6 Things You Should Know About Janelle Monáe
This concert hall is either too big or too small. The Warfield in San Francisco holds about 2,300 people, but its cavernous stage looks like it could all but swallow Janelle Monáe. And maybe it could, if her powerhouse voice and manic energy weren’t so outsized they threaten to blow the roof off the joint.
Monáe isn’t actually on tour right now, but she’s been playing a lot of shows lately. Radio City Music Hall with Dave Chappelle. Atlanta with OutKast. Sesame Street with Big Bird and crew. In a few weeks she’ll bring her meticulously uniformed live act back to San Francisco for the Treasure Island Music Festival. Tonight, though, it’s a benefit for REDF, a California non-profit that helps create jobs for people who have been homeless, spent time in prison, struggled with mental health issues, or dropped out of school. The evening started as a fairly formal dinner affair, but Monáe has the crowd out of their coats and shawls before you can say “black tie optional.”
This is what Monáe does best, next to writing and recording music. Her shows are flurries of excitement that speed through her hits, a few well-curated deep cuts, and even some frenetic covers (tonight’s selections include the Jackson 5 and “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince, who it’s worth noting is a fan of Monáe’s). She’ll end her set by walking into the crowd and standing on one of the benefit’s finely-appointed tables. The Electric Lady has pwned the room.
The Electric Lady, for those who don’t know, is Monáe’s latest album. It’s also the most recent single from said album—an incredibly catchy summer jam with a similarly intoxicating video. It’s also also a huge part of her aesthetic. Electric Lady, like much of Monaé’s past work, is inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, as well as themes ranging from Afrofuturism to class oppression. But that’s just the beginning. Here are six other things you should know about Monáe.
Her Androids Are Metaphors For a Lot of People
If there’s one concept that comes up more than any other in Monáe’s songs, its androids. That is, after all, what an “electric lady” is. The hero of her Metropolis series (her two most recent albums and the Metropolis: Suite I EP) is a persecuted android named Cindi Mayweather sent from the future… who turns out to be a messiah to the people of a class-divided city. “When you talk about androids there are so many parallels between androids and African-Americans, androids and minorities, androids and gay people, androids and females,” Monáe says backstage following the REDF event. “We’re talking about those who are oftentimes discriminated against or treated as less-than, and I just thought it was such a world that hadn’t been talked about in that way and I wanted to be one of the first to do it.”
Young Janelle Monáe Is Very Happy Adult Janelle Monáe Was on Sesame Street
When she was in elementary school, young Janelle Monáe used to watch Sesame Street while she ate cereal and her mom combed her hair. So when the show asked her to guest-star on a recent episode, she had to say “yes.” “Sesame Street helped raise me,” she says. “So I just wanted to do something that my niece and nephew could be proud of. So I can get cool points from them. Also, just to say ‘thank you’ for raising me, you know?” As for the song she sang with Big Bird and company—”Power of Yet”—that hit home, too. “I’m excited and inspired by it, because I haven’t done everything that I want to do and that’s the great thing about life,” she says. “I think I’m in a good place in my life where people are only getting just a small percentage of just who I am and although I may not have reached all the goals that I want, there’s still a possibility.”
Monáe Is Reading Creativity, Inc. (Stars, They’re Just Like Us!)
The influence of science fiction like Lang’s film Metropolis is obvious in Monáe’s work. (The cover of her 2010 album The ArchAndroid shows her rendered in the image of the female android Maschinenmensch from the film.) But that’s just the beginning of the sci-fi seasoning in her music and style. “Films like Her, I loved that. The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil. I love him. That was a huge inspiration to me and my writing process,” Monáe says. “I love Octavia Butler. Isaac Asimov. Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World.” When she was younger, she used to watch The Twilight Zone with her grandmother and these days she’s reading Creativity, Inc., the book about creativity in the workplace by Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull and (sometimes WIRED) writer Amy Wallace. She also really loved Snowpiercer. “I try to look outside of the music industry, so science fiction is a great way to tell a universal story in an unforgettable way,” Monáe says.
Her Uniform Is a Political Statement, Not a Fashion One
Call it The Janelle Monáe Look. Sometimes it’s riding pants and suspenders, sometimes it’s a tuxedo; almost always it’s black-and-white. She’s a Cover Girl and always looks #Flawless, but her look isn’t really about fashion. “I have been very vocal about why I wear black and white, why I wear a uniform—it’s to pay homage to the working class,” she says. “People like my mom, who had to leave school early because she was pregnant with me. She was a custodial worker. My dad was in prison and the first job—the only job—he could get was being a trash man. They raised me and for this organization to create jobs for high school dropouts, people who have been in prison or homeless, hits home for me.”
She’s Not Working on a New Album … At Least Not Right Now
During this summer’s Bonnaroo festival, where she performed, Monáe teased that she was working on a “new, cool creative project.” But when asked if she’s been writing any new music, she answers flatly “no.” “I’m not doing anything right now,” she says. “I’m just here at this event and taking a break.” Hm. Well, she did say her new project was “a big concept and you’re not going to see it coming.” So maybe it’s not an album at all?
Monáe’s Song Of Summer Is…
This summer has been dominated by female pop stars like Iggy Azalea, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, and Beyoncé. Add Monáe to that list. Ask what her favorite jam of the summer was, and the answer is obvious: “I think it’s ‘Electric Lady’ by Janelle Monáe.” She doesn’t, however, have a karaoke jam of the summer. “I don’t really do karaoke,” she says. Bummer.
By Angela Watercutter
In other Ms Monáe inspired news…
Above is a poor mans Janelle Monáe Zahra Newman who will be starring as Rosalind in As You Like It as part of the Bell Shakespeare 2015 season in Sydney…
"Time travels at different speeds for different people"
Clearly from the quote above ol’ mate Will saw her coming. Seriously though, we hope that they didn’t pay a costume designer for that get up…
Still, might be worth going to check out - it’s happening in Feb-Mar 2015 at the Opera House.