“abandon your expectations about art, race, gender, culture, and gravity”
-The Ten Droid Commandments
In the grand tradition of out-there musicians working with futuristic themes, from David Bowie and P. Funk to Kool Keith, Janelle Monáe has made a career out of spinning futuristic tales over infectious beats while channeling the androgyny of Prince and the moves of James Brown. This dapper dame who belts out sci-fi tinged R&B with a hint of funk in her Marlene Dietrich-style uniform of a starched shirt and tuxedo may not be giving Beyonce a run for her money but she is definitely making mainstream music way more interesting.
Born in Kansas City, Kansas, Janelle Monáe Robinson eventually left Kansas in search of her own Technicolor Oz to study drama in New York at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. After studying up in New York, Monáe moved to Atlanta where she linked up with Outkast’s Big Boi and founded the Wondaland Arts Society with other like-minded youth and made guest appearances on Outkast’s Idlewild. Under the wing of one of hip-hop’s most successful duos, Monáe’s sound and style developed, and she was eventually introduced to Diddy who fell for her innovative look and sound and signed her to Bad Boy in 2006. In 2007, Monáe dropped her first EP, Metropolis, beginning the tale of the Alpha Platinum 9000 android Cindy Mayweather and unleashing her unique brand of sci-fi infused R&B/funk on the world. With last year’s release of her follow up album ArchAndroid, receiving a Vanguard Award from the American Society of Composers, Artists and Publishers, an amazing performance at this year’s Grammys and another album on the horizon, this talented femme bot who cites Dorothy Gale and James Brown as influences is on her way to bringing her future to life.
While her music my be tinged with references to a Matrix-like future filled with performing androids, her attire is a solid nod to the dapper ladies and gents of the past. Where many see a beautiful, young girl who loves the look and feel of men’s wear-inspired pieces, Janelle Monáe sees her endless closet of tuxedos as a uniform much like the ones worn by working-class people who punch a clock everyday. Only instead of punching a clock in her sharply tailored uniform, this girl seduces a crowd with her fancy footwork and dynamic vocals for a living. By tipping her hat to ladies like Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn, who did the men’s wear as women’s wear thing ages ago, Monáe is also teaching young girls that its O.K. to be you, whoever “you” is. This disregard for what defines women’s and men’s wear is exactly what has landed her in the pages of glossy mags and ultimately, here.
So peep the videos and the photos, and pick up a few pointers form the only girl to make a pompadour look fly in the past few hundred years.
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