Future Black History Month: Janelle Monáe – Android, Artist and Leader
Fuse is once again celebrating an extended Black History Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future Black History before our eyes. Today we honor Janelle Monáe, whose contributions to culture are already manifold—in social activism, in boundary-pushing popular music, in fashion, in the music industry—and continuously growing.
Monáe, 31, made her screen-acting debut in two of 2016's biggest films, Moonlight (Best Motion Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes, up for eight Oscars next) and Hidden Figures (nominated for two Globes, three Oscars). In the latter, she's one of three protagonists, alongside Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson. Both narratives had black leads—predominantly women and gay men—and plots that centered exclusively on their experiences.
Janelle Monáe's involvement in such celebrated, meaningful projects is not coincidental.
Monáe's ability to both create and channel greatness is deep. She's the founder of Wondaland Arts Society, a creative collective; Wondaland Records has a joint venture with Epic and L.A. Reid. Monáe formed Wondaland, she told Adweek, when she saw "a big absence of female entrepreneurs in the music industry who understand how to develop and market innovative artists, artists who truly care about community and redefining the creative waters in the music industry."
In Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, at the Women's March held the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, Monáe took the stage before an ocean of people. Early in her 15 minutes onstage, she declared (with a sly and apt reference to her amazing single "Yoga"):
“Women will be hidden no more. We will not remain hidden figures. We have names, we're complete human beings, and they cannot police us, so get off our areolas. Get off our vaginas. Again: we birthed this nation, and we can unbirth a nation if we choose."
She segued, with Jidenna and a group of singers, into Wondaland's protest song "Hell You Talmbout," a marching band chant shouting the names of black men and women murdered by police in America, imploring, "Say his name! Say his name! Won't you say his name?" Monáe welcomed the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Dontre Hamilton, Mohamed Bah and Jordan Davis to shout their sons' names and hear that roaring reply: "Say his name!" They were followed by Black Trans Lives Matter co-founder Cherno Biko, who screamed the names of Mya Hall and Deonna Mason.
None of these triumphs dim the light of Monáe's musical oeuvre—the still-in-progress multi-album concept series Metropolis, which started a decade ago with her debut EP; the hyperkinetic, vision-blurring dance moves; the spectacular, restlessly inventive music videos; the six GRAMMY nominations. Even when she's playing android Cindi Mayweather on wax and in visuals, the positive, powerful-IRL messages stack up. She told Fuse of her Electric Lady single in 2013, "'Q.U.E.E.N.' definitely is an acronym. It's for those who are marginalized." Spelled out: Queer, Untouchables, Emigrants, Excommunicated, Negroid. "It's for everyone who's felt ostracized," she said. "I wanted to create something for people who feel like they want to give up because they're not accepted by society."
Whenever Janelle Monáe opts to give us the next chapter of her progressive sci-fi pop odyssey, we're eminently ready. Whatever she does until then, we're already on board.
For more, watch our chat from the inaugural Made in America Festival in 2012: