Mon. Jan 17th, 2022

Quadruple threat Janelle Monáe Robinson, a singer-songwriter, actress, model and multifaceted creative, was born in 1985 in Kansas City, Kan. Soon after, she travelled to the city of dreams to pursue hers in studying drama at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. In 2001, she met Big Boi from Outkast and, along with other kindred artists, founded the Wondaland Arts Society—a semi-communal group of free-ranging creatives.

Monáe’s first EP, “The Audition,” was released in 2003. Her work soon caught the attention of P. Diddy, who felt she had something “new and fresh,” and she signed with Bad Boy Records in 2006. “Metropolis,” her first solo work inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film of the same name, dropped in 2007. The album tells the story of Cindi Mayweather, an android in the year 2719 who falls in love with a human, an offense punishable by disassembly. Monáe’s incorporation of science fiction, magical realism and African culture in her work quickly established her as an important figure in the Afrofuturism movement.

A continuation of the concept behind “Metropolis,” “The ArchAndroid” was released in May 2010. Monáe cites inspiration from Hitchcock, Debussy and Philip K. Dick among a wide range of others. These sources are visible in the album’s similar visual styles, conceptual themes and political agendas. In the story Monae tells through her art, androids represent the Other, an oppressed minority that must break status quo in order to prosper. “The ArchAndroid” continues this narrative with Cyndi Mayweather sent back in time to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time travel to suppress freedom and love, reminiscent of the Wallflower Society in Ishmael Reed’s “Mumbo Jumbo.” The first single from Monae’s next album, “The Electric Lady,” “Q.U.E.E.N.” featuring Erykah Badu, reached 31,000 digital sales, and its music video broke four million views within the first week of its release. The song was conceptualized from Monáe’s thoughts on the treatment of marginalized people, especially black women, and the title is an acronym for “those who are marginalized”: Q for “queer community,” U for “untouchables, the two Es for “emigrants” and “excommunicated,” and N for “negroid.”

Monáe’s talents don’t end with music: she played Mary Jackson in Theodore Melfi’s “Hidden Figures” (2016) and Teresa in Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” (2016). Her acting career continues in her most recent album “Dirty Computer” (2018), accompanied by a narrative film project. Billboard called “Dirty Computer” “one of the most important bodies of work you’ll hear this year” as a “force for positivity and inclusivity.” Through her work, Monáe aims to create a space for marginalized individuals of all backgrounds; she identifies as pansexual in a Billboard interview, stating,“I want young girls, young boys, non-binary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you. This album is for you. Be proud.”

Caroline Fritz is a fourth-year student majoring in English.

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