Janelle Monae: Musician Extraordinaire


Although I like music, I don’t get super excited by it very often. For the past 7 years or so, my favorite musician has stayed the same: the luminous, enchanting, and out-of-this-world talented Janelle Monae.

To put it simply, Janelle has the whole package; she’s every inch the performer. Her look is crafted, from her polished bouffant to her sleek black tuxes and crinkled bowties. She doesn’t just write music; she releases conceptual albums where each song flows into the next. Her mercurial, yet smooth and powerful voice changes on every song. Her lyrics contain no hackneyed phrases, and the production value of everything she does is enormous. On top of all of that, she is absolutely fantastic live.

Janelle window dancing

I’ve seen Janelle perform live exactly once, for a mere 20 minutes in the late summer of 2011. But it’s an experience I’ll never forget. Her booming voice and kinky yet astonishingly energetic dance moves filled the huge auditorium. Every piece of the performance was flawlessly executed, from the synchronization of the backup dancers to the accompanying conceptual video footage to the bundle of energy and joy that was Janelle herself. I get furious when people who can’t even sing earn millions of dollars thanks to their looks plus some clever advertising. In the midst of the dregs of the American music machine, Janelle’s talent radiates.


Though Janelle just released a new album, The Electric Lady, in September of last year, her first studio album, The ArchAndroid, remains my favorite. It’s a dazzling musical experience; each song is unique and there are no throwaways (Janelle would never compromise her artistic integrity by releasing a sub-par song).  From the soft, melodious “Oh, Maker” to the spasmodic and zombie-inspired “Come Alive (War of the Roses),” each song is a tour-de-force that showcases her vocal talent and creative compositional ability. (Hyperlinks to each song included – just click).

That said, I think that possibly my favorite Janelle Monae song of all time is “Q.U.E.E.N.” from her new album. Be sure to watch the video–you will see what I mean when I say her style is simultaneously eclectic and supersmooth. The ending of the song always gives me goosebumps.

To top it all off, I’ve read a handful of interviews with Janelle, and she’s always articulate. She readily identifies as a feminist, and has said “I want to redefine the whole notion of what sexy is.” I mean, the lady owns her own recording label and has creative control over everything. Some people don’t “get” the tuxedos she always wears, but I heard her explain it in a radio interview once:

I grew up to very hard working-class parents. My mom, her last occupation, she was a janitor; my dad was a trash man, and my stepfather who treated me just like his own, he worked at the post office. So they wore uniforms every single day. My grandmother also served food for 25 years at the county jail. And so when I was coming up with, you know, my fashion and trying to figure how I wanted to be presented as an artist, I decided to create a uniform. And it’s black and white, and it’s to pay homage to them, to remind me that the hard work that they did for the community, I have to keep it up, and continue that legacy through  music and through art.

Janelle Monae is beautiful from every direction. I hope you listen to a few of her songs, and remember–if there’s one you don’t like, there’s a huge chance you’ll adore another one.

Image sources: 1  2  3

18 thoughts on “Janelle Monae: Musician Extraordinaire

  1. Im a huge fan of Janelle Monae. Totally love her first album, Cold War is the perfect song. Not sure if you’ve seen this or not but when she played Come Alive at Glastonbury it was amazing:

    1. Oh my goodness, no, I don’t know how I missed that! It is INCREDIBLE! I heard rumors about that performance, though. My gosh. I love that she has the confidence to simply exit the stage, letting the musicians and audience carry on what she started. I got to see her perform Come Alive but it wasn’t such a big affair – she was an opening act so she wasn’t able to execute the song like she wanted, I’m sure. Nonetheless, her voice and vocal range are out of this world.

  2. Good artist, and great article Alina! I have her first album, which I admit to not listening to much, but stuff like Tightrope is just fantastic.

    1. By first album do you mean “ArchAndroid”? Or do you have one of the super rare copies of “The Audition”?!?! Yes, I think I am responsible for a million of the views on the “Tightrope” YouTube video 🙂

  3. My favorites are Come Alive 😉 , Tight Rope and Lock Inside (hmmm … I see feminist lines there). Did you read the words on her album inlay. It is whoa! 😀 A lot of conceptual albums worked for me. The ArchAndroid was so perfect to start the decade.

    1. No, I haven’t read the album inlay! I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I don’t own a physical copy—my new computer doesn’t even have a CD player, so I don’t really see the point. I would love to own one of the rare copies of her first CD, “The Audition,” though. Of course I love Tight Rope as well 🙂

      1. In her album inlay, she talks about how she came from another planet, sent here to earth to like, I can’t remember exactly, change the world through music or something like that. Like I said, it was whoa.

    1. Yes, I saw that the tour was canceled! So sorry to hear it. Sadly, she doesn’t come around Chicago very often, either. I have to say I am not terribly surprised that we have similar tastes in music, though 🙂

  4. I thoroughly agree. “57821” from The ArchAngel is an unbelievably gorgeous choral piece, while “Come Alive” is a kick-ass workout where she howls like a banshee. She might be better known if she played the glamour game, but she prefers to keep her integrity and her message.

    1. Ah yes, thank you for the reminder – I’m listening to “57821” on repeat now…
      And her determination to change (or at least augment) beauty standards is working to some degree! She signed a CoverGirl contract back in 2012 – her face pops up a lot more often now, at least in Target and U.S. drugstores, so she’s doing well.

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