Review: ★★★★★ MNEK Glitters in New York City's Bowery Ballroom
Last night IdeaSphere relocated to the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan to check out the UK’s youngest pop diva with a 10-year career already under his belt, MNEK. Tipped as “the next big urban pop boy” by The Guardian in 2011 when he was just 16, MNEK has come a long way since then and is now looking to break into the American market with his 2018 album Language and a 6-stop tour across America and Canada’s biggest music centers. If his performance in New York City last night is anything to go by, like everything else, MNEK has got this one down.
His set covered every song from his debut album Language, showing that like the fun-loving character we sensed from his album, he is far from being a stingy performer and genuinely loves the stage. Donning a full-length custom-made orange and blue jumpsuit splashed with the titles of songs on Language, MNEK jumped around, gyrated, and sang his soulful heart out for around 80 minutes, much to the delight of the screaming audience. Of course, he was not alone. His dancing troupe, The KiKi, performed the most incredible ode to 90s R&B dance I have ever seen, including a wonderful moment where all four danced around collapsible chairs, in a style not dissimilar to Destiny’s Child in the 1998 video for Bills, Bills, Bills. The KiKi’s sass never wavered, and they exuded a sensuality rarely seen, or continually oozed, by men on mainstream music media.
MNEK has done a lot for LGBTQI rights. In his September 2018 Gay Times feature, he said he is trying to expand the perception of who is included in the ‘Gay being okay’ trope, including queer black folk like himself. As he mentions, he is one of the only artists in the UK top 40 who is openly black and gay. And maybe it’s telling that his two most popular hits – Never Forget You and Colour – feature women singers as the love interest involved.
But MNEK’s live performances take service to the gay community to the next level. They are an ode to pride, to sensuality, and to F.U.N. through the sheer exuberance MNEK and The KiKi display onstage. But even more than this, MNEK and his crew are breaking down, gig by gig, the constraining gender norms that affect us all. Take feminist Julie Bindel’s recent article for The Telegraph urging women to give up make-up if they want to be good feminists. Her reasons are applying make-up takes up useless time – 9 days a year in fact – which could be better spent campaigning for women’s rights like Bindel herself has done. Equally, the harms of exposing your face to around 200 synthetic chemicals a day during a beauty regime are said to be well-documented.
But MNEK and The KiKi show us how much fun using make-up and, well, engaging in exuberant self-celebration and expression can be. MNEK had gorgeously manicured purple sparkly fingernails, and his crew’s hair was coiffed to perfection, with more sass than any America’s Next Top Model runway finale. In the world we live in - politically gloomy and still remarkably uncreative in gendered norms and possibilities for individuals - MNEK & The KiKi offer an alternative, embrace-yourself-and-what-you-like mentality that is just about the perfect antidote to our capitalist humdrum culture I can imagine. Their performances show how this mentality need not be gendered, and those identifying as men, women, and anyone in between can enjoy make-up, manicures, and whatever form of self-expression they like. Thank you MNEK & crew for owning the stage last night, and reinstating my faith in an alternative universe, full of de-gendered and self-celebratory joy, for whoever wants a piece of it.
Star Rating: ★★★★★
Catch MNEK on his America & Canada tour in February 2019 - Find out more and buy tickets here!