With her 2007 EP Metropolis: Suite I (the Chase), Monáe created an alter ego, Cindi Mayweather, an android who was part of a futuristic society, and through three albums led listeners through the world she’d created.
janelle monae tour 2020 – Season 44 Episode 4407
American psychedelic soul and R&B singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer, born 1 December 1985 in Kansas City, Kansas, USA. Imagining that side of Monáe’s experience is difficult now that she’s cultivated such a strong and specific voice around queer politics and gender identity. It’s hard to imagine that side of her experience having seen her on her Dirty Computer tour last year, and having been part of the sea of voices in Madison Square Garden shouting “I’m dirty, I’m proud” back at her. Pride has become such a staple in her narrative and her art.
During this period, she met Mikael Moore, her longtime manager, and his classmates Chuck Lightning and Nate Wonder, who would eventually became close collaborators and form the backbone of all her creative efforts — writing songs with Monáe and directing her videos, which they continue to do. At an open-mic night, she met Antwan Patton, otherwise known as Big Boi, from OutKast. He invited her to contribute to Got Purp? Vol. II,” a 2005 compilation album that featured artists of Dirty South rap like Goodie Mob and Bubba Sparxxx but few other women. She also appeared on the soundtrack for Idlewild,” the 2006 musical film starring Patton and André Benjamin, or André 3000, Patton’s partner in OutKast.
Monáe presents liberation and identity as a performance. But it’s performance as a means of communication. If ever it served well to make an artist into an paragon for whichever intersecting lanes of black identity, she is a good fit for it. A black, queer woman and creator— a new breed of pop star.
This kind of targeted thinking also pervades Monáe’s artistic work, which she typically develops in conjunction with her longtime collaborators at the Wondaland Arts Society. Wondaland is a record label, a TV and film production company, a brand consultancy, a management firm, a hub for activism, and an actual place—the closest comparison being her late friend Prince’s Paisley Park, an inspiration for the enterprise. Its current physical manifestation is a grand suburban house outside Atlanta that has been converted into a supremely vibe-y complex of recording studios, offices, lounge spaces, and a communal kitchen.
Once Monáe settled in Atlanta, it quickly became apparent that it was the right move. “There are so many other likeminded individuals in Atlanta,” she continued. “I have a creative family down there — it consists of visual artists, performance artists, screenwriters, graphic novelists — you name it, they help make Atlanta special for me.” And it was there that she truly thrived.
She was named trailblazer of the year at Billboard’s Women in Music awards, woman of the year by Glamour. She came out as pansexual in a sprawling Rolling Stone cover story. And her album Dirty Computer , released this spring with a companion film — sorry, “emotion picture” — is Grammy-nominated for album of the year and can be found on practically every major list of the best albums of 2018, including ours.
On the album, Monae goes from declaring I just want to party hard, sex in the swimming pool” on Crazy Classic Life” to proclaiming, If you try to grab my (expletive) cat, this (expletive) grab you back” on I Got the Juice,” a dig at President Donald Trump and his comments about women in private conversation with Billy Bush widely aired during the 2016 presidential campaign.
As the sounds faded, the guests turned their attention to the eight women marching into the bar. Each wore aviators, leather jackets over black bodysuits and brightly colored tights. They struck dramatic poses — an arm flung over an eye, a hand on a cocked hip, a leg held askew — and paused as the singer Janelle Monáe strolled into the room and took her place in the middle. She was dressed in a studded motorcycle jacket over a white crop top, black palazzo pants, suspenders, a derby wool hat and mirrored sunglasses. A navel-length ombré rattail snaked over her shoulder. For a moment, she stood perfectly still, letting the room drink her in.
At the time, Lightning and Moore were running an arts collective called Dark Tower Project, which was inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and drew students from Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta University. One day, Moore stumbled across Monáe playing a free gig—just her and her guitar—on the steps of a library shared by the three schools. Impressed, he bought a CD and invited her to sing at a poetry slam the group was having the following evening. She opened her mouth to sing, and the audience leaned forward, agape,” recalls Wonder, also a Dark Tower member.
