which he weathered the same global chaos as the rest us while also nabbing a six-week UK number one single with Joel Corry, ‘Head & Heart’.
“I’m extremely happy I’ve been able to be successful this year, considering what’s happened to so many people” says the singer, who, amazingly, is still only 26.
('Amazingly' given his achievements: he's worked as a producer with everyone from Madonna to Dua Lipa, and most recently on new Little Mix album ‘Confetti’.)
“I don't take it for granted"
“I’ve had success as a performer and a writer-producer,” reflects the star, “and at the same time, there are people who don’t have the luxury of being able to work and do what sets them free. I’m honoured I get to do this for a living; that it’s the only thing I have to be doing. I don’t take it for granted.”
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Still, 2020 is finally winding down now for the Londoner – at least professionally: “I’m moving house in the next couple of weeks,” he explains. “This is kind of my last day of work [for the year] so I’ll have time to focus on the moving process."
Here, MNEK reflects on lockdown with his partner and flatmates, working from home and the studio, his unexpected response to Little Mix's 'Sweet Meoldy' and the superstars he’d like to work with next…
Hi MNEK! Are you in London at the moment?
“I haven’t had much of a choice. If I’m going to be living life at all, it’s here. It’s been good to slow down, this lockdown. I’ve been able to reflect and chill.
Who are you spending lockdown with?
“My flatmates, my partner… but I’ve also been working, in the studio with people, while trying to keep as safe as possible. But all the socialising has been in my house.”
You're fronting Absolut's It's In Our Spirit [about connecting with people in a socially distanced age]. Have you been swept up in this year’s Zoom drinks craze?
“Zoom drinks, Zoom interviews, Zoom writing sessions. It’s a versatile application. Before, I’d just FaceTime. I’ve been in long distance relationships – I’ve had to do the thing of FaceTiming someone every day. That said, I haven’t got drunk on Zoom yet.
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“[The campaign] is about positive voices and happiness. It’s been such a lonely time for people, and I’ve felt pockets of loneliness – because you can’t see your friends, and so much of what I do is about being with people, collaborating. It’s been interesting having everything on Zoom. But it’s been fruitful. I can do what I do remotely.”
Do you have tips for keeping a healthy mind during these times, and given the rise and rise of social media?
“I strongly believe you can curate your social media and timelines to show you things that make you happy. If we’re spending so much time on our phones, why be imprisoned by things that have nothing to do with us, or only make us feel negative? Look at things that make you happy first thing in the morning.”
Is there an artist whose social media always uplifts you?
“I love seeing Sam Smith’s Instagram, Lil Nas X's, Dua's...”
Do you and your peers feel pressure to put out good content?
“Hey, social media is hard work. There was a point in time when it was just fun and games. Now, it’s used as a promotional tool. A medium for getting close to our fans, new listeners. I absolutely feel a pressure. But at the same time, I don’t – it’s just my Instagram. This is what I’m up to: if you like it, you like it, if you don’t, watch someone else’s.”
You’ve done a lot for 26. What would your advice be to your 16-year-old self?
“I don’t think there’s anything anyone could have told me that I wasn’t going to figure out. I’d just had my first hit with The Saturdays, ‘All Fired Up’ – I’d just tell myself to get ready. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!”
What job might you be doing in a parallel universe?
“Maybe I would have been a journalist. I enjoy writing. And I love mess and I love tea! A gossip journalist… or, to be honest, a music journalist. Reviewing albums and having genuine appreciation for music.”
Little Mix’s album is lighting up the charts. Is it a personal thing to see your work do that?
“I’ve worked with the girls across all their albums apart from 'Get Weird'. I go in as a fan. Even 'Sweet Melody' – I’ve listened to it so many times as a fan, even though it’s just come out. It’s weird… when we made it, I liked the song. But I didn’t love it as much as I did when I watched the video. That’s their power. They’re such superstars. You really get the full package. It’s exciting having this album out and working on a big chunk of it. Also, shout out to Camille, TMS, Lost Boy and Goldfingers, and all the amazing people who had a hand in it.”
Who would you like to work with next?
“Maybe a Janet, or a Mariah, or a Britney. But nothing I’ve done has been based on ‘I have to work with this person.’”
Who are you working with at the moment?
“Loads with Mabel on her new album. I also have been doing some bits and bobs with the Sugababes. I was working on stuff for them a few years ago, but some new projects came up recently that we’re working together on.”