Stepping out of the shadow of songwriting for artists such as Beyoncé and Dua Lipa, MNEK was in the spotlight with a gorgeous vocal performance and stunning choreography Feb. 20 at Union Stage. The concert was an unapologetic celebration of queer culture and the diverse identities of artists who have created so many of our favorite songs now taking the main stage.  

The night started with opener Raja Kumari, the songwriter behind “Centuries” by Fall Out Boy, who kicked off the show with a vocal fiery passion that permeated the crowd at Union Stage. Her raw rap verses and intense bass reverberated throughout the venue as the crowd grew more entranced by her performance. The Indian-American musician, whose latest EP “Bloodline” dropped Feb. 22, took time between each of her songs to share how industry representatives had advised her not to include verses in Hindi on her album, to which the crowd screamed, “F–k them!”

Four male dancers followed in matching sweaters, taking the stage as the intro to “Correct,” an upbeat pop song from MNEK’s debut album, “Language,” began. MNEK — with each letter pronounced like em-en-ee-kay — emerged from the fog clouding the stage wearing a custom jumpsuit with lyrics from his songs stitched on the arms and legs. The crowd members seemed to cling to every single lyric as his dancers vogued and connected with them.

MNEK/INSTAGRAM | English songwriter MNEK, above, filled Union Stage with a magnetic and inclusive energy that thrilled all.

After MNEK gathered himself following the passion of his opening number, he took a moment to thank the crowd gathered in Union Stage for attending and supporting him. The Washington, D.C. show is one stop on the English singer’s first time touring in the United States. He then announced he would perform several older songs from his discography. First on the list was his collaboration with Gorgon City, “Ready For Your Love.” A radio-friendly hit in Europe, the track functions as a platform to showcase MNEK’s brilliant vocal ability, even though the production of the tune was quite unoriginal.

MNEK then segued into music from his “Small Talk” EP from 2015. While MNEK hit several impressive notes during the song, the crowd energy dimmed as few seemed to know him for his older music. He brought back his dancers, some in crop tops and fans with “SHADE” written on them, to perform an intense dance break with him while he still maintained a near-perfect vocal performance.

Giving his dancers a break, MNEK started to perform “Never Forget You,” his major U.S. charting single with Zara Larsson. The crowd clearly recognized this one, and the energy levels skyrocketed as he danced around stage during the beat drops of the song. He then performed a mashup of his song “Phone” from his new album and “IDGAF” by Dua Lipa, of which he is credited as a songwriter. The unexpected collaboration of this instantly recognizable single sent cheers through the audience.

After calming down from the euphoria of the mashup, MNEK discussed his blue eye makeup for the night, which was gorgeous but had terrified him because he did not want it to run. His open words added to the celebratory, welcoming feel of the show. He quickly moved into “Girlfriend,” which with biting, clever lyrics discussing a closeted lover who refuses to come out to his fiancee. Many audience members in the venue shouted the phrase “Neither you or your story is straight,” which MNEK delivered with a devilish grin.

Slowing the pace of the night, MNEK returned to some of his older music. Again, the enthusiasm level seemed to drop as there was a lack of awareness of this EP. Despite this response, MNEK and his dancers again kept the venue bouncing with brilliant vocals and impressive choreography. Near the end of his performance, MNEK recognized each of the individual dancers as they performed solo dance breaks. His palpable charisma continued to shine through between songs as he interacted with the crowd, feigning outrage with one attendee when they attempted to outdo him vocally, causing laughter to ripple down the concert hall.

The highlight of the show came during “Colour,” a beautiful collaboration with Hailee Steinfeld. Performing in front of rainbow lights, MNEK brought out Kumari for what many consider to be a gay anthem, building up the celebratory nature of the show. Not one to let the audience rest after an amazing song, MNEK then ran through several songs from “Language.” These songs, however, had a much calmer R&B vibe.

His performances of “Paradise” and “Crazy World” energized the crowd again as the darker R&B tinges of “Paradise” and the uplifting chorus of “Crazy World” had everyone swaying back and forth. “Free” finished his official setlist, a slower, slightly auto-tuned song, with a freeing beat. After MNEK left the stage, the crowd began to chant for an encore, specifically his single “Tongue.” He promptly returned to the stage with the dancers and once again sang his heart out while the audience swayed, not wanting this surreal experience to end. Over a hundred fans stayed afterward for a meet-and-greet, a sign of his adoring fanbase.

MNEK clearly showed dedication to his craft as he not only sang to perfection, but also invested plenty of effort into fun choreography. Through this concert, MNEK provided a beautiful environment in which a diverse group of fans could celebrate his artwork while embracing their own identities.

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