The mission of Wondaland Pictures is to highlight stories that historically haven’t been front and center. “There are a lot of other people that I respect and admire, like Issa Rae and Lena Waithe and Jordan Peele, who are also pushing forward underrepresented voices,” Monáe shared in an interview with NPR “I just hope, and Wondaland hopes, to continue to push culture forward and and redefine how we are viewed. I want to make movies the dirty computers can feel proud of.” You know this is going to be good.
This was a true collaborative process. We went back and forth on hundreds of texts, emails and phone calls, relaying Janelle’s desires and ideas to Christian Siriano, who would then in turn come back with his interpretation of her thoughts. Sketches, photos and videos were sent every step of the way, tweaking and adjusting as we went along. It was amazing to be a part of such a creative group of individuals, all working together to bring this incredible and iconic look to life.
A dark alley behind an apartment complex in Neon Valley Street. Two figures running hand in hand, one human, the other android. The buzz of chainsaws and the crackle of electro-daggers. This evocative image begins the tale of Cindi Mayweather, spun in lyrical form by Janelle Monáe: songstress, poet, dreamer, prophet, feminist, Afrofuturist.
Janelle Monáe sings directly to the camera before cracking from character, bursting out into brief laughter followed by an abrupt welling of tears. The wide-eyed robotic stares and theatricalist performance was overcome as the conflict buried in her eyes bubbled and surfaced for an unadulterated three minutes in that portrait frame of the artist. Within those four lines, Janelle Monáe offered, unbeknownst to us and maybe her, a glimpse of who she was.
And years before it became the norm for popular black art to lean political, she was doing it with nuance, invention, and steadiness, bending genres, telling stories, offering political and social commentary through song and image. In hindsight, this was a feat — especially for one signed to Bad Boy, an unlikely home for a singer producing avant garde art at this level.
But she was particularly close to one inspiration. Monáe was good friends with Prince, who personally blessed the album’s glossy camp tone and synthed-out hooks. When Prince heard this particular direction, he was like, ‘That’s what y’all need to be doing,’ ” Lightning says. He picked out that sound as what was resonating with him.” Prince gave highly specific music and equipment recommendations from the era they were drawing on, including Gary Numan, whom he loved. The most powerful thing he could do was give us the brushes to paint with,” Lightning says.
Janelle Monáe’s closet is a ‘Wondaland.’ From the first time we saw the ‘Electric Lady,’ she was dressed to impress in uniform tuxedos that paid tribute to her working-class parents. These days, Monáe’s ensembles are more forward-looking but her style remains just as stunning. Here she is at the screening and Q&A for ‘Hidden Figures’ at The London West Hollywood on Jan. 4, 2017.
One of the things that I felt was happening was, I was writing music only when I felt great. It was like, you go into the studio, and I want to go in when my heart is clear, when I know what I want to say. I got to point where it was crippling me, this idea of perfectionism, and it stopped me from writing for a minute. And what I decided to do was take some time. So when I wrote this album, it wasn’t about perfection. It was about the imperfections. It was about embracing all those things that make you unique, even if it makes your own self uncomfortable.
Monae’s new album, Dirty Computer, acknowledges her sexuality with a sense of liberation and self-belief, while addressing the struggles facing marginalised communities in Trump’s America. The ‘Dirty Computer’ artist reflects on her first year of being out publicly, why she decided to do it, and what work is still ahead for the LGBTQ+ community.
For years, Monáe’s funky escapades as Mayweather took us on such a wild ride that it didn’t matter that she was keeping listeners at arm’s length. Even though she was crafting her own utopia, Monáe never shied away from channeling her real feelings through her android persona.
Most popular music is so determinedly centered on heterosexual dynamics that any hint of same-sex interactions can feel revelatory, even radical, upon the first encounter. That’s the way it felt to me when I first watched Monáe’s film. The queer sexual interactions are refreshingly explicit — miming digital and oral sex — and images throughout celebrate women. The video for the song Pynk” is an extended appreciation of the female anatomy, with neon signs screaming, Expletive Power,” and pink-frilled jumpsuits that wouldn’t look out of place in a Judy Chicago installation.
I love Ralph Lauren,” said Monae in the interview. When I first started out, he was one of the first designers to dress me. I was wearing nothing but black and white tuxedos.” Now, the singer isn’t afraid of sporting unique takes on the tuxedo, like her Met Gala 2019 Christian Siriano gown that literally came alive, or her 2019 Jean Paul Gaultier Grammy’s dress that was basically a work of art.
