September 26, 2020
From starring roles in Moonlight and Hidden Figures, to a genre-busting musical career, the Actor and Singer has always gone her own way
Janelle Monáe: ‘What is a revolution without a song?’
A downside, perhaps, to the sheer imaginative power of Janelle Monáe is that it’s hard not to bring unreasonable expectations to any conversation one has with her. The musician and actor is on the phone from her home in Los Angeles, where for the last six months she has been sitting out lockdown. Monáe’s music career is dominated by sci-fi imagery, thrilling story arcs and inventiveness of a kind that has earned her comparisons to Prince, with whom she worked and could go toe-to-toe, not only on talent but also outlandish wardrobe decisions. The voice on the line, by contrast, is quiet, serious and devoid of all whimsy. She’s also terrifically earnest. To give an idea: Monáe is 34 but, asked to confirm her age, she says with what sounds like complete sincerity: “I’m timeless.”
She isn’t wrong, in a way; there is something about Monáe’s work that defies time and space, from her iconic first EP in 2007, Metropolis – in which she introduced her robotic alter ego, Cindi Mayweather, a character she used over the course of three albums to explore what happens when you break from convention – to the iconic 2018 feminist anthem Pynk, to her collaborations with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Grimes. Her music ranges wildly across the spectrum, taking in influences as various as cabaret, electronica, rap, orchestral, plastic pop and English folk, while falling within a cultural movement combining black history with sci-fi known as Afrofuturism. And this is before you even get to her acting career.
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