Muni Long On The Grammys, Burnout & Not Worrying About The Labels
“I'm just trying to be the best version of myself and have fun.”
For most people, the idea of working alone is terrifying. But when I ask Muni Long who she is most excited to collaborate with in the future, she doesn’t miss a beat before answering, “I actually love working with myself.” After spending over 10 years working in the industry as a songwriter for others — including some of the biggest names in music like Rihanna, Ariana Grande, Mariah Carey, and Pitbull — the 34-year-old is finally embracing what working independently means.
Long published under her given name Priscilla Renea until 2019, when she made a clean break from writing for others and released her first single as Muni Long. It wasn’t her first time releasing music, but it was the first time the work she had done for herself took off. Long’s 2021 breakthrough hit “Hrs & Hrs” spent three weeks on Billboard‘s Hot R&B Songs chart, and her LP Public Displays of Affection: The Album arrived to much celebration, landing her three Grammy nominations this year for Best New Artist, Best R&B Song, and Best R&B Performance.
“There is no playbook for this. You’re either new to it and you really don't know what to expect or you're getting nominated all the time and it's normal for you,” Long tells NYLON ahead of the Grammys. She’s just finished delivering a vocally captivating Grey Goose Sound Sessions Performance, one of the dozen press events the singer has embarked on leading up to the Sunday award show. “There is no way to coach a person through this kind of moment.”
Even though she previously earned a Grammy nomination for her work on H.E.R.’s 2021 record, Back of My Mind, Long’s solo career taking off has been a whole new journey. “This week is a learning experience for me. I'm learning and shifting and just trying to figure out how to be the best version of me in every moment and in every choice,” she says, emphasizing that she's trying to remain as present and focused as she can while eagerly awaiting the rest that’s set to follow.
You've been songwriting for a long time. Do you find that writing for yourself is harder than writing for other people?
For me, songwriting isn't hard. I would say the main difference is freedom. I have the freedom to say and do whatever it is that I want to express at that moment and whatever wants to come through. I am noticing when I go to rehearse songs to perform them live, I have to think about my breath, so that does affect my songwriting. I have to use fewer words sometimes, and really pause and pick melodies that aren't that hard to sing back-to-back. “Hrs and Hrs” is very difficult to sing. I didn't really think about that when I was making it, but now that I'm performing, I'm like, sheesh.
I’ve heard you say that love inspired your album Public Displays of Affection. What else inspires your music and your writing?
At least half of the album is stories that I imagined and then the other half, I'm pulling from things that I know. I'm a storyteller. If I see something in real life that inspires me to want to describe what that moment might feel like, or if I'm having a really tough time processing certain things, I'll try to express it in a song. When I'm making music, there's less of me and more of whatever is trying to come through at the moment. Music allows me to get out of the way of the story.
What is making you excited about doing R&B in 2023?
I don't worry about the classification. Because I'm a Black woman, it doesn't matter if I make country songs, it's still going to be classified as R&B music. I'm just making the best things that I can possibly make. There are things that I'm doing that are very much R&B, that are reminiscent of the early ‘90s with the chord changes and the subject matter and the adlibs and the drama. But then there are things that I'm doing that are just really cool and interesting. They will be categorized as R&B simply because I'm Black. You have to be aware that that's how people perceive Blackness, just in this box of, “You can only do these things and that your audience will only accept you in this sort of format,” in order to challenge it. It just means that there's a boundary that may need to be pushed. As of right now, I'm not trying to push any boundaries. I'm just trying to be the best version of myself and have fun. And if I happen to move some things around in the process, great.
“I'm just making the best things that I can possibly make.”
What advice do you have for people looking to find their voice as someone who found their voice pretty successfully after working with so many people?
In my opinion, it’s really simple. The hardest part is overcoming the voices of your family, of your friends, of the people who have known you for a really long time. The hardest part is overcoming that and trying not to fold from that pressure. And then this is what I tell people: Do you like it? Does it bring you joy? If the answer is yes, pursue it. If the answer is no, don't do it.
Does it get easier or do you think it’s something that is always going to be hard?
It doesn't get any easier dealing with outside people. Recognizing your true voice and following the joy does get easier. You can't do it alone. You need help. You gotta have a team.
How do you avoid burnout?
It's funny because I’m at a crossroads right now. I'm trying to learn how to not disappear because that's what I would do in the past when I got overwhelmed or felt like I wasn't getting what I needed. When you have a team of people depending on you, you can't really do that. So I just say no a lot more to the things I don't want to do and I get rest. I don't answer my phone and I don't respond to messages. I read a lot and I do things that make me happy. It can come off to other people as you're kind of aloof, but at a certain point, it's like I see why some of our favorites did some of the things they did because it's really hard to be going at a high level consistently for days on end without going over the edges. It is difficult to manage. But after the Grammys, I’m definitely taking a vacation.
“Time Machine” took off on TikTok, and as someone who got their start on YouTube, what was it like to go viral on this other platform?
It just reminded me that the relationship is between you and your supporters. That's it at the end of the day. You're not bigger than that and nothing is bigger than the music.