Johnny Manuel Is the Stylish Musician You Should Have on Your Radar


 Welcome to Boys on Film, a series where we turn the spotlight on some of the most talented and stylish men in music, film, television, and fashion. Through an exclusive shoot and interview, we’ll give you a taste of how these men dress and what personal style means to them. 

After spending 15 minutes with musician Johnny Manuel, the word shape-shifter comes to mind. The singer-songwriter isn’t one to be tied down to a sole genre or singular look. Throughout his near 20 years in the industry, he’s been constantly evolving and showing fans different facets of not just his wide-spanning artistry but also his sartorial proclivities, the latter of which he admits are heavily influenced by his locale. It’s this fact that makes Manuel such a dynamic and exciting performer and someone to keep your eye on. 

Back in October, Manuel released his debut EP, Younger Skin. The R&B project marks his first-ever solo project and tells the story of his musical journey, a road long traveled that has led him to be the empowered artist he is today. Hailing from Michigan, Manuel discovered his joy for music while performing in the local church choir. He signed his first record deal at the age of 14, and at 16, he joined Lil’ Bow Wow on tour as an opening act. His career stalled until he made it onto season 12 of America’s Got Talent in 2017, where he wowed the judges and audiences with his rendition of Whitney Houston’s "I Have Nothing,” making it to the show’s semifinals. Following his noteworthy AGT appearance, he was recruited to join the group Equinox and represent Bulgaria in the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. Then in 2020, he was the runner-up in The Voice Australia. Now residing in Sydney with his husband, Manuel is finding his footing in the industry once again, this time creating music on his own terms. All the while, he’s embracing a more laid-back look complete with cool beachwear staples. 

While Younger Skin set the foundation for who Manuel is as an artist, 2023 promises to show even more sides of the musician, which includes a dance album and a fun design project. Ahead, we chat with the musician about coming into his own, the fashion brands on his radar, and taking style cues from Harry Styles.


(Image credit: Johnny Manuel)

For people discovering you for the first time, how would you describe your music? And what song of yours should they start with?

That is a very interesting question. I have a few different projects coming out, so I’m touching on a lot of different genres at the moment, which is cool, but my solo project that is out now, Younger Skin, is more R&B based because that’s the core of who I am. It’s foundational for me. And the song I would want people to listen to off of there would be "Out of Time” just because it encompasses everything. It tells the story of who I am as an artist. 

You released your debut EP, Younger Skin, in October, and it’s your first-ever solo project. How does this collection of songs reflect where you are at personally and as an artist?

This project, for me, meant everything, only because it is the foundation. It is the introduction for people into who I am as an artist. I’ve been around and in the recording industry for years, but this is the first time that I was actually able to tell my story honestly and just talk about what it’s been like for me as an artist in this industry trying to pursue this full-time. So Younger Skin is that for me—the embodiment of who I am as an artist. It actually tells the story of my journey, and it ends up where I am today, which is in this position of empowerment. I have a really great team of people around me. I am finally able to let my guard down and be myself completely and explore. Every day is a learning process for me. 

Is there a song on this EP that is particularly close to your heart?

It’s hard because really the entire project is a complete story. I feel like all the songs can stand on their own, though, and for me, "The Others” really represents… I feel the most connected to "The Others” just because I felt guided while I was writing it, and while we were in the studio, it came about so seamlessly and effortlessly. The melodies came really easily, and the lyrical content was there, and I really did feel like there was something in the room with us, like a bigger energy guiding us [and] like this is definitely the right thing to do at this moment.

Can you tell us a bit about your creative process of writing and recording music?

It’s a fun process for me. I am constantly listening to music, as you can imagine. As an artist, I’m always drawing inspiration from things around me but also mostly music. So whenever I know I’m about to go into the studio to start a new project, I start collecting songs that feel like the direction I want to go in and gather a sound. So sonically, it always comes together like that. And then once I’m in the studio, we usually tinker around with keyboards and guitars or whatever to come up with a theme. … Once we have a rough melody, I like getting on the microphone and mumbling things and just seeing what comes out, and it usually fumbles out of me. There will be a lyric that will pop out, and it will remind me of something that’s going on in my life or some story a friend told me or a movie I’ve watched, and we build it from there. 


