Janelle Monáe has proven herself one of the most innovative and intriguing artists in the industry. Her art, which includes singing, acting and coordinating her own record label, asks audiences to consider where they stand in the world.
The Kansas City-born artist has been working in entertainment for around 15 years. During that time, Monáe has released one EP and two albums, starred in the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight and box-office hit Hidden Figures and created the Wondaland record label.
Music journalist Bernadette McNulty described Monáe as a “super-musical cross between James Brown, Judy Garland, Andre 3000 and Steve Jobs,” in a 2010 Telegraph article, which aptly describes Monáe.
Monáe’s art primarily centers around the concept of ‘androids.’ Her EP Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) and studio albums The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady all explore the futuristic world through the eyes of Monáe’s android alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather. Monáe’s Mayweather acts like David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust or Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce, allowing Monáe to explore different music styles and society itself.
Monáe believes that the android represents the other. An android is neither completely robotic nor completely human, prompting misguided persecution from the wholly-human and wholly-robotic sides. The android has plenty of counterparts in the present, according to an interview with Monáe from Wired.
“There are so many parallels between androids and African-Americans, androids and minorities, androids and gay people, androids and females,” Monáe said. “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.”
In the Metropolis EP, Monáe’s character Mayweather is on the run from a repressive regime for falling in love with a human. By The Electric Lady, she has become the leader of a movement set on freeing the people of Earth from their various bonds. Conscious of class, race, gender and sexuality, Monáe’s music centers around love and liberation—people should love who they want to and have the rights that everyone else shares.
Monáe’s third studio album, Dirty Computer—set to be released on Friday April 27—promises to be her most exciting work, if the three music videos she has released in preparation are any indication. The videos—(“Make Me Feel,” “I Like That, “Pynk” and “Django Jane”)—display more of Monáe and less of her character Mayweather.
Although Monáe hasn’t abandoned her fascination with the future, the new music appears more personal, political and present.
“This time around, because of the current events that are happening in the world … I felt like this was the right time to make Dirty Computer an album that deals with a lot of emotions,” Monáe told BBC Radio One.
“There were a lot of times that I would stop recording, deeply upset and angry living over in America and feeling that the people I love—and me—were being pushed to the margins of society by the leader of the free world and the current regime.” Monáe said.
Monáe’s song “Pynk” responds directly to this “‘current regime.”’ “Pynk” is a sensual song about self-love and sexuality, and in the music video, viewers see a woman who wears underwear embossed with the word “I grab back.” The audience understands this line to reference President Donald Trump’s admission about sexually assaulting women.
In the video for “Make Me Feel,” Monáe ostensibly examines herself and her sexual identity. In a funk-R&B fusion that she workshopped with Prince before his 2016 death, Monáe apparently broadcasts her non-heterosexual identity, according to The Guardian.
At one point in the video, Monáe’s character literally runs back and forth between actress Tessa Thompson and a male actor to dance sexually on each which represents her openness to love regardless of gender. While she later would not confirm her bisexuality in an interview with The New York Times, many have taken it as tacit validation.
A unique sound, meaningful messages and renewed focus on the political and personal make Monáe one of the most important artists in our current cultural landscape. If she succeeds with Dirty Computer, it will only elevate her art