You might know Muni Long as one of the most refreshing new voices in R&B or the voice behind your latest TikTok creation, but you’ve likely been enjoying her work for quite a while. Formerly known as Priscilla Renea, Long transformed a couple of viral videos during YouTube’s infancy into a decade-spanning career as one of the most prolific songwriters in the industry, scoring platinum plaques for tracks like Rihanna’s “California King Bed,” Pitbull’s “Timber” and Fifth Harmony’s “Worth It.”
Battling for respect as a solo artist at the same time and bouncing between labels, Long has put those days firmly behind her as she uses her social media savvy to craft an entirely new persona – and despite her adopting a stage name, it’s one that’s closer to who she really is. She’s got her first platinum award of her own to show for it, as the success of “Hrs & Hrs” makes her one of 2022’s biggest breakout stars.
“Priscilla’s the name on my birth certificate, but Muni Long was my actual personality,” she says. “Because as a songwriter, you have to disappear into the background and be quiet. It’s kind of like having a corporate job – you’re not going in there like ‘Wooo! Party animal!’… not if you want to keep your job, you’re not. I needed the freedom to be able to be whoever I want to be in each moment, and so Muni Long was born.”
Long has mentioned coming to a moment of clarity while in a studio session with Ariana Grande back in 2020, hearing some of her best ideas getting used in another artist’s song. 12 years of working for others, being hit with creative restrictions as she moved between genre fields and unenthusiastically singing through demo tracks that didn’t allow her vocal acrobatics to shine, were making Long feel underappreciated. For someone with as much natural talent as she possesses, being forever stuck with the “songwriter” label and not being taken seriously outside of it had become a roadblock to her true aspirations.
Ducking that label was one of the main reasons for a name change. With the perception as a fresh new artist, any lingering associations from listeners who might have glanced across her name in an album’s liner notes would vanish and Long’s music would be given as fair of a shot as anyone’s. Plus, Long calls the new name in itself an affirmation. Inspired by a Filipino phrase – magmuni-muni – meaning “to reflect,” used in her daily meditations, she realized that adding “Long” was the perfect surname to prognosticate future success and keep the coins rolling in.
“You have to meditate every day, just like brushing your teeth,” Long adds. “There’s so much crap out there in the world that’s getting into your eyes and ears every day, so I feel weird if I don’t, like something hit me.”
Long’s diagnosis with lupus 10 years ago was yet another motivator to follow her heart as quickly as possible. Since the disease can ultimately prove fatal for approximately 10 to 15 percent of its patients, Long would have felt like she missed out on something if the worst came to pass. Hiring prominent Black stylist Jason Rembert was the finishing touch on Long’s new persona, wanting to craft an image of an extravagant R&B songstress that paid homage to her cultural roots.
“Historically, it just wasn’t a thing to see Black women in luxury,” she says. “It’s not necessarily about being a supermodel, but it’s about representing what that looks like for the average, middle America brown girl with big eyes and super long legs. I just want to show them a version of life that could be possible for them. And I’ve always had a closet full of clothes that I could never really wear, because I wasn’t going anywhere!”
As someone who has been making connections with an audience successfully as social media has evolved throughout the years – Long was the musician with the most subscribers for a period when YouTube was only a couple years old – she credits seeing her songs reach new heights on TikTok to her many years of songwriting experience. It might come naturally to her at this point – “Hrs & Hrs” was written absentmindedly to a random beat pulled off YouTube while Long was washing dishes – but she still aims to walk the tricky tightrope of finding the balance between the personal and the universal each time she writes. That sweet spot ensures a successful song, specific enough to be compelling but general enough to be relatable.
“The audience has expanded so much in 20 years. When people were writing love songs in the early 2000s, they were just thinking, cisgendered, man-woman,” she says. “Keeping the lyrics universal and genderless, something that can apply to everyone, any age, any race, helps me as a songwriter. When we have artists that are being universal with the language of love, there will be more opportunity to have songs like Musiq Soulchild’s ‘Love.’”
Sometimes, it’s completely by accident – the romantic lyrics of “Hrs & Hrs” caught the attention of the lesbian community, who became the catalyst for the song’s TikTok-fuelled success when using it in videos soundtracking couples’ activities. The catch was that many mistakenly thought the song’s title was pronounced “hers and hers,” rather than “hours and hours.” With Long’s songwriting, that didn’t really matter.
A lyric like “A love like ours, I pray for it on my knees,” found in the song, feels a little like a relic from a bygone era of R&B as well. Long gestures to the restrained, cool and conversational singing approach found in many modern tracks, and believing that many of her fellow artists and fans alike had been shying away from the genre’s history of authentic, messy emotion, perceived as “corny.” Long’s tangible admiration and heartbreak, delivered through electrifying vocal runs reminiscent of traditional 90s soul, was missing in a world of Summer Walkers and SZAs dropping smash hits like “No Love” and “I Hate U.”
Long believes that TikTok is helping a desire for authenticity take off on social media as well, and with it, a celebration of the quirks that make someone unique in real life becoming the replacement for the superficial and surface-level traits that were once perceived as “cool.” It’s why so many people are ready to gravitate to her work.
“I think bullying is going out of style, and I’m glad,” she says. “TikTok is like your diary, really. Who are you when you’re alone in your room? What it really shows is that most of us are living the same life. We all have the same story; we’re just viewing it through different lenses from different parts of the world.”
Signing off by dropping a couple book recommendations – she’s currently stocking up on self-confidence reading material like The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga – Long is well on her way to discovering her true self in a world that has pushed her into the background for too long.
By Glenn Alderson
Our 2022 festival highlights featuring Zach Zoya, Dee Holt, Fernie, Sunglaciers, Priors, and a conversation with Sub Pop CEO Megan Jasper.