On her second album, Janelle Monáe reinvents the wheel — again.
While it can be difficult to put the musical style of singer Janelle Monáe into any one neat genre box, it is actually much easier to define the woman herself: Activist. Artist. Storyteller. Social provocateur.
Monáe is a woman with a lot to say, and she just happens to convey it differently than the sea of her musical peers. Not that she acknowledges anything remarkable about her individuality.
“I think we’re all different,” she says. “But I do try to embrace the things that make me unique because it’s important to be comfortable in your own skin.”
She certainly seems to have mastered this concept: Monáe’s personal style — black-and-white men’s suiting and an ever-present pompadour — have gained her attention from fashion designers such as Chanel’s venerable Karl Lagerfeld, high-fashion magazines including Vogue and cosmetic giant CoverGirl, which gave the 27-year-old her own campaign.
Her latest album, The Electric Lady (Bad Boy Records, $12), is best described as a concept album. Drawing heavily on science-fiction themes and boasting a strong dance beat, the record delivers a message of empowerment for women. “I love science fiction because there are so many possibilities,” Monáe says. “When you’re talking about issues that are happening now and put them in that context, it allows the listener to think about the parallels, and it’s a different way to communicate.”
Monáe produced not only herself on much of the album, but also her collaborators. They include her close friend Erykah Badu and mentor Prince — the mere mention of whom brings the cerebral Monáe to the most giddy one might ever see her. “Prince doesn’t appear on anybody’s album, and I got to produce for him,” she says. “My musical hero.”
Chatting with Monáe, it doesn’t take long to realize that she is extremely focused and intentional. It’s no surprise, then, to learn that although her second album is only just hitting shelves, she already has the music for her third, fourth, fifth and even sixth albums written. Quite simply, she has a message to deliver, and nothing will stop her from her mission.
“I want to redefine what it means to be an artist,” she says. “I don’t want to play to the conventional stereotypes of women, but I want to gather a million more electric ladies — a new breed of 21st-century women — and I want to move that community forward.”