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MNEK: ‘Being a gay, black pop star can be challenging’

The 'Tongue' singer has opened up about his rare position in pop.

By Will Stroude

Words: Will Stroude

MNEK has opened up about his rare position in the music industry, admitting his status a gay, black pop star can be “challenging”.

The 24-year-old ‘Tongue’ singer, who released his long-awaited debut album Language earlier this year, told Idolator that he hopes his own visibility can inspire other gay black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people who rarely see their own experiences reflected in mainstream music. 

MNEK, real name Uzo Emenike, made his name writing and producing for the likes of Beyoncé, Madonna and Kylie Minogue as a teenager before scoring UK Top 5 hits with collaborations like ‘Ready for Your Love’ and ‘Never Forget You’.

As an artist who’s been out from the very beginning of his career – still a relatively rarity for many mainstream pop acts – the London-born star was asked whether he always hoped to be an “ambassador” for black gay men in pop.


He said: “It kind of developed. I always wanted to be out in my music, from when I signed my record deal. But then I just didn’t know how

“Ask anyone growing up gay, you’re constantly developing and finding yourself. I didn’t have as much experience to talk about.

The former Attitude Music Award winner went on: “Also, I love R&B. But I don’t think I make R&B music. I make pop music. I make music that is pretty commercial.

“But, at the same time, I’m a minority within a minority and it can be challenging. I feel validated about what I’m doing when I meet fellow black gay men or black gay women.

“They say that it’s good to have someone that they can relate to. It’s literally everything that I wanted. I just wanted someone that looked like me on TV, you know? A valid, successful person who’s living their best life.


“I don’t want to be the last person doing what I’m doing.”

MNEK, who said he hoped to release another single from Language before bringing the album campaign to a close, adds: “There are so many amazing out, gay, black artists who are really great in their own fields, but they aren’t necessarily trying to make pop music.

“I guess my thing is different because I am trying to be part of that world. But doing it my way.”