In early 2010 a funky upbeat song with an almost sci-fi feel started to get regular airplay on Irish radio. The song? Tightrope. The artist? Janelle Monáe. There was something fresh and interesting about the song that made it stand out from the rest of the music getting regular airplay at the time and made me want to pay more attention to the work of Monáe.
Born in Kansas in late 1985, Monáe dreamed of being a performer/musician and singer from a very early age and would eventually move to New York to study drama at the American Musical and Drama Academy. However, it was 2001, after moving to Georgia and meeting Big Boi of OutKast, that things started to properly take off for the performer. Around this time she would found the Woodland Arts Society as a support group for like-minded artists, and two years later in 2003 she would self-release her first EP, The Audition. A collection of thirteen songs by the artist that hinted at many of the motifs that would become hallmarks of her later career, including the Metropolis concept. The record would also feature future single, Lettin’ Go.
The next few years would see Monáe continuing to develop her reputation as one of the most exciting talents in music. After appearing on OutKast’s 2006 album, Idlewild, she would sign for Bad Boy Records in the same year. However, interestingly, the label would only be involved in the promotion and distribution of the music of Janelle Monáe, all creative action would be left completely in her hands as the label didn’t want to disrupt or distract the work that was being done and impede upon the artistic vision that Monáe already had.
2007 would see the first official solo release by Monáe, the EP Metropolis: The Suite 1 (The Chase). From the early stages of her career, Monáe was investigating the a fictional concept of the Metropolis, the story of a mass produced android called Cindi Mayweather who falls in love with a human and is then sentenced to being disassembled – Monáe was inspired in this concept by the science fiction classic with the same name by Fritz Lang. The EP would would go on to be critically lauded by many and would spawn three singles with the biggest of these being the 2008 single, Many Moons – the music video for which would be a short movie introducing the concept of the Metropolis.
November 2009 would bring news of a new album and in May 2010 The ArchAndroid would be released to the world. The album would make up parts/suites two and three of the Metropolis concept and would mark the point when the protagonist of Cyndi has become a figure revered by the rest of the androids. The ArchAndroid would be another commercial and critical success for the Kansas artist and would spawn two singles including the aforementioned Tightrope and Cold War – that Monáe performed live at both the 2011 Grammy Awards and the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Concert.
The album would also feature my favourite song by the artist, the magnificent Dance or Die.
2011 would also see Monáe feature on the global hit by American band Fun, We Are Young.
April 2013 would see new original music from the Kansas performer when she premiered the first song from follow-up album, Q.U.E.E.N. on Soundcloud. The song gained massive traction within the first week of its release, and interviews Monáe and Erykah Badu who featured on the track explained that title of the song was a commentary on the marginalization of certain demographics of people in society. The song would be the lead single of the 2013 album, The Electric Lady, which would continue the them of the Metropolis. The album would be another massive commercial and critical success.
The most recent music release that we have from Monáe came in April 2018 when we were treated to the third studio album by the performer, Dirty Computer. The album was proceeded by three official singles and one promotional song, and was released with an accompanying short film that furthered the concept of the Metropolis. The album was another massive success.
Janelle Monáe is the very definition of what it means to be an artist and with every release she continues to push the boundaries of creativity with her music, and it is one of the most compelling things happening in music over the last twenty years.