I have no idea why it’s taken me four years to write a love letter to the incredible Janelle Monáe, but here it is.
Ms. Monáe, woman of Wondaland, rocker of power suits, producer of hot beats, creator of ‘emotion pictures,’ and agitator of the man… BLESS YOUR SOUL.
At the 2018 Grammy’s, Monáe gave an impassioned speech about the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. She exclaimed proudly, "We are also daughters, wives, sisters, mothers and human beings…We come in peace, but we mean business. And to those who would dare try to silence us, we offer two words: 'Time's up.' We say 'Time's up' for pay inequality; time's up for discrimination; time's up for harassment of any kind.”
Fierce words from a fierce woman.
But Monáe has always been fierce, and she has never parsed her words. Since her musical breakthrough over a decade ago, she has been an agitator, pushing past the patriarchy and its confines. Monáe has steadily been fighting for women and other marginalized communities through her art. Political statements have been at the core of this futuristic woman’s work.
Back in 2013, in her song Electric Lady, Monáe was already preaching girl power and intersectionality. An entire song praising this wonderful, inspiring ‘electric lady,’ Monáe sang “She'll walk in any room have you raising up your antennas/She can fly you straight to the moon or to the ghettos/Wearing tennis shoes or in flats or in stilettos/Illuminating all that she touches.”
That same year, Monáe released the track Q.U.E.E.N. featuring the incredible Erykah Badu, written for the “ostracized and marginalized.” In an interview with Fuse, Monáe said she "wanted to create something for people who feel like they want to give up because they're not accepted by society." The title itself is a powerful message. Beyond standing for an ode to women, “the Q represents the queer community, the U for the untouchables, the E for emigrants, the second E for the excommunicated and the N for those labeled as negroid.”
Tipping her hat to those who don’t fit under the heteronormative framework in society, Monáe sang, “Is it weird to like the way she wears her tights?/Am I freak because I love watching Mary?" And in her rap verse, Monáe has a message to her haters, "March to the streets/Cause I'm willing and I'm able/Categorize me/I defy every label!"
Monáe has also never shied away from politics. In fact, politics are very often at the core of her music. In 2013, Monae came out with Hell You Talmbout, a 5-minute emotion picture (as she calls them) that reads as a protest song – providing a lost list of black lives that have been lost to police brutality.
Cut to 2018, after a five-year hiatus from music (racking up credentials in the acting world) Monáe is back with her new album Dirty Computer, and on it are two out-of-this-world tracks: Make Me Feel and Django Jane. These two tracks are both Black feminist songs, sure to become anthems in the feminist community, exploring the intersections of gender, race, and sexuality.
Django Jane is a no nonsense #BlackGirlMagic anthem, rapping about female empowerment and Black media representation.
In her interview with the Guardian, Monáe said this track was in response to “feeling the sting of the threats being made to my rights as a woman, as a black woman, as a sexually liberated woman, even just as a daughter with parents who have been oppressed for many decades.” On this track, Monáe is speaking to, “Black women and those who have been the ‘other’ and the marginalized in society – that’s who I wanted to support...”
Django Jane is a call to all women; a defiant protest anthem. The song remind men, “We gave you life/we gave you birth/we gave you God/we gave you earth.” She also specifically speaks to and for Black women, rapping: “Black girl magic/y’all can’t stand it.” She also addresses mansplaining with a no bullshit attitude: “Hit the mute button/let the vagina have a monologue/Mansplaining, I fold ‘em like origami/What’s a wave, baby? This a tsunami.”
On the other end of the artistic spectrum, Monáe’s emotion picture Make Me Feel, is about celebrating differences, happiness and sexual freedom. She rocks some serious Prince vibes (who was her long-time mentor) that make me want to whip out my raspberry beret.
In Make Me Feel, Monáe runs back and forth between her male and female love interests, quite literally in one scene, illustrating the fluidity of sexual orientation and our ability to not only be attracted to multiple genders, but also our ability to love more than one person at a time, debunking the cultural norms of heterosexuality and monogamy. In another scene, Monáe dances alone on the screen without a bra, one again telling the world that she will not adhere to the cultural restrictions imposed on women. And to anyone who second guesses one’s sexual orientation, Monáe has a simple response: “That's just the way that I feel now, baby/Good God! I can’t help it!/Hey! That’s just the way that I feel/Please! I can’t help it.”
Throughout this emotion picture, Monáe oozes self-confidence and self-acceptance. She sings an anthem preaching of self-determination. She dresses how she chooses, dances the way she likes, and loves who she wants. In the pre-chorus, Monáe remind us that all women are complex beings, “It’s like I’m powerful with a little bit of tender/An emotional, sexual bender.”
Janelle Monáe isn’t just making waves and taking names in her art, she’s making a difference with other forms of activism.
At the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, she spoke with grace and passion: “Remember to choose freedom over fear!” Later in 2017, before the inception of Time’s Up, Monáe also launched the grassroots non-profit organization Fem the Future: aimed at empowering self-identified women, especially in the arts.
Speaking on her new album Dirty Computer to the Guardian, Monáe said it best: “I’m about women’s empowerment. I’m about agency. I’m about being in control of your narrative and your body…you don’t own or control me and you will not use my image to defame or denounce other women.”
Sing it, girl.