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Pop Shop Podcast: MNEK Talks About His 'Popstar Moment' With 'Tongue' Video, Plus His Debut Album & Collabs With Beyonce, More

Mnek
Charlotte Rutherford

Mnek

Welcome to the new episode of the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast, your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard's weekly charts. In addition, you can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop.

Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard co-director of charts Keith Caulfield and Billboard deputy editor, digital, Katie Atkinson, every week on the Pop Shop Podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in iTunes. (Click here to listen to the previous Tuesday’s edition of the show on Billboard.com).

On the latest show, we’re joined by singer-songwriter MNEK! The 23-year-old artist signed his first publishing deal at just 14, and has written songs with such stars as Beyoncé (“Hold Up”), Dua Lipa (“IDGAF”) and Madonna (“Hold Tight”) among many more. While crafting hits with others, he’s also been busy with his own career as a singer, scoring a 2013 Grammy Award nomination for best dance recording (“Need U [100%]), a No. 1 on the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart in 2016 with his Zara Larsson collaboration “Never Forget You,” and a trio of top 10 hits on the Official U.K. Singles chart.

Now, after all that success, MNEK is prepping the release of his debut studio album, due out later this year on Capitol Records. He dropped in to the Pop Shop to chat about his upcoming set, his new single and colorful video for the album’s “Tongue,” some of his most famous collaborations and much more. Listen to the show, below.

“I wanted a really popstar moment where it looks slay from start to finish,” MNEK tells Billboard of his eye-popping, dance-enhanced video for “Tongue,” directed by Bradley & Pablo. “I really wanted the video to capture a sexual tension and a restraint,” but then to also have “bursting out” moments where the clip goes “in between reality and fantasy.” In the video, MNEK is telegraphing his amorous feelings for another guy across the table at a dinner party, or, as MNEK explains simply, “It’s basically eye-fucking. That’s what the premise of it was.”

Though he could have easily just crafted a performance video, or a more abstract video, for "Tongue," the out gay artist purposely executed a clip where he clearly wants another man. Was that important to him?

“I wanted it to feel real. I wanted to really take things to the next level. I think there's only so much 'just performance stuff' that you can do that can look interesting. I'm very conscious that a music video is beyond just a promotional tool for a song. It takes a song to the next level and it gives a song a new life. And I felt the only way I could do that is if I had a really great storyline, but something that was stylistic and really eye-catching.

The past few months have seen a number of out gay men, signed to major labels, strutting their stuff in sexy music videos -- including MNEK, Troye Sivan (“My My My!”) and Olly Alexander (in Years & Years’ "Sanctify"). "It's really great," MNEK says. "We're living out our dreams. We're doing everything we always wanted to do with no inhibition, and that will help someone else do the same thing. That can only mean positive things. Us doing us for the greater good is the best that we can do. And that goes for Troye, that goes for Olly, that goes for Sam [Smith]. For all of us."

As for his debut album? “I’m so proud of it,” MNEK says. “‘Tongue’ is literally just one piece of the puzzle. This album is something I've worked on over the course of my entire career and something I've been discovering myself in it.”

He says that he’s built up the confidence over time to talk about certain things on the album. “I had to have experience, you know what I mean? Because I've been doing this since I was 14… I couldn't write about anything at 14. I had to live some life. I definitely lived some life. I was in a relationship, I came out of the relationship, for better for worse. I learned a lesson, multiple lessons… things about myself. And I got to spend time with myself. And I think that time with myself was a crucial part in me really finalizing the album, and being able to deliver it.”

In our discussion with MNEK, we also chat about how some specific collaborations with Beyoncé, Dua Lipa and Madonna came about, and his thoughts on each leading lady. Probably not much of a spoiler alert: He thinks they’re all fabulous. Beyoncé is “amazing,” Dua Lipa is “talented and deserves the success that she is having currently,” and Madonna “was really lovely and really cool.” (You'll have to listen to the whole show to get the finer details on exactly how each collabo came together!)

Elsewhere on the show, the Pop Shop team discusses big chart news from XXXTentacion, Lil Dicky, Chris Brown, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Platt and more. Plus, the Pop Shoppers talk about the big music moments of the March for Our Lives rallies on March 24.

Listen above and click here to subscribe/rate the Pop Shop Podcast on iTunes.


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