Browse Janelle Monáe’s press clippings and you’ll notice the same words keep reappearing: oddball, quirky, eccentric, kookie. They aren’t wrong. She’s all these things. But she’s not hung up on whatever preconceived notions you have.
“People can try to categorize me. I think it’s fun,” Monáe says from the road on a tour that brings her to Johnny Brenda’s for two shows this week. “I think everyone means well. I try not to get too high when I’m praised or too low when criticized. I create art. That’s what I focus on.”
Ah, yes. “Can’t get too high or too low.” It’s the theme and chorus of Monáe’s breakout hit “Tightrope” featuring OutKast’s Big Boi—a funky, infectious power romp that has burst out of 2010’s gate to become a solid frontrunner for single of the year. “Tightrope” is the first single off The ArchAndroid, Monáe’s major label debut and follow-up to 2008’s stellar Metropolis, which Monáe released on her own Wondaland Arts Society indie.
Out May 18, ArchAndroid is a Philip K. Dick novel on wax, packed full of the same sci-fi themes that made Metropolis stand out like a purple cow in a pasture full of brown—androids, solar systems, planets and space travel inhabit Monáe’s out-there galaxy. There is one different ingredient this time around though: P. Diddy. He was so taken by Metropolis he made Monáe a Bad Boy artist, calling her his “most artistic signing to date.”
There’s another. Make it oddball, quirky, eccentric, kookie, artistic.
“At least there aren’t any ‘borings’ in there,” Monáe laughs.
We started a couple sentences and asked Monáe to fill in the blanks. You’re about to read them.
It’s May 18, and everyone has rushed out to buy The ArchAndroid. The one thing I hope they take away from it is ... “Empowerment. I want them to feel that they can be the ArchAndroid in their communities, agents of change. I want artists to hear this and be really inspired about the art they create. I think it’s very important that as artists we inspire people to find out what their passion is, to embrace who you are. Embrace the qualities that make you unique, and turn them into super powers.”
The biggest misconception about me is … “That I am high energy all day, every day. I am a person who needs to stay very balanced and in my spare time I am more relaxed and intuitive than most people would think.”
The biggest misconception about P. Diddy is … “That he doesn’t understand creative music. He cried when he heard The ArchAndroid . This is a collaborative project. There are no bosses. If anything, I’m the boss. Nothing goes past me without my approval. And Diddy is a believer in and supporter of the Wondaland Art Society, my indie label. When people believe in something, they don’t want to see it change. He’s a supporter of the art as it is. He’s like ‘soar, fly, be creative.’ He wants to see what’s next anyway. He wants to be shocked by what Janelle Monáe does on stage. Nobody wants to get rid of that. He doesn’t get credit for being as creative as he is.”
In my song “Cold War” off ArchAndroid I sing “This is a cold war, you better know what you’re fighting for.” What I’m fighting for is … “For all people to embrace their true selves.”
Everyone can see the OutKast influence in my music and performance. But an influence they might be surprised by is … “Salvador Dalí. A lot of surrealism. Dalí was a huge inspiration for [ArchAndroid]. Frida [Kahlo] was an influence. I’m a visual artist. I’ve been so inspired by pictures that I’ve seen and pieces of art throughout the process of The ArchAndroid that it kinda spilled into the creation of the project. We started thinking about the sounds in terms of colors. ‘How can we make this song sound more green?’ How can this one be more blue?” That’s a way we talked. Or we want this one to sound like that Dalí painting feels."
Wed., March 17 and Thurs., March 18, 9pm. $12. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. 215.739.9684. johnnybrendas.com
We started a couple sentences and asked Churchman to fill in the blanks. You’re about to read them.
PW's Music Issue 2014