For the record: Janelle Monáe, ‘The Electric Lady’
Music Columnist Meghan LeVota on the singer’s new album
Janelle Monáe: You may only know her from Fun.’s hit single “We are Young,” but I assure you, this rising starlet will surely make an impression.
An exceptional vocalist, Monáe defines the modern jazz movement by mixing in elements of pop and R&B. In 2010, I got the opportunity to see her live, managing to snag free tickets when she performed at the grand opening of my suburban hometown’s events center. As she was opening for Bruno Mars, I didn’t know quite what to expect from Monáe. But her energy blew me away, and I knew that this would be the last time she would be performing at a venue that small.
Monáe has tremendous presence and is known for her signature hairstyle and style in general — in this case, a suit and tie paired with black-and-white oxfords. She also can dance like Michael Jackson, with a moonwalk that makes the crowd go wild.
Monáe, a Kansas City native, clearly aims to create not just music but an entire art project. A true storyteller, Monáe has created an alternate universe complete with her own alter ego, Cindi Mayweather. Taking place in a futuristic society, Cindi, a sub-human android, falls in love with human Anthony Greendown. Cindi was then named top fugitive and found herself chased by Droid Control bounty hunters, ostracized from society.
Fans first met Cindi on Monáe’s debut album Metropolis: The Chase Suite. The story continued with The ArchAndroid and now Monáe’s most recent album, The Electric Lady.
This story may seem perfectly interesting to you already, if you are interested in futuristic robot worlds. But the way Monáe views “the androids” is a little bit more complex.
“(W)hen I speak about the android, it’s the other,” Monáe told Between the Lines newspaper in September. “And I think, again, you can parallel that to the gay community, to the black community, to women — we have so many things in common, and we sometimes don’t know it when we allow small things to get in the way. So this music is meant to inspire and bring wings to those who are weak and grace to those when they are strong.”
All of the sudden, Monáe’s grand metaphor statement is starting to make sense.
Fans fell in love with Monáe’s captivating vocals and style in ArchAndroid, and The Electric Lady is no different. Monáe separates her storytelling through overtures, as she includes one at the beginning of each album as if to introduce a new chapter.
The album begins with “Suite IV: Electric Overture,” which provides a perfect introduction. But the album really kicks off with “Givin Em What They Love” featuring the platinum record selling musician, Prince. This track is catchy and just plain funky.
The album’s single “Q.U.E.E.N.” truly captures Monáe’s IDGAF attitude: “Is it peculiar that she twerk in the mirror? / And am I weird to dance alone late at night? / And is it true we’re all insane?” Although seemingly playful, the theme of ostracism of the “not normal” is definitely evident in this song.
Other notables include “PrimeTime” featuring Miguel, which samples the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?” over a slow, funky beat.
Monáe breaks up the album with three interludes that further the storyline; featuring the fictional Metropolis radio station WDRD led by “your favorite robotic, hypnotic, psychotic” DJ Crash Crash, who receives calls that review Cindi’s situation.
“Also, I wanna say The Droid Control can kiss the rust of the left and the right cheek of my black metal ass,” says the voice of a female caller on “Good Morning Midnight (Interlude).”
After several jazzy, funky hits, the mood transitions with “Suite V: Electric Overture,” signifying a new chapter. The second half of the album features breathtaking jazz ballads like “Can’t Live Without Your Love,” showcasing Monáe for the talent she is.
Monáe is a superstar, and she doesn’t care who knows it. Whether or not jazz is your style, you gotta give credit where it’s due: Monáe and her talent have contributed to this genre, and I look forward to seeing where it’s going.