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MNEK, in his 'Language'
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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Singer MNEK is performing in his first ever headline tour and he's heading to Chicago for the first time.

Born Uzoechi Osisioma Emenike—later known as MNEK—signed his first publishing deal at 14. His duet with Zara Larsson, "Never Forget You," went gold in United States and reached number one on the Billboard dance chart.

This English talent shows no signs of slowing down, writing and producing for artists such as Madonna, Dua Lipa, Kylie Minogue and Bastille. He was the songwriter for "Hold Up" on the Beyonce album Lemonade.

He's taking his debut album, Language, on the road, bringing him to Lincoln Hall this February. He talked about the tour on the phone shortly before leaving.

Windy City Times: Your stage name is based off your real name?

MNEK: Yes. It's from my surname, which sounds like that. It just made sense.

WCT: You got your first publishing deal at 14. Did you always want to make music?

MNEK: Oh yeah. I had a very one track mind my whole life. I started by making music in my parent's garage with my brother. Ever since, it has been me figuring things out in the industry. It has been a fun ride.

Releasing my album has been another chapter in the journey.

WCT: When did you come out of the closet?

MNEK: I was 18. In the music business I wanted to be out and be real. I didn't want to make songs about having sex with girls if I wasn't having sex with them.

WCT: Do you think being an out artist has made a difference in your career?

MNEK: I don't know, but it is who I am. What I do is make music and I hope people like it.

WCT: Was that voguing in the video for "Tongue?"

MNEK: There is some dancing. I don't consider myself a dancer by any stretch. It was a very homogenized version on my part. [Laughs] I had to use my feet for a change!

I had a great choreographer and people that support me.

WCT: You used a sample of Ultra Nate's "Free" on "Paradise." Are you into that type of music? Maybe some Chicago house music?

MNEK: I've heard Chicago house music and do really enjoy it. I've made a few house records over the years. The Chicago house scene, especially being a Black, gay man, is really important. I'm very excited about coming to Chicago. I hope the crowd will know about me, or if they don't, they will like what they hear.

WCT: That's why I want to get the word out. I know Berlin Nightclub plays your videos and music. They would love to have you over after the show.

MNEK: That's really nice of them. I am always down for a party. I have to think about the next show, but I'm down if it works out.

WCT: Talk about working with Hailee Steinfeld on "Colour."

MNEK: It was cool. She's lovely and very sweet. She's very professional. It's a great song and I loved having her as a part of it.

WCT: How do you play these songs live when a singer is featured like her, but not there?

MNEK: On this tour, I will have someone sing Hailee's bit on "Colour." I will rotate singers with it depending on the show. I think that will keep things fresh. Since Hailee is not around to sing it, I will keep it moving either way.

WCT: Are you thinking of costumes to wear at the concert?

MNEK: I'm still planning it out as we speak. Literally, we are trying to figure it out around my fluctuating Christmas weight. We have all gained weight around Christmas so we don't know. I want something flattering to walk around onstage with.

WCT: We can all identify with that. How do you collaborate with these artists like Beyonce and Dua Lipa?

MNEK: It is just sessions and part of the creative process.

Honestly I will say this, I am very blessed to get to work with people I am fans of, whether it be Madonna, Dua Lipa or Beyonce. They are all really powerful women. I continue to be fans of theirs and now their colleague as well.

WCT: I saw on Twitter you were singing the Baby Shark song.

MNEK: I love the Baby Shark, doo doo doo. One of my really good friends has a child now. I was introduced to do it that way, then I thought, "Wow, that's wicked…"

WCT: Have you been Chicago before?

MNEK: I have never ever been before. I am excited to see the scenery and get a sense of the people. I have really good vibes about Chicago, especially from a gay perspective. I hope all the gays come out!

WCT: What have you noticed about your European following versus the American following?

MNEK: Both have room for improvement for my following and to see what I am doing. I am going into the United States with no clue what to expect. I have never done shows in the US before. I have not explained myself in that way. I hope it works out and people enjoy it. It is similar though, on how I approach a UK show. I think the same thing.

WCT: What do you want people to know about you as an artist?

MNEK: I am a fan of music. I make music, it's my job and what I have always wanted to do. I'm obsessed with music, so I am coming in as a geek with all of this. I want to be able to portray that onstage and when I am making new songs. I want to tell stories. From my point of view as a gay artist, I want to create a new space for artists like me. I want to push that message forward and to push boundaries. I want to open people's eyes to artists like myself.

It is not just about me at the end of the day. There are so many people in the community that don't have a voice. They need someone to identify with and show they belong. I hope that I can be even a little bit of that in the bigger picture.

Look for MNEK at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., on Monday, Feb. 25, at 7:30 p.m.; visit or .

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