Monáe is closing out the year in the studio. There’s not a day that goes by when she’s not surrounded by music, she says, and she’s he midst of reading widely (James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time” and The Great Cosmic Mother” by Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor currently have her attention) and sketching ideas for visuals and concepts as she plots her next move. When asked what’s in store in the new year, however, Mayweather takes over for the first time in our conversation.
Monáe started thinking along the lines of Dirty Computer even before she released The ArchAndroid. The concept came out of pivotal therapy sessions that helped her identify the ways she internalized the parts of herself she was afraid of. Accepting her dirt” has helped many others do the same.
Monáe is never more relaxed during our time together than when she’s in Kansas City. Her Midwestern drawl comes back as she screams and sings while running into the arms of her cousins, aunts and uncles, many of whom she gets to see only during the holidays or tour stops nearby. At one point, she curls up into her mom’s lap while they look at a homemade poster full of sepia-toned childhood pics. She was a delightful baby,” Auntie Fats recalls.
The singer, actress and activist had spent the first decade of her career somewhat eclipsed by her own musical alter ego (Cindi Mayweather, an android and narrator for almost the entirety of Monae’s previous catalog) and, more recently, by roles in Moonlight and Hidden Figures By publicly identifying as pansexual during the Dirty Computer rollout, she further stressed the album’s themes of agency for women, people of color and the queer community. It was hardly an easy move for a funk and R&B singer, one who came up in the Atlanta music scene of the aughts, but the response was immediate. Monae enjoyed her best first-week album sales to date, and Dirty Computer — which reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart — will compete for album of the year at the Feb. 10 Grammys.
It mimics the close-knit, constant accessibility of her childhood in Kansas City, with all its artists popping in and out of the space throughout each day to record new music, rehearse for shows and present the final product to the rest of the collective. At one point, the singer-rapper Jidenna shows up, having recently returned from a trip to Africa – everyone immediately starts teasing him about his newly buff physique.
She always ducked questions about her sexuality (I only date androids” was a stock response) but embedded the real answers in her music. If you listen to my albums, it’s there,” she says. She cites Mushrooms & Roses” and Q.U.E.E.N.,” two songs that reference a character named Mary as an object of affection. In the 45-minute film accompanying Dirty Computer, Mary Apple” is the name given to female dirty computers” taken captive and stripped of their real names, one of whom is played by Tessa Thompson. (The actress has been rumored to be Monáe’s girlfriend, though Monáe won’t discuss her dating life.) The original title of Q.U.E.E.N.,” she notes, was Q.U.E.E.R.,” and you can still hear the word on the track’s background harmonies.
Monáe crash-landed in Atlanta, where Southern rap icon Big Boi — one half of the groundbreaking group OutKast — helped launch her career — after the turn of the millennium. Monáe emerged as an adventurous voice long before mainstream audiences caught on to the alternative, arty sound she was perfecting.
MONÁE: Absolutely. And I love, I love wearing that with so much pride and just educating people on Kansas and the arts programs and the artists that come out of there who were just so incredible. And they may not have always gotten that big break, but I definitely want to give hope to the up-and-coming artists and people who are striving to execute their big ideas that it is possible.
In February 2015, Monáe’s label Wondaland Arts Society announced a joint venture with L.A. Reid’s Epic Records to promote her artists, starting with the March release of Wondaland Presents: The Eephus, which features tracks by Jidenna, Roman, St. Beauty, Deep Cotton and Monáe. Billboard magazine called Monáe “a mini-mogul,” recognizing her business acumen and artistry in running her own label.
Monáe’s family members all share different versions of the same story: She was born to be a star, and she made that clear as soon as she gained motor skills. There was that time she got escorted out of church for insisting on singing Michael Jackson’s Beat It” in the middle of the service. There were the talent shows for Juneteenth where she covered The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” three years in a row and won each time. She was the star of the school musicals, except for The Wiz her senior year, when she lost the role of Dorothy because she had to leave the audition early to pick up her mom at work. She’s still a bit miffed about not getting that part.