I just learned about Janelle Monáe. As with many things in popular culture, I imagine I am far, far behind the times and that all of you are already converts to her awesomeness. If not, then here you go, thank you very much, the first video I saw of hers that twisted my ears into a licorice rope and swallowed them whole:
I was first caught by the strangeness of the video, the sci-fy-ness of it, coming into her world with the only knowledge of her being that she had an early album called The ArchAndroid. (She’s classified (somewhere) as an R&B and Soul artist, but her penchant for the SF throws my brain into dizzy loops of uncategorizable pleasure.) Then I was entwined in her voice, then hypnotized by her dancing, and then lost in the linguistic labyrinth of her lyrics.
But back to her dancing, her sheer charisma that bulldozes through the screen:
And yet what makes it all worthwhile, in the twisted forest of my synapses, is that she’s socially conscious, too. Too? I may mean mainly. Perhaps not as directly as Boots Riley of The Coup, but just as surely aimed.
The preach-rapping at the end of Q.U.E.E.N. is most direct in this (even though the welter of words means that much of it slips past me, at least, until the fourth or fifth viewing, ex. I’m tired of Marvin asking me, “What’s Going On?”) but it underlies every video I’ve seen, and the basic conceit of the songs (that Janelle Monáe is singing as Cindi Mayweather, an android in a future where androids are slaves, to be most reductive). Maybe it’s my own struggle to find out how to make my art change the world, to feel like what I’m writing is making things better, but anytime I find an artist I like doing the same (successfully), then I’m in love.
By which I mean, I’m in love.