“Even if this album goes triple plexiglass, i’m trying to stay positive!” – Those were the words tweeted by MNEK himself days before the release of his debut album Language which sadly flopped only pulling in 144 pure album sales in it’s first week which is very disappointing to say the least. The turnout for his long-awaited anticipated album has shocked me considering he is no stranger to chart success. His resumé runs for miles having written songs for some of the biggest stars including Beyoncé, Madonna and Christina Aguilera. There’s no denying his vocal ability and it’s very clear that when it comes to putting together a hit record, he definitely knows the right recipe. But even with all this, something still doesn’t seem to be clicking when it comes to MNEK and I have some theories.
The conversation surrounding the failure of this album seems to be “it’s because he’s black and he’s gay” but I truly do find this to be an excuse because I don’t believe his sexuality is the reason for the lack of promotion and attention. There are a handful of black queer male musicians successfully topping the charts including Frank Ocean, Kaytranada, Steve Lacy from The Internet and Tyler, the Creator so to me his sexuality is a poor excuse. Now I’m not denying that him being a openly black gay man plays a huge part in his career but to me he’s so unique that to use that as an excuse is just sad.
I’m aware that all the names I mentioned are all African-American musicians but to me that’s what separates MNEK from the black queer musicians pack. He’s a openly gay Black British male whose preferred genre of music is pop and that’s ok. Sure, his sound and look isn’t that of an conventional pop star but we aren’t in the 60’s anymore, society has moved forward. He may not cater to everyone but he definitely caters to someone. I can honestly say hand on my heart that ‘Language’ features some of the best pop bops I’ve heard this year.
MNEK has never been problematic and has always stood firm in his sexuality especially through his music. Speaking with the BBC back in June he stated, “I don’t think there’s been many chances for people to see a black, gay, pop experience and that’s what I want to have moving forward”. That’s exactly what this debut album delivered, a black-gay-pop experience but the lack of promotion and even interest for MNEK from his label is a stench that you can’t un-smell. When a label wants to push an artist they will empty buckets of their blood, sweat and tears into making sure you hear and see of that artist everyday for the next couple weeks. This wasn’t the case. It’s clear that the UK Urban music scene behind closed doors do not know how to market a black queer singer ESPECIALLY to their own community.
Now I’m not the biggest pop music fan or an MNEK fan but I have listened to his music before and I wasn’t aware that he had an album coming out which is very alarming. Sure he was given the creative freedom to produce the album of his dreams but you would think with all his previous chart successes he would be important enough to his label to promote 24/7 and throw in people’s faces like we throw rice at a wedding?! There was barely any promotion on social platforms and it would seem that the majority of the black community heard about the release of ‘Language’ through black Twitter. Tragic.
My theory on why ‘Language’ flopped doesn’t just start and stop with the lack of promotion. I really do believe that the root of his problem starts with him and the lack of support he shows the black community. Let me explain. To my knowledge, I haven’t seen MNEK on any black platforms promoting his music in a minute besides appearing on BBC Radio 1Xtra last year. When I say black platforms, I’m not just speaking about the straight black community, I’m also talking about the queer black community. As mentioned before, I know he prides himself on being an openly gay black man but since the day we were introduced to him as an artist, I’ve never fully seen him stand up on a black queer platform and promote himself. Even after the release of this album, I only saw him on mainly white aimed platforms performing and doing interviews.
I remember bumping into MNEK at this year’s UK Black Pride back in July. To my surprise he wasn’t performing or even speaking at the event, he was merely walking through the crowd. I was shocked because if I was expecting anyone to get up on stage and show everyone that we exist as black queer individuals and creatives it would have been him. It does come across as if he has a lack of interest in promoting his music to both the straight and queer black community which is super perplexing. I’ve heard many conversations surrounding this topic and the number question that seems to be asked is ‘How can he expect the black community whether straight or gay to support him when he’s not in any of the spaces we have right now supporting them?‘
Having listened to ‘Language’, I can honestly say I enjoyed it. Being that it’s his debut album, it’s a solid body of work and definitely something to be proud of. He delivered the ‘black, gay, pop experience’ he promised with 16 tracks full of fun and emotion. I expected this album to generate more sales than it did and it’s very unsettling that it didn’t do half of what it was projected to do. MNEK made the mistake of snitching on himself and his sales just days after releasing ‘Language’ by tweeting out “ok i told my mgmt not to send me the sales or whatever and so they didn’t – but i’ve seen someone’s tweeted it and i am a bit gutted, kinda fucked it”. Monday evening saw MNEK in a thread of tweets get a few things off his chest surrounding the conversation about the failed album.
This rant well and truly spun me for several reasons. Firstly, how can you say in the same breath that certain audiences are homophobic but then turn around the backlash and lack of support for your album is because of a section of the black community mainly straight black men?! This puzzles me. To use the black community and straight black men as your main excuse for the reason your failed to top the charts is not what we’re going to do here because as previously mentioned you don’t support or invest in the black community yourself. This whole comment truly made me believe that MNEK doesn’t know who is audience is. How can you expect people to purchase your music when you don’t make any time of day for us to even be targeted to you or your sound? Clearly straight black men are not your audience and if you knew this, this whole rant wouldn’t have birthed those tweets. He later went on to retract his statement about blaming black straight men but only continued to dig a deeper hole for himself.
Out of all the tweets, there was one that stood out to me the most. I couldn’t fathom the point behind this tweet.
“I will never cater to them frankly! We’re not on the same page, i’m digestible when I’m singing next to a rapper singing about God (or not!) but it’s different when I’m telling my stories, it hurts but it’s the truth of my career and being black and gay in the game.”
Not once during his chart success with Stormzy for ‘Blinded by Your Grace Pt. 2’ did he use that power to connect with the same black community he speaks of. If my memory serves me correctly, back in late 2017 when Stormzy performed ‘Blinded by Your Grace Pt. 2’ on The X Factor’s Sunday live results show and he invited singer-songwriter Labrinth to perform instead of MNEK, everyone on Twitter jumped to his defence siding with him on Stormzy being wrong and disrespectful for not including him on stage. The support behind this came from both the straight and queer community because it was wrong that he wasn’t invited to sing his part of the song. Black straight men do support MNEK but just not in the way he wants them too. His musical taste isn’t what they want to digest and that’s something MNEK has to pay attention to and actually focus on aiming his music to the people who want it.
In no way am I saying he’s wrong for being in his feelings about his sales, I completely understand how heartbreaking it must be but blaming a section of the community that your music isn’t even targeted towards for the failure of your album is wrong. We cannot underestimate the power and importance of effective marketing which was something we was never given. Although his label are to blame for the lack of promotion and attention, black straight men are not.
The album is really good. A solid 4/5. You can stream ‘Language’ on Spotify.