This year, we’re celebrating an extended Black History Month by highlighting a variety of rising artists who are creating history before our very eyes. Whether or not you were 100 percent aware of how much so, Janelle Monáe's already made incredible strides as a pop-culture figure despite being one of its most iconoclastic figures.
Since the release of her debut full-length The ArchAndroid—which is probably the closest thing we have to a modern-day Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band—Monáe racks up accolades in an industry that knows how important she is whether or not she has mainstream recognition. Without any mega-hit solo singles, she's still a GRAMMY Award winner and performer, endorses CoverGirl and Pepsi, and just this past weekend introduced the Super Bowl halftime show. With major fashion houses clawing for her, her distinct tuxedo-and-pompadour look have made her a style icon. Despite declaring herself only in love with "androids," she's a symbol for LGBTQ people.
Janelle represents the unconventional outsider on so many levels and recognizes her spot: In 2013, she told Fuse her "Q.U.E.E.N." single was made "for people who feel like they want to give up because they're not accepted by society."
Monáe's peculiar place in pop culture only got more fascinating in 2015 with her Wondaland Records label and its artists signing a new deal with Epic Records that made Jidenna's "Classic Man" a summer smash while her collaboration with the rapper, "Yoga," was not only one of the best songs of the year, but her biggest chart hit to date. The deal also made Monáe one of the few black women running their own independent record label in conjunction with a major.
2016 should only expand her reach even further as Monáe preps her film debut in the play-turned-drama Moonlight, co-starring Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali and Andre Holland. With a person so in touch with how she represents the outsider, it's only a matter of time before the majority recognize the reigning queen of the minorities.