MNEK is back with a brand new “big dance bop” just in time for summer. 16 Again is a collaboration with Paul Woolford and Lewis Thompson, who MNEK says he “loved” working with to create the nostalgic track. “I loved singing it, I loved being part of it and I’ve worked with Lewis, of course, on Head and Heart with Joel [Corry] and we shared great success with that and this is my first time working with Paul on anything,” he tells GAY TIMES from his studio.
The singer, songwriter and producer has worked with some of the LGBTQ+ community’s most beloved artists, including Little Mix, Kylie Minogue and even Madonna. “I would love to work with my faves,” he explains, referencing the likes of Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson when asked who he would love to collaborate with in the future. “I’ve managed to work with so many people I’ve grown up listening to that I feel like if I could tick those off the bucket list, that would be amazing.”
As someone with his “hand in a lot of pots”, MNEK is always creating something. From upcoming projects with FLO to his highly anticipated solo album, which he jokes will come when he’s got his “shit together,” fans can expect a lot from him in the near future. Here, he tells GAY TIMES about 16 Again, the need for LGBTQ+ representation in music and hopes to one day collaborate with artists such as Sam Smith.
Tell us about your new song!
Well, it’s called 16 Again and it’s in collaboration with Paul Woolford and Lewis Thompson and we wrote it a year ago. It’s just a kind of nostalgic record and a big dance bop! I loved singing it, I loved being part of it and I’ve worked with Lewis, of course, on Head and Heart with Joel [Corry] and we shared great success with that and this is my first time working with Paul on anything. So yeah, it was an exciting experience and I hope everyone likes it!
At this point, you’ve written so many songs with an array of different artists about so many different things. Are there ever times when you’re in the studio struggling to decide what to write about next?
Yeah, very much so. I think for me, I am always going to make some type of music, whether I’m writing lyrics or coming up with melodies, or helping, you know, finish a track. And I think, as far as 16 Again, I was very much inspired by the chords and just hearing the music and it gave me a vibe of talking about nostalgia and talking about looking back.
It sounds like, with 16 Again, you started with the music and the lyrics came afterwards?
Yeah, I mean, it was that. It was a Lewis Thompson camp and so the whole ethos was to write songs for him and the projects that he had going on and, yeah, we heard some chords and it inspired us. And I think that’s generally the case with a lot of the stuff that I write, unless I’m doing my solo stuff, sometimes that will come from internal thoughts and then we’ll work backwards from there. But, the process comes how it comes, do you know what I mean? But I’m happy to still make music and that people are still into it!
You’ve written songs for so many amazing artists, including Little Mix, Dua Lipa and Madonna. Are there ever times where you wish you’d kept a track for yourself?
Um.. No, because I feel like a lot of these songs tend to be tailor-made. I’d gone to Paris and someone came up to me and they were talking about FLO and they were like, ‘Oh, I’m such a fan of FLO, but you should have kept Cardboard Box for yourself’. And I’m thinking, ‘The fuck am I doing talking about putting anyone’s shit in a cardboard box?’ That’s not my narrative, you know what I mean? Everything is written for the act in question or with the act. I wrote that with the girls so I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, this is great. I might keep it for myself.’ I mean, the one instance that did happen was Never Forget You with Zara [Larsson]. When I was writing with her I was with EMI Records and they were on my ass to deliver them a hit! And I was with her, and we wrote this song, her and Astronomyy, and after we did it, I was like, ‘It would be a shame if I took that for myself’. And then it ended up being a duet and it turned out even better than it would if it was just us solo. So maybe I should practice that more, but I don’t really care to.
Is there anyone that you haven’t ever collaborated with that you want to work with?
Chile… I’d love to work with Doja Cat. You know, I’ve never worked with Sam Smith.
That really surprises me!
Well, you know, it ain’t happened! And so that would be dope if that was a reality and a factuality and you know Janet, Mariah, the standard. I would love to work with my faves. I’ve managed to work with so many people I’ve grown up listening to that I feel like if I could tick those off the bucket list, that would be amazing. I’ve been saying that for the past 10 years, you can look back at the interviews. But that’s okay! I still have dreams, but also I want to work with new talent and remain inspired, excited and not bored.
If we were doing this interview 20 years from now, is there anything you’d like to be able to look back on and be glad it changed in music?
I’d love to see a shift in people’s ignorance and bigotry, but there will always be those types of people, at least in this time. I think as we’ve seen just in just the way that the world progresses, the more normalised, the more understood that it becomes, it yields a new generation of people and kids now will not know the things that we saw back then as far as the way that LGBTQ+ people were represented in media. Now there’s so much representation, but that didn’t come without a fight, so I think it’s definitely that. I think I would love to see more queer people behind the desk as opposed to it necessarily being always about them being front facing. Them getting their shine as well. I mean, there’s so much work to do. It’s hard to even put it down to one thing.
I think the backlash Sam Smith faced is the perfect example of people’s ignorance when it comes to LGBTQ+ artists proudly expressing their identity, especially as what they are doing is actually quite tame.
It’s extremely tame, I don’t think they deserve it. I think a lot of it is also fatphobia as well and that they are bigger, and femmephobia because they were thinner and more masc at one point and everyone was fine with it, you know? I know Sam and that is Sam. That is exactly who they are and the times I spent with them, they are not being anything outside of their true self right now. So, the public didn’t get to see that on their first couple of albums and so it’s a big shock to them and it’s like, ‘Well, what are they doing?’ But, no, if someone thinner – I don’t want to call any names because we probably do know the names – but if they were doing what Sam is doing right now, no one would bat an eyelid. They have done the things that Sam is doing right now and no one said a thing. So I think there is a level of bias and I think it’s more than just their queer identity.
You’ve done so much for LGBTQ+ representation in music, such as your songwriting camp for queer singer-songwriters. How important is it for artists to continue platforming LGBTQ+ talent and helping them get the opportunities they deserve?
I think it’s really important. And you know, you say the thing about bringing up writers and producers – I’m planning to do a writing camp again. But, because last time it was Olly [Alexander] and Rina [Sawayama] and it was people that I know, I’m really curious to venture out into the ones who aren’t signed, the ones who are really up-and-coming and really wouldn’t have a chance to be in the certain rooms I’m in. I really would love to bring them together and do that kind of vibe again this year, if time allows. But yeah, I think it’s important for us to be uplifted because we are talented and we are the backbone of a lot of the creative industries.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m working on a new album, a new solo album, and I’ll come with that when I’ve got my shit together. And I’ve got a few ventures that I’m going to be coming up with soon enough. I just want it to give it its best chance and really make sure that I’m coming out with it properly. And yeah, the FLO project is an album that I’m exec producing and I’m helping the girls piece together. So we’re doing it and I’m just building the empire! I think I spent a long time being fixated on being known as one thing or whatever. But, I have my hand in a lot of pots and I want that to be the main thing. I aspire to the people like Pharrell, Timbaland and Diddy and as far as them being known as music as opposed to, ‘Oh, we do one thing’. So I’m excited to be that.
You can stream 16 Again below or by clicking here.