Women Who Rock: Janelle Monae

Have you seen those CoverGirl commercials with the gorgeous young woman in a ’60s-style suit, bright red lips, and fantastic pompadour? In case you were wondering, that’s Janelle Monáe and she is amazing. While she’s been compared to everyone from Lauryn Hill to Janet Jackson, I tend to describe her as the imagined love child of Diana Ross and James Brown.

Cover Girl ad featuring Janelle Monae
Photo from CoverGirl. Click for more photos, featured on CoverGirl’s Pinterest board.

It’s only been just short of three years since her first studio album, The ArchAndroid, was released. During that year, Monáe’s concept album climbed up the Billboard charts, earned a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album, and made it onto many “Best of 2010″ lists including those published by Spin, Vibe, Pitchfork, Entertainment Weekly, and MTV. In 2012, she was featured in the song “We Are Young” by Fun. which made it to #1 and won a Song of the Year Grammy.

Even though concept albums are usually meant to be listened to from beginning to end, The ArchAndroid is filled with songs that do just fine on their own. If you haven’t heard it yet, start with “Tightrope” and see if you can listen to it without dancing in your seat. (If you can’t resist the urge to dance along, it happens to be on the “Just Dance 3” video game also.) Better yet, check out the video below. (Note the James Brown influence on Monáe’s music as well as her dance moves.) But if you prefer to get the whole concept album experience, then The ArchAndroid will tell you the tale of an android named Cindi, first introduced in Monáe’s Metropolis EP, who “has been sent to free the citizens of Metropolis from the Great Divide, a secret society using time travel to suppress freedom and love throughout the ages.” It’s like a sci-fi movie starring David Bowie while the music from Wizard of Oz and Motown’s Greatest Hits play in the background.

In addition to being a musical genius, Janelle Monáe is also very grounded, intelligent, and self-aware. She speaks as if she knows she is in a position to be a role model to girls and young women and doesn’t take that lightly. For example, here’s what she says about her signature black-and-white-formal-wear look:

I feel like I have a responsibility to my community and other young girls to help redefine what it looks like to be a woman. I don’t believe in men’s wear or women’s wear, I just like what I like. And I think we should just be respected for being an individual… I’ve been in Vogue, now, and different publications, which is cool, because I think that it just shows a different perspective of how women can dress.

And after becoming the new face of CoverGirl, she stated during a speech at the BLACK GIRLS ROCK! 2012 awards ceremony

I want to be clear, young girls, I didn’t have to change who I was to become a CoverGirl, I didn’t have to become perfect because I’ve learned through my journey that perfection is the often the enemy of greatness. Embrace what makes you unique, even if it makes other uncomfortable.

By April

If I had a dollar for every time I got distracted, I wish I had some ice cream.

15 replies on “Women Who Rock: Janelle Monae”

When she won the Young, Gifted, and Black Award at BLACK GIRLS ROCK! 2012 she also added class consciousness to her public image, talking about her pride and honor of having come from working folk who wear uniforms and having been one herself:

“When I started my musical career I was a maid, I used to clean houses. My parents—my mother was a proud janitor, my step-father who raised me like his very own worked at the post office and my father was a trash man. They all wore uniforms. And that’s why I stand here today in my black and white and I wear my uniform to honor them.”

She’s amazing.

I’ve been obsessed with her since ArchAndroid/Metropolis, and I’m so excited to see her getting more and more attention. “Tightrope” is my jam, but I had to stop listening to it while I was working out because I kept trying to dance on the treadmill. That never ends well.

I saw her first on an episode of Stargate Universe and was like ‘wait what did I just see that needs to be followed up right now!’ Amazing. As if I needed more reasons to love her more. The videos for ‘Many Moons’ and ‘Cold War’ – while vastly different – are each stunning. I’ve always been a huge huge fan of one-take videos and ‘Cold War’ takes it home.

Yes! I almost used the ‘Many Moons’ video but I noticed that it was posted somewhere around here before, on an Open Thread I believe. It sums up the whole Cindi Mayweather, Arch Android story a bit more. And ‘Cold War’ is probably my second favorite song of hers, ‘Tightrope’ being the first.

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