A few weeks ago, on May 18, Janelle Monáe marked the second anniversary of her debut full-length album with a tweet that read in part, “Happy Birthday, ArchAndroid. I thank God for you.” What exactly have the past two years been like for the 26-year-old, born Janelle Monáe Robinson?
“It’s been a voyage, it’s been whimsical, it’s been very inspiring and very encouraging,” she says by phone from a recording studio in Atlanta, Georgia. “I’ve been able to tour around the world and meet some of my musical heroes like Stevie Wonder … and have some incredible opportunities.”
Acclaimed for its mix of R&B, neo-soul, funk, hip hop and rock, The ArchAndroid earned Monáe a Grammy Award nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album and produced the hit single Tightrope, featuring Big Boi from Outkast.
The Kansas City, Kansas-born singer, known for her pompadour and tuxedo, will bring her otherworldly live show to Winnipeg’s Burton Cummings Theatre on Wednesday, June 20 as part of the 2012 TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival.
Monáe has said her music is influenced by all the things she loves - scores for films like Goldfinger, albums like Stevie Wonder’s Music of My Mind and
David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, along with experimental hip hop like Outkast’s Stankonia.
The ArchAndroid is a concept album that tells the science fiction-inspired tale of Monáe’s alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather, a messianic android sent to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time-travel to suppress freedom and love.
“I enjoy science fiction because there are limitless possibilities,” says Monáe, who grew up watching The Twilight Zone with her grandmother. “The ideas and possibilities intrigue me. It ignites something in my imagination that allows it to run wild.”
Her lyrics may be fantastical, but they do feature very real themes of empowerment and self-realization that Monáe hopes will uplift and motivate listeners.
“I think I’m a service-oriented person and that I was put here to help and contribute to society,” she says. “Music is something that brings people together - it’s a universal language. It’s a great platform when you have the attention of androids, humans, aliens, whoever comes to the concert. You have the opportunity to say something. You can be encouraging and life-changing.”
“I think music is medicine, and I’ve always wanted to create that,” she adds.
Two years after The ArchAndroid, the big question is when Monáe will release a follow-up album, and what it will be like.
“It’s jammin’,” she says of her next album. “The concepts are moving and I will release the follow-up to The ArchAndroid according to my soul clock.
“When the time comes, I will notify you and the rest of this beautiful world.”
Published in Volume 66, Number 27 of The Uniter (May 30, 2012)