(Image credit: Johnny Manuel)

I know fashion is a big part of your life as well. How does your style reflect who you are as a musician?

I think it all ties in. Most of what I choose or gravitate toward are designers like Halston. I’m a huge fan of Halston and Tom Ford. I think it’s just that thing of effortless and classic. And I’m quite into streetwear. I love wearing hoodies and comfortable things. I like things that will stand the test of time. 

What would you say is a Johnny Manuel style signature?

I am a huge fan of jewelry. I’m always covered in it [from] head to toe. I have this piece that I got from Tiffany & Co. that I got when I was 16 years old. It’s just a cuff, and I’ve worn it almost every single day of my life since then. So probably, that is my signature piece. 

What do you feel most comfortable wearing onstage?

Now, it’s literally a tee and jeans—a white tee and some jeans for me. I just feel so comfortable. And I stack jewelry on top of it. That’s when I feel the most at home. 

I know you have great relationships with brands like Ralph Lauren and Gucci, but are there any under-the-radar brands you are really excited about right now?

I don’t know about under the radar. I feel like most of what I buy people know about it already. But I do have some pieces from ACNE Studios that I’m pretty obsessed with. They are everyday pieces, and I can just throw them on. And as far as jewelry, I’ve been doing these collabs with Georg Jensen. I didn’t know much about the brand before I started working with them, but I’m loving their pieces. I’m wearing one of their necklaces now.


(Image credit: Johnny Manuel)

Would you ever want to design a jewelry collection?

Oh my god, that’s the goal! That’s the dream. We are working on some [fashion] pieces now. I have a hoodie that I’m going to introduce soon. So coming up next year, I’m excited about that. 

You’re from Michigan, have lived in Los Angeles, but now reside in Sydney, Australia. Would you say your style changes depending on the city you’re in? And if so, how has living in Sydney influenced your style at all?

Yeah, it’s interesting because when I got [to Sydney] there was an adjustment for me style-wise. The lifestyle here is very laid-back, and when I first moved here, we were living on the beach, so every day was board shorts and T-shirts. And since I’ve gotten here, I’ve really gotten into sunglasses. I would just say that my style is more laid-back now. Just not as much layering. 

Speaking of sunglasses, is there a pair you are really loving right now?

Yes, L.A.Eyeworks is a company in Los Angeles, and I’m obsessed with a pair that I got from them recently. Every time I wear them, someone walks up to me and asks where I got them. They are a muted-yellow color, and the tint is brown, and I think the color against my skin… People are just like, "What is going on over there?”

Are there any other musicians who you admire from a style perspective?

Maybe this is a cliché answer, but it’s honestly been this way for a few years. I really enjoy Harry Styles. I like a lot of what he’s doing. It seems effortless for him—the way he wears clothes—but I know there’s a team of people that are putting it together for him. But I love the way he wears clothes. 

One of my favorite style icons over the years has been Maxwell. I just love the way he dresses. I love his ease and his performances. It all ties into who he is as a person, and I really like his style.


(Image credit: Johnny Manuel)

What was your first designer purchase? And what was your most recent purchase that you are really excited about?

My first designer purchase would have been a pair of Prada boots. They had the velcro straps. I lived in Michigan at the time and wore them in the winter. I was obsessed with those boots. Recently, I bought a pair of Tom Ford espadrilles for the beach. My husband and I were going on a little staycation at Bondi, and I bought those. 

As we approach a new year, what are you looking forward to most in 2023?

As I touched on before, I feel like we are spinning out into a bunch of different genres, because I really would love to showcase my versatility as an artist. So Younger Skin, like I said, was foundational for me in 2022 and going back to my roots of R&B. And next year, I have a really fun dance project that will be coming out. It’s called The Hyups, and that will be the name I release it under. I couldn’t be more excited about that. I’m also featured on a jazz album in Belgium. That was really fun for me to record because I love jazz music but have never gotten a chance to be a part of it. So I’m very excited about 2023 and what that looks [like] for me musically and artistically.

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Executive Director, Entertainment

Jessica Baker is Who What Wear’s Executive Director, Entertainment, where she ideates, books, writes, and edits celebrity and entertainment features.