MNEK on Staying Thankful and Making Music In Lockdown

Chart-topping vocalist and last week’s iconic drag race guest judge, MNEK, recently teamed up with Absolut vodka for ‘It’s in our Spirits’. In the face of COVID despair, The campaign encourages people to act responsibly and remain optimistic towards a future carefree, in-person interaction, something the Never Forget You singer feels strongly about. In this AZ interview we discuss the highs and lows of lockdown living and what pandemic self-care looks like to him.

Together, we reminisce about the long-lost, sensational thrills of clubbing and MNEK tells me he can’t wait to be on a dancefloor again and hear the opening bars of City Girl’s Act Up: “Literally the second that song comes on it’s just sweat in my body. Like, I get chills, I have to scream.” He says. As a dance musician, clubs were more than just a pastime for him, they were a place of work and he’s also looking forward to being able to perform again.

On his number one hit with Joel Corry he says: “It’s very surreal having a song that’s done as well as Head & Heart and not performing it to a crowd ever. The only crowd I’ve sung it to has been Strictly and that wasn’t even a crowd, it was cast and crew.”

Adapting to work-from-home life over the past year has been a challenge faced by many, as a singer-songwriter whose work involves close collaboration, MNEK is no different. He’s having to get used to “writing sessions over Zoom” and the video-call fatigue that comes with back-to-back meetings. He’s grateful for the technology though, as it allows all of us to retain some semblance of a social life. In regards to staying connected during this seemingly dystopian, global crisis he says he feels lucky to have his housemates around him and has been “checking in on friends a lot and making sure they’re ok”.

At such a mentally-taxing time when we can rarely show up for each other physically, it’s crucial that we remember we’re all somewhat responsible for each other while we adjust to new ways of relating. It’s thought that loneliness and poor social connections can be as detrimental to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and can increase their risk of death by up to 26%. Most Millennials, and everyone that came afterwards are lucky to be well-versed in online communication and though research suggests that our exposure to social media has made us less compassionate on average, a study by Absolut  showed that “nearly 90% of Gen Z are willing to make a personal sacrifice to make the world a better place.”

“It’s a hard time for everyone and the main thing about [It’s in our Spirits] is uplifting people because it can be really difficult when you feel like there’s no way out or there’s no end in sight”, says MNEK.

 The campaign video which also stars actress Tessa Thompson, Taiwanese singer Joli Tsai and professional gamer, Ricki Oritz, is a futuristic machinima-style animation and contributing to the design of his avatar is one small thing that’s made MNEK smile recently: “They had the buns and the glasses and the facial hair… It was really cool how they did it and alongside the messaging and what we’re trying to tell people, [designing] it got me really excited”.

He can’t build avatars every day so MNEK has been finding other things to keep his mood lifted and like a lot of us, this includes social media and streaming TV shows. “I don’t really love the brisk afternoon walks in the winter snow” he jokes, adding that his main source of positivity, comes from the art he loves most: “Music has always been my first and foremost, it’s brought me out of so many dark times and dark places” he says.

This may be the darkest time we’ve experienced collectively for generations, so it’s important that we carve out specific time for enjoyment, so that we have things to look forward to and daily life doesn’t get (in MNEK’s words) “too samey”. It’s equally necessary to acknowledge that the long-term future is yet unknown and in this country, very foggy due to wotless leadership. Therefore, we should try not to overwhelm ourselves by thinking too far ahead; planning fun things in the short-term can also help with managing the anxiety of long-term insecurity.

MNEK quotes Faith Evans and Twista in saying he’s “staying thankful and faithful” and trying to live more in the moment but he does have future fantasies of working with Sam Smith: “I’d love to do a record…something real gay, real fun like a duet. There’s not many of those [in our genre] and I think it would be hilarious and sassy and unexpected”, he laughs. He continues to say that though there’s nothing yet in the works with Sam, we should keep an eye out for his upcoming projects that are about to be announced. The effervescence of his personality shines just as much in our conversation as it does in his music and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

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