My Fair Lady
WORDS: Deena Campbell | PHOTOS: Erin Patrice O’Brien
When it comes to sophistication and conquering R&B, no one knows the game better than Janelle Monáe. This singer-phenom is a force of nature.
When you hear the name “Janelle Monáe,” pleasant descriptors come to mind—drama-free, beautiful, talented—and for the most part, what you see is what you get. But as she sashays into a brightly lit New York studio for our August cover shoot on a warm afternoon, a new set of adjectives arise—feline, intriguing, powerful.
Navigating the chaos surrounding the stark-white studio, she embodies the muse for her upcoming fourth album, The Electric Lady, which drops September 10th. “An electric lady,” says the 27-year-old, Kansas City-bred singer, “is quirky, unafraid, epic and ‘nicety’—that’s when you’re being nice and nasty, noble and naughty, all at the same damn time.”
Her new album is a hodgepodge of electric heavy-hitters, including Prince, Esperanza Spalding, Miquel, and Solange, and delves further into the exploits of Cindi Mayweather, the android heroine of her first EP Metropolis. The Electric Lady serves as Suite IV and V of her sci-fi saga and where Cindi learns more about herself. Much like her cosmic counterpart, Janelle, too, has ripened over time.
That might have something to do with her upbringing. Janelle comes from a working-class family that was backboned by her grandmother, a former Mississippi sharecropper and a mother who worked as a janitor. Her father was a garbage truck driver who struggled with drug addiction, and after years of seeing its negative effects, Janelle moved to Atlanta where she self-produced her demo, Janelle Monáe: The Audition. Grinding is in her genes.
“I’ve evolved,” says an excited Janelle. “When you realize it’s your responsibility to be a leader and create the world that you want to see, you have to do it. It’s my responsibility to create music and come up with ideas that keep my community first.” Her personal community includes almost a half million Twitter and Instagram followers—all of whom are waiting with bated breath for The Electric Lady to surface.
I ask a question from @EssKayGA: “Have you considered releasing an all-rap mixtape?” Janelle seems excited at the prospect. “I’m flattered that people wonder that,” she says, smiling. “I love rap music, and I love hip-hop. I use rap as a way to communicate [and tell a story]. Yes, I will keep that in my thoughts.”
While her philosophy is grounded in innovation, style-wise, Janelle hasn’t achieved a myriad of transformations. Her popular tuxedo uniform pays homage to the working-class woman; but she did morph into a rocker chick for her recent “Dance Apocalyptic” video—a total 180 degrees from her norm. Our Instagram follower @christalbaybee noticed her makeover and asked, “Janelle! Your look in the “Dance Apocalyptic” video is SO different from your usual look. What inspired the change?”
Without hesitation Janelle replies, “I was inspired to create a female rock star. I think an electric lady isn’t to be marginalized. As the narrator and creator of these characters, I have lived by not making myself a slave to my own interpretations of who I am or a slave to your interpretations or anybody’s interpretations of who I am.”
No one knows Janelle’s style better than her stylist, Maeve Reilly who crafted looks for all of Janelle’s recent red carpet appearances, including the all-white Dolce & Gabbana suit she wore to the 2013 BET awards. “Janelle isn’t trendy,” says Maeve. “Tailoring is most important for her. She knows what she likes and she knows what fits. She’s just a classy lady with a great sense of style.”
Her look on set is a fashionista’s wet dream. She steps out of the dressing room in a sparkled Catherine Malandrino jacket that’s complimented with black TopShop pants and Chanel fingerless gloves. Later on, she punctuates her style with snakeskin Christian Louboutins and exquisite broaches. Could she be anymore stunning? A true CoverGirl, Janelle wore the beauty brands lipsticks (Hot 305 and Spellbound 325) and bronzer (Ebony) to mimic a look inspired by the late Dorothy Dandridge.
“What’s it like to be one of the hottest CoverGirl models ever?” I quote our Facebook fan, Kirista Sellers. Honored, Janelle replies, “Thank you! I feel privileged to stand alongside strong women like Ellen DeGeneres, Pink, Sophia Vergara, and Queen Latifah. We come in many shapes and sizes, colors. CoverGirl inspires young girls to dream big and say ‘I can be a CoverGirl too.’”
Her beauty may be blown up on billboards, but her love life is one thing that is definitely not on display. She admits she only dates passionate androids who are smart, idealistic, and funny; however, most of her love life is protected by a well-oiled privacy machine. ““An android is my preference,” Janelle says coyly. “Two androids and a cyborg. I’m someone who sees your spirit and soul. I love passionate androids; one that knows exactly what it’s going to do in life. I like an android who knows how to handle and support an electric lady’s dreams and wings when it’s time to fly.”
@brialovesmj bravely questioned, “When are you going to have kids?” After a quick pause, she replies. “When the time is right, everything is about timing. But, right now I’m giving birth to this album.”
And she is—complete with midwife Erykah Badu who is not only featured on “Q.U.E.E.N,” but is also one of her best friends. “‘Q.U.E.E.N’ really developed from a deep conversation Erykah and I were having about a woman’s place in the world. And how we were expected to be freaks and muses and virgin goddesses all at the same time by patriarchal cultures and religions.”
Unfortunately, not all female artists remain relevant while steering clear of sexually-laced lyrics in the midst of a violent society. Janelle’s explanation? She uses her voice as a weapon, and empowers us to use her art as a medicinal treatment. An electric lady indeed.