by Martha Ugwu
Janelle Monáe is a singer/songwriter known for her funky beats, eccentric style, and soulful, truthful lyrics. She is also known for her activism as well as her music. She first made her debut in 2010 with the release of her album titled The ArchAndroid, which earned her a Grammy Award nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album. The lead single on that album, called “Tightrope”, is a true testament of not only her musical talent, but her ability to convey subtle messages critiquing societal norms and addressing its flaws.
It’s a big universe. To stay in one tiny place is doing a disservice to yourself.
Looking past the infectious bassline, heavy percussion, and jazzy horn section, what is left are the words straight from the mind of Monáe, which stress the importance of maintaining balance in one’s life. The song also refers to the importance of individuality and creative freedom, two things that should be always be embraced, despite the scrutinizing prominence of modern-day society. From an entertainer’s standpoint, the song stands to represent the struggle of keeping a level head in an industry where it is quite easy to let the fame go to one’s head or completely crash and burn. Over the years, Monáe has made a name for herself, quickly gaining popularity in the music industry and garnering many accomplishments as a result of her hard work. She has received six Grammy Award nominations, became a CoverGirl spokeswoman in 2012, and released a sophomore album in 2013 titled The Electric Lady.
The lead single from that album, “Q.U.E.E.N.”, is a song done in a question and answer format that addresses the issues faced by many oppressed groups and sheds light on the stereotypes and misconceptions of these groups in society. The title doubles as an acronym which stands for Queer, Untouchables, Emigrants, Excommunicated, and Negroid. Monáe described the song on her twitter as one that “is meant to make you jam, dance, funk out and dialogue later.” “Q.U.E.E.N.” also features Erykah Badu and peaked at 47 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
Recently, Janelle Monáe has entered into a deal with Epic Records to rebrand her independent record label as Wondaland Records and to promote artists like Jidenna, Roman GianArthur, St. Beauty, and Deep Cotton. In addition, Monáe is scheduled to make her film debut in Moonlight, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, as well as starring in the upcoming film, Hidden Figures. Both are set to be released in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Janelle Monáe is a shining example of a person who defies any and all expectations by being true to herself. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind on the issues that matter to her and consistently fights for what she believes in.
Her activism reaches many different populations, such as the LGBT community, women, and African-Americans. Monáe’s style is unconventional, but at the same time, innovative in a way that forces anyone to take notice. Her creations are truly one of a kind and provide a glimpse into her artistic repertoire, which has described as “a soaring orchestral trip enlivened with blockbuster vocals, mysterious imagery and notes of Sixties pop and jazz.” Monáe has without a doubt forged a defiant path for herself, all the while, enlightening the masses on the struggles of the “Other”, or the people who are systematically oppressed or misrepresented in today’s society.