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MNEK’s choreographer opens up about the singer’s unapologetic ‘Girlfriend’ video

The singer dropped the official video for his hit 'Girlfriend' this week

By Steve Brown

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’.

This week, MNEK dropped the official music video for his R&B hit ‘Girlfriend’ and shows that the singer is trying to break down stereotypes while creating a more diverse and accepting industry for young performers.

Following the release of ‘Girlfriend’, MNEK’s choreographer Royston tells Attitude what it is like working with the singer behind-the-scenes of his music videos.

MNEK sent fans into a frenzy yesterday (February 6) when he dropped the music video for his R&B throwback anthem, ‘Girlfriend’; breaking free from clichés, expectations and ultimately delivering an unapologetic, bold performance, it seems that MNEK is determined to bring stereotypes tumbling down, creating a more diverse and accepting industry for young performers.

As his choreographer, I’ve witnessed MNEK’s talents first hand and appreciate his unwavering efforts to support the LGBTQ community, a passion that’s truly admirable. My name’s Royston and I’m a performer, choreographer and owner of talent agency ‘RnD Creatives’.

I work with and represent some of the world’s biggest artists, including Rita Ora, Stefflon Don, Gifty Louise and MNEK, creating one of a kind, live performances and internet-breaking videos that challenge everything we think we know about great dancing.

Harnessing the unique skillset of each and every artist, it’s my job to celebrate their music with faultless movements.

As ‘Girlfriend’ dropped we’ve seen the public fall in love with this vibrant, unconventional music video, adoring MNEK’s unrestricted performance, something that’s long overdue – after all, if anyone was going to provide a refreshingly honest single, it was him!

I’m proud to have worked on a stereotype shattering project like this!

MNEK is amazingly confident and embraces all that makes him unique; it’s his originality that’s captured our hearts and his soaring popularity knows no limit.

Finally, a gay, black star is using his platform to redefine the music industry. I started working with MNEK at the tail end of ‘Small Talk’, since then I’ve been on board with all of his videos and live performances.

This is how I knew ‘Girlfriend’ would be big from the offset; no matter the project, MNEK is energised and committed, eager to make every video something that people can’t ignore.

He regularly opens up about his sexuality and personal journey within the music industry; from interviews to the music itself, MNEK brings raw emotion and justified passion to the table.

He tackles important issues with his music, channelling the needs of his fans who at long last can relate with an artist who refuses to conform to unnecessary, outdated industry expectations.

In the video, we see MNEK become increasingly frustrated by his love interest’s commitment to keeping their love closeted. Oh, and the fact that he has a girlfriend who wants him home to celebrate their anniversary… not ideal.

Losing patience with this secrecy, MNEK’s song acts as an anthem for self-worth. As he fiercely quips that he’s ‘the little secret nobody’s supposed to know’, it’s not hard to hear his message, it speaks for itself!

It’s important that the choreography within any video supports the artist’s message and when they’re as strong-minded as MNEK, you can’t hold back.

When we’re working on a project, it’s never one-sided; he knows what he wants and we typically start by sitting down to spitball some ideas until we find the perfect starting point.

MNEK is so inspiring, he has unbelievable, unbarred insight into who he wants to be and where he wants to go, but he also allows us (his team) to be creative and really excel within ourselves.

It’s always a joint creative, MNEK gives me references and we come up with exciting concepts and ideas that marry with his vision. I do my thing choreographically and 9 times out of 10 he’s super happy, if we do change anything it’s usually little tweaks to add finesse to what’s already been created.

With ‘Girlfriend’, we wanted to keep the narrative and movement completely genuine and relatable. MNEK’s video concepts are always from his own viewpoint; throughout his album he draws reference to his own experiences and those of his friends, his words aren’t fabricated or random, everything has its place and as a result, every song falls close to his heart.

This made it super easy, creatively, to put his song into a visual! I love MNEK and making something that shows his spirit comes naturally to me.

We shared experiences, stories and relationship hurdles to create something that I’m sure a surprising number of people will relate to. Having been in the industry for over 20 years, I’m so blessed to still be working with such exciting performers.

When I see new artists and dancers it inspires me so much, I love seeing that fresh hunger and passion, traits that MNEK has in spades!

I draw inspiration from life, travelling, music and my own evolving journey, elements that I undoubtedly brought to the table with ‘Girlfriend’.

MNEK loves high energy and always thinks big, he’s a true pop star so he has no time for holding back, I’m always so excited to work with him for this reason alone! Whatever we do will be ground-breaking and his work ethic is second to none.

With ‘Girlfriend’ it wasn’t about the 5, 6, 7, 8’s, it was more about the narrative and I wanted the movements to be equally natural, so we just vibed. MNEK took the lead with my full support.

There was no key rehearsal, we went with what felt and looked right. I personally love the moment in this video when he’s on the chair and it’s spinning round, this reminds me of classic 90s RnB videos, it’s on point.

Plus, at the end of the 1st verse he gives a classic body roll and I just love how he’s completely committed. I have my own style and that’s all I can give, but MNEK allows us to explore our own ideas so I never need to worry about suggesting something a bit wild!

Anything that allows MNEK to grow and expand his already exceptional skillset is welcomed, we challenge each other and that keeps every performance exciting.

As a creative team we also work very closely with one another, I love working with the video’s stylist, Patricia Williams, she’s a legend! I’ll say, ‘Babe, I’ve just choreographed…’ and she’s like, ‘I got you’.

That’s why every element of ‘Girlfriend’ works so well together, you really leave understanding MNEK’s style, personality and his powerful message. MNEK is an icon who deserves for each and every project to be equally as iconic.

If you liked his music video, you need to check out MNEK live! His shows are something you’ll have never seen before and they’ll leave you longing for more!

Watch the video for ‘Girlfriend’ below: