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We will create and destroy ten art movements in ten years
May 3, 2013 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Groundbreaking vocalist and producer Janelle Monae pays tribute to Qui Etes-Vous Polly Maggoo? in her latest video, "Q.U.E.E.N."
posted by pxe2000 (104 comments total) 71 users marked this as a favorite

 
Please stop whatever you are doing to enjoy this song & video. It's worth it, I promise.
posted by troika at 7:51 AM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Agree, there should be a national holiday devoted to it.
posted by The Whelk at 7:54 AM on May 3, 2013


Woah. The booty DON'T lie.
posted by papercake at 7:55 AM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is basically the best Dr. who episode ever.
posted by The Whelk at 7:58 AM on May 3, 2013 [16 favorites]


THOSE SHOES. (The ones on the pedestal.) THAT POODLE.

The poodle don't lie.
posted by clavicle at 8:04 AM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


The music is nice and all, but could someone explain what makes her work "groundbreaking"? This is not meant as a "your favorite band sucks" comment, I'd really like more understanding about what makes this pop artist different other than her throwback hair, clothing, and video tribute.

Seriously.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:05 AM on May 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Janelle Monae is pretty amazing. I feel like there's maybe also some response to Santigold in this, in terms of her costuming and some some the general aesthetic royalty/nobility stuff? Also I suppose Michael Jackson, what with the jacket and all.

She is just so sharp. And whoever her aesthetic allies are in bringing all of it together, also very sharp.

In this video and the one for Tightrope, I really love the group dancing parts - they just seem so utopian. Like the sequence at the end of Tightrope where it's just a whole bunch of people.

Also, in both videos she is sort of figured as "alone in a crowd" in sort of a sad romantic hero way. It seems to me like she is performing this sort of butch romantic heroism that I find really, really taking. (I have no idea of her actual sexuality; her performances are queer regardless of the gender/s she may date.)

It is so exciting to watch someone so brilliant grow as an artist - The Archandroid was awfully, awfully, awfully good, but I think this is better.

Her music is just so cerebral and yet danceable. (Which is not to say that "cerebral" is "better" - that is a stupid and often white supremacist fallacy about music that causes people to put down smart artists who work brilliantly in pop/dance themes, whether mainstream like Beyonce or more edgy like that Zebra Katz fellow, and also tends to obscure the ways that artists who are very different on the surface cross-influence each other, like the early rappers who were really into Kraftwerk...it's just to say that the very nerdy use of images and language in Janelle Monae's work is really, really to my taste.)
posted by Frowner at 8:15 AM on May 3, 2013 [25 favorites]


The music is nice and all, but could someone explain what makes her work "groundbreaking"?

It sounds like you want an academic explanation for this, which is going to be pretty difficult. If I had to put words to it, I'd say she's delivering an avant garde high concept style to a musical genre that doesn't typically have artistic complexity at that level.

Or I could say watch Tightrope and if it does nothing for you, move along. I don't even like this genre and I watch that and think I'm seeing some serious brilliance at work.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:15 AM on May 3, 2013 [16 favorites]


>>> The music is nice and all, but could someone explain what makes her work "groundbreaking"?

Where to start ... well, I guess you start with how she's halfway through producing a four-part sci-fi futurist concept album series, starting with Metropolis (which is, yes, a reference to the Murnau film), followed by The ArchAndroid (her most popular album to date, "Tightrope" and "Cold War" being the hits) ...

And even before all of that, she was featured in a ballet produced by Outkast's Big Boi.

Basically, she's multi-talented, utterly positive, and a one-woman force of imaginative nature.
posted by grabbingsand at 8:16 AM on May 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


I never thought I'd see an r&b video referencing Meshes of the Afternoon until Tightrope came along.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:16 AM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've been looping pretty continuously since yesterday. So good.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:16 AM on May 3, 2013


This song really sounds like very old school Prince, and I mean that in the best way.
posted by Catblack at 8:17 AM on May 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Cold War is described as her " James Bond" song and I wish reverently that was literally true.
posted by The Whelk at 8:20 AM on May 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, I knew I was going to probably love this as soon as I saw Badoula Oblongata and then I got to:

They be like "oh let them eat cake!" but we eat wangs and throw dem bones on the ground


And just about died. Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong pop culture time but stuff like this makes me quite satisfied here in 2013.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:21 AM on May 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


I am a miserable old bastard who has nearly given up on new music. Too much, too fast for me to follow, and I just don't hear much that makes me say, "Yeah, I'd rather hear that than the stuff I already know and like." I've become THAT GUY and I'm kind of okay with it. My (younger) friends are allatime talking about bands and rap acts and stuff and I sample it but little to none of it sticks. It all just falls off my ears, even the stuff that blows them away (I stopped the new Daft Punk halfway through because I was like, "okay, whatevs." I'm not trying to be jaded or condescending here; I am the weakest link in this discussion.

THAT SAID, Janelle Monae is one of the few artists that's been brought to my attention who, when I hear her, makes me go, "Yes. I want to hear more of that." I'm not even a fan of whatever sort of music this is normally, but there's just something so fresh and fun and well-done about it.
posted by Legomancer at 8:25 AM on May 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


The music is nice and all, but could someone explain what makes her work "groundbreaking"?

Oh, dude, I'm sorry that you don't see it.

For me, her work is groundbreaking because:

1. The density of images and references and the way they are interwoven and used. I have not done a close reading of this one yet, so I can't really unpick too much, and honestly I have, like, not enough familiarity with hip-hop to get a tiny bit of the references that she is undoubtedly making. However, in Tightrope, you see interwoven stuff out of important avante-garde film (Maya Deren, for starts), the image of the asylum as a repressive space for people of color and artists; the interesting use of the supernatural as metaphor for artistic power and the power of resistance by black artists (or at least, I think so); the black and white imagery that is at the same time about her personal aesthetic, about mod, about cinema and about race....

2. To me, the utopian images of black artists - I mean, it's not unique in that there are other people producing these kinds of utopian images, but - as a watching white person, I am like "here in these dance sequences are these depictions of black artists just being amazing amongst each other in ways that are usually reserved for depictions of white avant gardes, in a way that seems to me wonderfully Afro-futurist, like this utopian future where black artists can exist for themselves, not at the beck and call of whiteness or under siege by white supremacy". As a watching whitey, I see this with tremendous relief and pleasure, even though it is not art for me - it makes me so happy to see whiteness decentered. I see that in the new video too. I feel like Further considerations on Afrofuturism is really relevant here.

3. There's this queerness in her performance that seems really unique - not "unique" like "there are no women who perform gender in this manner", because not only is art dialogic but she is particularly an artist in dialogue with her peers and her influences - but certainly unique in its treatment and centering. She's performing this intellectual queer (again, for all I know she is totally straight sexually, but her aesthetic is very queer) femaleness that is in a particular romantic tradition, that's not about being retrograde butch and despising femininity or ranking yourself by your ability to dominate other women. She exists for herself, there's this great calmness and centeredness to her presence.

4. The ways she interweaves narratives about art, liberation, race and love - I would have to really sit down with The Archandroid to piece all this out, but it's powerful and different and yet zeitgeisty.

Also, she has a lot of different kinds of singing voices - she has a musical theater voice and a pop voice and sort of "personal/speaking" voice. Kathleen Hannah has a bunch of voices too, this is what reminded me.
posted by Frowner at 8:31 AM on May 3, 2013 [44 favorites]


First time I've ever heard or seen anything by her because I'm lame and don't keep up with new music much... the video hasn't even really started and she's already throwing out references to butoh. I'm in.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:31 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I'm not even a fan of whatever sort of music this is normally ..."

I love all y'all. I do. But can we please stop with the vaguely anti-R&B, anti-hip-hop qualifiers? Because as much as you're saying "I dig this and I wouldn't usually," that kind of statement has a tinge of "this genre is beneath me" to it.

Sorry. Carry on.
posted by grabbingsand at 8:32 AM on May 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Legomancer makes an interesting point, which raises the question: When did the Olds go from not liking new music for being too weird to not liking new music for being too rehashed?
posted by whuppy at 8:37 AM on May 3, 2013


the utopian images of black artists

This! This is a surprisingly notable thing. Though most of the music videos I watch tend to only have white people in them, so I could be off my rocker. But it seems to me to be an atypical portrait of race.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:38 AM on May 3, 2013


Her twitter stream was also intensely entertaining during the election.
posted by The Whelk at 8:38 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was just...amazing.

I gasped when it ended, because I was leaning toward my monitor, wanting MOAR MOAR MOAR.

To build on some of what has already been said in this thread, witnessing Janelle Monae build her body of work renews my deep, blazing anger at fantasy/science fiction/YA fiction for continuing to marginalize black people and rolling its eyes and sucking its teeth whenever we say, "Hey, we're out here, too. Recognize us as both creators and consumers and we can take this whole thing higher."

Man, I'm so glad Janelle Monae exists.
posted by lord_wolf at 8:43 AM on May 3, 2013 [15 favorites]


I admit to being unconscionably dense, because I saw the yesterday and I don't get how it's groundbreaking musically either. It's recognizably R&B. However:

(I have no idea of her actual sexuality; her performances are queer regardless of the gender/s she may date.)

Yes! It's interesting how much of the lyrics refer to things that I associate with gay culture--throwing shade, serving face, and twerking--and make me wonder how much of the gay male/black female cultural appropriation is two-way.
posted by psoas at 8:44 AM on May 3, 2013


I love all y'all. I do. But can we please stop with the vaguely anti-R&B, anti-hip-hop qualifiers? Because as much as you're saying "I dig this and I wouldn't usually," that kind of statement has a tinge of "this genre is beneath me" to it.

I will say that because I personally grew up in a very white town during the "moral panic" about rap music (anyone even remember that? Mid-nineties?) and thus did not get a good grounding in the genre, I feel like there's some times when I don't always know exactly what "counts" as R&B or hip-hop and what is some other genre. I think this is because I initially learned mostly inaccurate and stupid stereotypes about what constituted rap and hip-hop.

Actually, as soon as I am able to ask another question on the green, perhaps I will ask for some recommendations for exciting, experimental and challenging R&B and hip-hop - I know there's a lot of stuff out there, but sometimes I overlook stuff through lack of knowledge (like, someone I know did this great Afro-futurist reading of a Beyonce video, and it just blew me away - once she'd talked about it, I could see that it was obviously there, but I was too ignorant of the aesthetic conventions before to even recognize what was going on) or just plain old miss out on it by accident.

When did the Olds go from not liking new music for being too weird to not liking new music for being too rehashed?

I are an Old! I think it's a change in capitalism - off the top of my head, I'd say that we're in a cultural moment that is more about bricolage, dialogue, references and reworkings than about the Sheer New Space Age Future, and the new isn't new aesthetically in the same way that, like, rock music was "new" in the fifties or rap was "new" in the eighties. So when we Olds, for various reasons, lose touch with the zeitgeist or freak out about being Olds - which is reasonable, you Youts can be pretty obnoxious, especially when you are hating on older women, especially mothers, I mean for pete's sake just because you hate your mom don't take it out on me - anyway, the way to do that isn't about rejecting the New, because Newness isn't what is in play.
posted by Frowner at 8:45 AM on May 3, 2013 [11 favorites]


She's really good at deflecting the queer question in interviews "I'm not gay, I'm an android."
posted by The Whelk at 8:45 AM on May 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


The ArchAndroid at times sounded like punk rock, folk, R&B, hip hop, disco, straight up classical but always sounded like Janelle Monae. It was ambitious as hell and pulled it off.

Ridiculously excited for this new album.
posted by saul wright at 8:47 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


She's really good at deflecting the queer question in interviews "I'm not gay, I'm an android."

And that's so exciting! I mean, heck, I would feel very sad if it's really "I can't come out because I will lose audience, family, etc" but at the same time, speaking as someone whose sexuality and gender are both a bit weird and hard to really explain even for a queer person, it's cool to be able to depict non-standard genders and sexualities in this sort of free-flowing way rather than having to say Yes This Is My Neatly Defined Gender And Sexuality.
posted by Frowner at 8:49 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is definitely one of her less-astonishing songs (it took me 2-3 listens to like it, because I was expecting something else), but if you want to know why she's groundbreaking, try listening to Come Alive or Violet Stars, Happy Hunting!. Then compare that to her singles and you'll understand some of her depth and breadth.

Throwing shade is definitely gay culture, but twerking is definitely from hip-hop culture (popularly said to have originated in New Orleans in the 1990s).

I know a lot of mainstream (in general style, not necessarily popularity) and conscious rappers, but it occurs to me than beyond Janelle I don't know much that's avant-garde. Time to do research.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:51 AM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love all y'all. I do. But can we please stop with the vaguely anti-R&B, anti-hip-hop qualifiers? Because as much as you're saying "I dig this and I wouldn't usually," that kind of statement has a tinge of "this genre is beneath me" to it.

I didn't mean that as anti-anything, but a recognition that what she does, while primarily R&B, blends so many things that I'm not sure what it would mainly identify as. (Also, being an Old, I'm used to being corrected when I say, "I like this song, it's kind of shmorpy" and someone goes "OH GOD THAT'S NOT SHMORPY IT'S FLONK-DUB, YOU CRETIN" because I have no idea what all the different genres these days are.)
posted by Legomancer at 8:51 AM on May 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


I admit to being unconscionably dense, because I saw the yesterday and I don't get how it's groundbreaking musically either. It's recognizably R&B.

I think you're maybe focussing on a narrow set of genre markers when you make that proclamation, because on the one hand, yeah, taken in isolation I wouldn't say that the musical objects she produces are radically novel in any strictly musical sense, but in reality she's broadcasting on a lot more channels than that and I think that's what people are reacting to. To me, that's the cool thing about the genre space she lives in: when a performer is really innovative, it tends to be in this really holistic way that takes all aspects of their performance (pun intended) into account. Contrast that with the more "intellectualized" genres where a novel vision is expected to be expressed entirely in the musical content.
posted by invitapriore at 8:52 AM on May 3, 2013


Because as much as you're saying "I dig this and I wouldn't usually," that kind of statement has a tinge of "this genre is beneath me" to it.

Absolutely not. It means that her work is transcendent of her genre, which is high praise.

This genre is not beneath me, it just typically isn't what I listen to.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:53 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Someone I know described her act this way: "like James Brown ate German Expressionism." A little glib, but I like it.
posted by invitapriore at 8:54 AM on May 3, 2013 [31 favorites]


But can we please stop with the vaguely anti-R&B, anti-hip-hop qualifiers? Because as much as you're saying "I dig this and I wouldn't usually," that kind of statement has a tinge of "this genre is beneath me" to it.

I certainly wouldn't apply a "this genre is beneath me" tone to R&B or Hip-hop, but I do think most Pop music is schlocky, formulaic garbage. Garbage that has really turned me off from any sort of "music scene" for quite a long time, which is incidentally why I'm painfully ignorant of Ms. Monae and her work. From your descriptions, she seems to more qualify for the term "artist" than your average performer and as, invitapriore touches on above, I wasn't getting that from a single one-off video.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:56 AM on May 3, 2013


I flipped my shit when I heard this.

The music is nice and all, but could someone explain what makes her work "groundbreaking"?

I realized reading the George Clinton article from yesterday (or maybe it flat out explained this) that Janelle Monae is to this era what George Clinton was to his. This view is also convenient in that if George Clinton is so absent from someone's psyche that this means nothing to them, then that aspect of Janelle Monae probably can't be explained to them without, like, a class of some kind.
posted by cmoj at 9:07 AM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


She is a genius, and Big Boi and Andre are genius producers. Only good can come of this.
posted by SPUTNIK at 9:11 AM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


The music is nice and all, but could someone explain what makes her work "groundbreaking"? This is not meant as a "your favorite band sucks" comment, I'd really like more understanding about what makes this pop artist different other than her throwback hair, clothing, and video tribute.

Seriously
.

Go read the Afrofuturism/George Clinton post (where I posted this video in the comments, btw) from last night. What makes Janelle Monae so special will become apparent after reading that essay and watching this video immediately afterwards. She's not just a super talented musician and performer, she's also pushing some awesome forward conceptual shit about race and identity.

And on, preview, cmoj gets it, too.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:13 AM on May 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


She does slick videos and could be a great live performer as well but her ArchAndroid show was plagued by technical glitches that became temporary showstoppers because they were apparently unprepared for working around them. Also I paid extra for seating because I have bad knees and we were all denied access to the seating so they could throw balloons or some nonsense. That made her a lot less cool android and more typical android to me.

I do still enjoy her music and videos though.
posted by srboisvert at 9:13 AM on May 3, 2013


I there's a joyous element of relentless positivity in all her songs.
posted by boo_radley at 9:14 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


George Clinton

I should say, George Clinton being shorthand for Parliament, etc.
posted by cmoj at 9:15 AM on May 3, 2013


I there's a joyous element of relentless positivity in all her songs.

Which is weird, because I get a "suck it, haters" vibe from this one.
posted by psoas at 9:16 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tiny Cat Pants had kind of an interesting analysis.

One of the things I love about Janelle Monae, aside from my suspicion that we’re watching some singular vision execute itself in this really extraordinary way, is that she situates herself in music in ways I find really thought provoking. There’s a lot to talk about with “Q.U.E.E.N.” and we could spend all afternoon just talking about the end, which certainly must be the first song to go from Philip K. Dick to Jimmie Hendrix in two lines.

But I want to focus, for a second, on the part right before that:

I asked a question like this
“Are we a lost generation of our people?
Add us to equations but they’ll never make us equal.
She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel.
So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal?
They keep us underground working hard for the greedy,
But when it’s time pay they turn around and call us needy.
My crown too heavy like the Queen Nefertiti
Gimme back my pyramid, I’m trying to free Kansas City.

I quote the whole thing, because I think she’s juggling Black nationalism and Ginsberg and I find that amazing. And because I think the part that I want to really look at depends on what comes before it–this questioning of who creates things and who owns them and who controls them.


And then she goes off on an exploration of the Kansas City musical reference and how deep it goes in R&B. Good stuff.
posted by emjaybee at 9:19 AM on May 3, 2013 [11 favorites]


Oh man. Oh man oh man. I was worried that this album wasn't going to come out anytime soon since there was basically no news about it for the last 6 months. New Boards of Canada and new Janelle Monae? 2013 is turning out to be a great year for music.
posted by zsazsa at 9:35 AM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


try listening to Come Alive

I'm an old fuddy-duddy and I haven't kept up with new music for 15 years, but I really loved that track. Sold.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:39 AM on May 3, 2013


How did I miss the George Clinton post? I totally did not see it!
posted by Frowner at 9:42 AM on May 3, 2013


I love the production on this track. Old references made very contemporary.
posted by aielen at 9:42 AM on May 3, 2013


Janelle Monae is one of the few artists that's been brought to my attention who, when I hear her, makes me go, "Yes. I want to hear more of that."

More than that, she's the one young artist I can think of that reaches right into the very heart of my jaded middle aged self, shakes out my inner fan girl and urges her to party like it was 1999. I was so afraid that ArchAndroid would be impossible to follow and I can't tell you how happy this makes me.

Welcome to my lawn, Miss Mayweather. Walk your killer heels all over it and let that poodle defecate. I'm not complaining.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 9:50 AM on May 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I like Janelle Monea and I like this song, only wish there was more Erykah Badu in it. I do find it weird and slightly off putting that when asked to explain what's so awesome about her music people talk about her politics. Makes me feel like I've time-traveled back to The New Republic offices in the '30s. I'm off to curl up in a corner with Wlde and Nabokov, me.
posted by Diablevert at 9:50 AM on May 3, 2013


I love me some Monae, but this video makes me wonder just how tiny she is. She looks really tiny. Put her in your watch pocket tiny. Where the hell did that voice come from teensy tiny.

Anyway that's what I got from the video. Maybe not as deep a thinker as the rest of you.
posted by zoo at 10:02 AM on May 3, 2013


The last minute of this is astonishing
posted by dng at 10:19 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Has the word "funk" just disappeared as a genre label? Because I'm sort of astonished that we've gotten this far down the thread without anyone using it.
posted by IjonTichy at 10:28 AM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


zoo - the first time I saw Janelle Monae she opened for Of Montreal and I went on for the next year or so totally confident that she was like seven feet tall. The next time I saw her, it was a photo in some fashion magazine where she was standing next to a car, the same height as the car. I thought it was a trick of perspective, but nope, just a short lady with INCREDIBLE STAGE PRESENCE.

she also painted throughout the performance and gave it to someone in the front row
posted by troika at 10:31 AM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm so, so happy to see this video and then to come back and read this awesome thread, not to mention seeing the link to the Mothership thread that I missed earlier. So happy! That's all I can offer right now.
posted by daisyk at 10:34 AM on May 3, 2013


I went back to re-listen after reading the comments. I get it and she's awesome!
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 10:55 AM on May 3, 2013


So I knew about Tightrope because 6music keeps playing it and have been digging it, but this is one step beyond. It's like the ultimate fusion of Parliament-Funkadelic, Janet Jackson, Outkast and Betty Davis, which builds on and pays homage too a century of Black music but in a way that couldn't have been done at any other time than this.

It's rather good.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:09 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why is she not massive yet?

(been wondering this for 5 years now)
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:25 AM on May 3, 2013


"could be a great live performer as well"
She was completely fabulous at Glastonbury a couple of years ago.
posted by glasseyes at 11:30 AM on May 3, 2013


She's really good at deflecting the queer question in interviews "I'm not gay, I'm an android."

I was also coming in to say this, so I will instead say that I think this is the world's most awesome response to a question that's really not anyone's business if you think about it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:33 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hey, while we're all here, does anyone here have any idea where the intro vamp in the Tightrope video comes from? It doesn't seem to be anywhere on either ArchAndroid or Metropolis, and I'm weirdly addicted to it and hoping that it's not just a little one-off snippet for the video.
posted by invitapriore at 11:38 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


invitapriore: I've wondered since I first heard it. I've often started the video just to listen to that part.
posted by zsazsa at 11:44 AM on May 3, 2013


Also I suppose Michael Jackson, what with the jacket and all.

I read Rhythm Nation all over that wardrobe choice (and the shoulder shimmies).
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:46 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like Janelle.

I don't really have anything to add except that in an interview she said that she moved from KC to ATL because there are far more creative people there.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 11:52 AM on May 3, 2013


I'm off to curl up in a corner with Wilde and Nabokov, me.

Now there's a pair that would hate each other upon introduction.

The politics are part of the persona, and the persona is the easiest thing to explain to a person for whom the music doesn't have immediate appeal. I think the best response to "I don't get this stuff, please explain" is a shrug and a smile, especially with pop music, but others disagree, and if the music isn't clicking, maybe the lyrics or the artist's presentation of herself will still have some interest.

Anyway, I've liked Monae since The ArchAndroid. Glad to see she's getting farther out.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:52 AM on May 3, 2013


And just because she's still amazing when practicing, a little rehearsal video for Tightrope.
posted by grabbingsand at 11:54 AM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


But can we please stop with the vaguely anti-R&B, anti-hip-hop qualifiers? Because as much as you're saying "I dig this and I wouldn't usually," that kind of statement has a tinge of "this genre is beneath me" to it.

I have no problem saying that a given genre is beneath me. As a gay child of the rural south, I'll ask unironically: have you listened to pop country? Have you listened to it all day, every day, as the unavoidable background music to your life for more than twenty years? I have, and from my vantage point, if it's nominated for a CMT award and I like it then make a note because "I dig this and wouldn't usually" as I strongly feel that "this genre is beneath me."

One can have tastes, however much that may tickle others' nerves.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:04 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


She is such a good dancer. It's like she's actually floating on, like, 3mm of air above the floor. I mean, everyone in that video is a really good dancer....It's so amazing the way she is doing different but related things with her arms/shoulders and legs/feet.

Also, someone could sell me a hell of expensive pair of those black and white shoes from the video - I would break out the credit card in a red hot minute.

Okay, here is the thing: I used to play music at some events, and for me personally "Tightrope" is a never-fail song - I can't stay in my seat. Even now, I am fighting the urge to get up, close the office door and have a little dance-athon just because it is in my head. And I'd play that song and....nothing. Absolutely nothing. People would keep dancing, but it was obvious that they were puzzled. And I feel like, how can you not dance to "Tightrope"? It's so easy to dance to! Then you'd play, like, "How Will I Know", which is a great song, but still the Robyn/Whitney mash-up version is better for dancing, and everyone would pack the floor. I surmise that this is because the level of dancing in my particular crowd is actually rather low.
posted by Frowner at 12:13 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The politics are part of the persona, and the persona is the easiest thing to explain to a person for whom the music doesn't have immediate appeal

I guess I get that, in terms of explaining to someone who doesn't care for the music why she's an interesting figure. But inasmuch as it becomes --- "I know you don't enjoy her actual artistic output, but you should, because you'd admire and agree with her avant-garde politics!" --- then I quirk an eyebrow a bit. Tend to come down on the "a book is either well-written or badly-written, that is all" side myself.
posted by Diablevert at 12:20 PM on May 3, 2013


But inasmuch as it becomes --- "I know you don't enjoy her actual artistic output, but you should, because you'd admire and agree with her avant-garde politics!"

I think that in Janelle Monae's case it's strange to think that you can separate her aesthetic politics from her performance - I mean, you can't take someone who is working constructivism, afrofuturism, mod and about ten zillion different other things and just say "well, I don't want to think about that, I just want to know if it has a good beat". It would be like looking at an Yves Klein painting and being all "well, it looks just like the background on metafilter"...or, honestly, just like how I used to listen to Beyonce - I had not the first, tiniest idea about her influences or genre or artistic goals, so it was all just garbage dance music to me. That wasn't because I was seeing what was "really there"; it was because I was too ignorant to even be able to look. Or hell, it's like sitting down to read Anti-Oedipus when you don't know who Freud is and complaining that the book is an incoherent mess that doesn't deal with real-world mental health issues.

What I'm trying to say is that "good writing" and "good music" are exceedingly cultural and situational - it's just that some styles have been assimilated so well into the canon (like Nabokov) that we recognize them instantly and easily as "good" and tend to forget that we have actually been schooled to read stuff like this.

Also, I keep hoping that Janelle Monae will become our fearless revolutionary leader.
posted by Frowner at 12:27 PM on May 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


I guess I get that, in terms of explaining to someone who doesn't care for the music why she's an interesting figure. But inasmuch as it becomes --- "I know you don't enjoy her actual artistic output, but you should, because you'd admire and agree with her avant-garde politics!" --- then I quirk an eyebrow a bit. Tend to come down on the "a book is either well-written or badly-written, that is all" side myself.

I don't think anybody's saying that per se, just that Monae's art has some pretty fascinating political/historical/cultural uncercurrents that add some interesting depth. Even without that, it's still great art/entertainment in my opinion. And similarly you can get all that stuff and still not like the art and that's fine (Like say how I feel about the play As Is: it's garbage as art or entertainment, but it's historically and politically important garbage).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:29 PM on May 3, 2013


What Frowner said.

But also, most people, including myself, don't have ears to hear music in a more concrete, theoretical way, and the people who can hear it that way can't necessarily explain what they're hearing so that lay people can understand. So Janelle's music itself may be as adventurous, within the bounds of commercial music, as her image, but few people could describe that adventurousness.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:33 PM on May 3, 2013


because i never pass up the chance, just want to say how much i love janelle monae

i regularly admit to having attended a bruno mars concert to see janelle monae open

also, archandroid has never failed me - everyone loves it
posted by lulz at 12:37 PM on May 3, 2013


Oh gosh that's good.

Janelle Monae is one of those few artists who hit me with full impact on first listen–the "what is THAT I must know" reaction. The depth & confidence of her performance & persona & worldbuilding are amazing. There's a lot of comparisons in this thread, all of which make sense to me, but she makes me think of Bowie because of that big vision executed so well.
posted by feckless at 12:38 PM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


As a big fan of her work, I would also grant that this is not the most obviously groundbreaking piece of music she has released. The lyrics are top-notch, but the music doesn't really highlight the way she fluidly bends and blends genres in some of her other work.

(Even then, it is more obvious after you've listed to a few of her songs in a row.)

You do get a taste of this genre-hopping at the end of Q.U.E.E.N. where it gets a bit jazzy, but I would really recommend listening to a larger chunk of her work, especially if you have a sense of R&B as a narrow genre. She is like a one-woman illustration of how broad the genre already is and that's before she starts gleefully pushing out the boundaries.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 12:44 PM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hmm, I reeeeeally loved Tightrope and Cold War, but this song isn't doing it for me for whatever reason. I wish! I want to love! This one just kind of sounds to me like some snoozer from Janet Jackson's slush pile.
posted by threeants at 1:02 PM on May 3, 2013


I mean, you can't take someone who is working constructivism, faro futurism, mod and about ten zillion different other things and just say "well, I don't want to think about that, I just want to know if it has a good beat".

I don't think you should bother thinking about any of that unless and until it has a good beat. It's not that the politics of a piece can't be interesting to discuss or think about. But if the point of the song is to get the bootys on the floor and it don't, then who gives a fuck if that snatch of melody in the third verse was a deliberate allusion to a Sun Ra B-side?


What I'm trying to say is that "good writing" and "good music" are exceedingly cultural and situational - it's just that some styles have been assimilated so well into the canon (like Nabokov) that we recognize them instantly and easily as "good" and tend to forget that we have actually been schooled to read stuff like this.

Inasmuch as someone who has never encountered a genre may have difficulty sussing out the good from the bad, I think that's true. I doubt I'd be able to listen to a Tuvan throat singer and tell you whether he was a mediocre Tuvan throat singer or an awesome one with any reliability. But inasmuch as most literate English speakers are familiar with the concept of "a novel" then I think it's fair to say that Nabokov was a very, very good novelist.

Ultimately, I've always thought of art as mankind's half of a conversation with the universe. At the apex, it takes these little bits of pigment and flashes of sound and squiggles and allows one being to experience, for a moment, something of what it is to be another. To transform the specific into the universal through sheer transcendence. You know? That's the point. Inasmuch as it does that, then the spirit in which it was done --- the ideological alter the creator was kowtowing before --- is nearly irrelevant.
posted by Diablevert at 1:05 PM on May 3, 2013


Also, on a tangent, just because someone mentioned her upthread-- I am continually shocked by the weird-as-shit next-level musical elements Beyoncé manages to sneak into her top 40 songs. Monáe has a really cool style and some amazing songs, but if we're talking sheer musical avant-gardism, I'd put my wager on Beyoncé beating her by a mile. (Not to play Compare The Two Unrelated Black Women-- but we're talking about Monáe's musical style in the thread and someone pulled Beyoncé in earlier, so that connection kind of happened.)
posted by threeants at 1:09 PM on May 3, 2013


(Then again, Monáe produces herself, I think?-- I guess not really a fair or logical comparison at all.)
posted by threeants at 1:12 PM on May 3, 2013


I don't think you should bother thinking about any of that unless and until it has a good beat.

Well, that's you, and it's part of a wide spectrum of opinions. Personally, I've been known to love some middling-to-awful music for great lyrics, interesting allusions, etc.

(not that I'm putting Monae in that category, I think she's got some of the best of both worlds)
posted by jason_steakums at 1:35 PM on May 3, 2013


(I pulled a Beyonce! But it was more of a "let's talk about how I used to dismiss Beyonce because I was too ignorant to appreciate what she was doing while assuming that Janelle Monae, by virtue of her particular way of engaging with the avant garde, was all, like "smart"" - honestly, I kind of went on this tumblr-fueled "I Frowner do not value the world of black women musicians who produce dance music enough because I am ignorant" kick a couple of years ago, so I do tend to have this "unrelated black women musicians who I started to listen to around the same time" category in my head.)
posted by Frowner at 1:39 PM on May 3, 2013


No shade intended-- I can't imagine any conversation about contemporary pop music where pulling Beyoncé in wouldn't be appropriate. It would be like talking about US electoral politics and getting mad when somebody mentioned the President.
posted by threeants at 1:48 PM on May 3, 2013


A lot of other people have already chimed in with insightful readings of what is going on in this video, but lemme just say that I absolutely love how she uses this android-revolution narrative to intertwine post-humanism, critical race politics, queer gender/sexuality performances, and good ol' fashioned class struggle. These are things are not easy to combine under a single theme.

I first discovered Monáe back when the video for "Many Moons" came out from her first album, Metropolis: The Chase Suite. A grad-school classmate of mine posted it on Facebook with a comment along the lines of: "This is some next-level post-human afrofuturist queer cyborg shit that I can't even begin to grasp." And I'll admit that listening to the song AND watching the video totally impacted me right away. As an occasional sci-fi reader who frequently bemoans the genre's ignored potential to explore the boundaries of gender, race, humanity, sexuality, social organization, etc.…it was as if she had made the video for me. For me!

Such was my excitement.
posted by LMGM at 2:02 PM on May 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


This song doesn't quite grab me, but I love another new song of hers, The Electric Lady (which is supposedly also the name of her forthcoming album).
posted by zsazsa at 2:07 PM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hadn't really heard Janelle Monae before this, but damn: She's good. That's a great song!
posted by Freen at 2:35 PM on May 3, 2013


LMGM: "an occasional sci-fi reader who frequently bemoans the genre's ignored potential to explore the boundaries of gender, race, humanity, sexuality, social organization, etc."

A voice whispers in your ear : "Tanith Lee"
posted by boo_radley at 3:18 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was so taken by the video itself that I watched this a couple times before I even really listened to the song., and now that I have, I can't stop listening. Popularity is weird and, I suppose, ultimately unimportant, but if this isn't a major song of 2013, then I'm not sure the world deserves Janelle Monae. But I'm glad we have her.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:43 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The mix on this song is just incredible too, there are so many different sonic elements but nothing feels overstuffed or out of place. The "Beat It"-style guitar riff, the Prince-style synth pads, the tasty little snare fills, then that giving way to Badu's bit with the tight little snaps on the upbeats and the psshhh hi-hat that sounds like it's straight out of Bowie's "Sound and Vision," then that giving way to the sermon with the Motown strings and bass and the CHOIR which is just perfectly over-the-top. It's like, the first four minutes is a perfectly great pop song but then they decide to take you on a journey. It's stuff like this that reminds me how much artistic potency pop music still has.
posted by speicus at 3:45 PM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


She is my favourite artist right now. Saw her perform at the Sydney Opera House last year and I've never been to a show with that much energy, passion and love. She really is inspirational.
posted by liquorice at 4:27 PM on May 3, 2013


Watch her work the crowd over at 106 & Park.
posted by Team of Scientists at 4:47 PM on May 3, 2013


Oh wow, Electric Lady is fabulous.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:39 PM on May 3, 2013


Tightrope was great.

This one just seemed too calculated. À chacun son goût.
posted by kozad at 5:40 PM on May 3, 2013


Electric Lady would appear to be a direct conduit to the FUNK DIMENSION.
posted by The Whelk at 5:41 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


As an occasional sci-fi reader who frequently bemoans the genre's ignored potential to explore the boundaries of gender, race, humanity, sexuality, social organization, etc.

If you want recommendations, memail me. I don't want to derail this discussion, but it's there, there's a lot of it, you just gotta know where to look.

Erykah Badu was one of the first musical artists that I really fell in love with, so seeing her and Janelle Monae team up is amazing. And yes, she's great live - I saw her and Of Montreal perform together a few years ago, and ... okay, I also had a bit of a fever at the time, but it was by far the best concert experience of my life.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:50 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


A reference I didn't catch at first, the mirror-face guys in tightrope also appear in Sun Ra's movie Space is the Place.

Archandroid, wow. It's only flaw is that Part III doesn't quite maintain the same intensity as Part II. Metropolis suite isn't a series of albums, it's a pop-music opera with a scope that Broadway, Hollywood, and Las Vegas have to plunder entire catalogs spanning a decade to get. She can switch narrative voices and musical styles and still maintain narrative and thematic unity. She impresses me as a vocalist because she sounds equally good in studio work and live. And amazingly consistent attention to both the narrative and presentation. And she referenced The Pointer Sisters as a homage, and did it in a way that seamlessly fit into Many Moons.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:02 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


She is the best. The Prince and Bowie comparisons are really apt. I will admit that part of what makes her so fun for me is that she's got all the tools for conventional pop success (right look, right voice, charisma through the roof), and she chooses the weird.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:55 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


And she referenced The Pointer Sisters as a homage

*stares*

My whole life I never knew that was the Pointer Sisters.

*sits pondering the wonder of it all*
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:24 PM on May 3, 2013


Finally got a chance to listen. Wow. Those finger snaps are *present*, like, in the room not coming from the speakers.
posted by whuppy at 11:52 PM on May 3, 2013


I'm glad I saved this post for last today. Thanks, pxe2000.
posted by homunculus at 12:44 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could come up with a litany of reasons why she just sets me on fire, from the lovely revival of the kind of wild afrofuturism that taunted me from the lurid screens of Soul Train in my small town youth to the dancing, oh my, the dancing, and the way she'll suddenly snap her head back and get those wild late-period Joan Crawford eyes, and—

Really, it's even more, and how lines will just boil out of what feels like my own head and storm the whole damn world, and I'll sing it all at the top of my lungs no matter who's there.

Just a couple years ago, I was on my scooter in black leather, stuck at the insanely long traffic light at Randolph and New Hampshire and belting in my helmet, singing the shit out of "Mushrooms and Roses," a glorious liquid trifle of psychedelia from the brilliant past and the infinite future with one of those killer lines that make my eyes roll back in my head and the entire planet lurch, shaking, to a stop on its big rusty axis.

I noticed, along the way, that I was being observed in this wild brainwave karaoke by the drivers around me, and in almost every other moment when I'm singing, the Heisenberg Principle will kick in and the presence of observation will make all those spheres of trembling ecstatic indifference collapse into the usual sheepish mumbling yielding to the mundane, but I was too far in, and the song was just too much, just too much, so I lit it up, right there at the crosswalk, in my helmet, on a scooter, jazz hands unfurling like solar panels opening out from a space station on its first day in orbit, and let fly.

Mushrooms and roses is the place to be
(Smells like love to me)
Where all the lonely droids and lovers have their wildest dreams.
The golden door of our emotions opens here
We're all virgins to the joys of loving without fear.

Come sweet love!

Jazz hands curl into drag queen air-grasping Judy Garland song claws, and you don't stop the music, you don't stop the music, and no one can hear the accompaniment in my head or the refined, filtered version of the way I hear it because that is just my motherfucking jam, world, right here and now and forever all at once.

We are all virgins to the joys of loving without fear, and here I stand.

Green light means go, so I wrap it up, over titters and muttering from people who are all dead inside, like we're so trained to be, and leather gloves meet rubber grips and I depart in a cloud of blue two-stroke smoke that smells vaguely of strawberries and it feels like the sun is golden and so close you could touch it.

Janelle takes me there. I can tell you why, but that won't be enough.

Amusingly, half a block later, a yellowjacket flew in through the collar of my jacket and stung me over and over about the chest and arms as I tried to simultaneously steer and kill the wicked devil in dense traffic that had just seen me go all full-scale drag queen crazy at the light, so I have no illusions that the outside world ever sees what I see. And, in one of those great hilarities of the real way of things, the sting on my elbow got me MRSA, a scary cold intravenous flood of Cipro, and an obnoxiously large medical bill.

This is why you need to surrender while you can.

The android will show you the way.
posted by sonascope at 2:16 AM on May 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


that kind of statement has a tinge of "this genre is beneath me" to it.

An utterly ridiculous reading. If anything, a statement I might make of a similar nature would be more along the lines of "this genre is beyond me". In other words, I did not grow up with rap or hip-hop (beyond, you know, Blondie), and I have given hip-hop, to the extent possible, its due. Listening to Eminem and Kanye, etc. With very few exceptions, I simply don't get it, but I don't put that back on hip-hop. Obviously it's become the shared musical language of practically the globe, and there's something interesting right there, especially once it's divorced from the US-centric whiteness/blackness culture war/debate. But clearly it speaks to people and takes the place that previous genres have in black/minority culture (back speaking domestically), such as R&B, blues, and jazz. It has that outsider quality and I appreciate that aesthetically and abstractly. But all that said, you'll never see me download a hip-hop track more than maybe 1% of my library, and then only for a particular witty lyric or reference or connection. As much as I've tried, it's the beats I can't, well, grok. Am I too old? Possibly. Too white (or just whitebread)? Probably. And that's the way it's gonna stay.
posted by dhartung at 3:10 AM on May 4, 2013


Sonascope: I was coming here to cite mushrooms and roses as an example of why I think she's just a straight up alarming genius. Her voice is so fluid, and so supple, and so impossibly, enormously expressive, that track just SENDS me - every single time. Part of that genius is blending so seamlessly with other likewise astonishing musicians, Kellindo Parker being the prime example, just riding the wave where those sympathies intersect and swell...

So I'm actually a bit meh about Q.U.E.E.N because it's so much more straight R&B than the archandroid and chase suite stuff. She remains utterly luminous but the song itself doesn't hit the same spot. I like it when she orchestrates that raw cerebral energy into something epic and fierce. This is something other, more controlled, less dense. Stylistically still a league beyond her peers though.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:56 AM on May 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


It bothers me that the absolutely electric live performance of "Mushrooms and Roses" that was on YouTube, in which her stately hairdo starts coming apart from the intensity of the performance, has completely disappeared, because it was just...celestial. One would hope that some of these ephemeral captures would be preserved, somehow.
posted by sonascope at 11:17 AM on May 4, 2013


Normally, I am not comfortable with concerts, but I saw her last year, and can't wait to see her again. Everybody above has explained the why. I just want to go.
posted by mumimor at 12:46 PM on May 4, 2013


So I finally got around to a few listens/watches and first and foremost want to thank pxe2000 for posting. This is fantastic.

I was expecting, upon more critical listening and prepped by most of this thread, to receive more nuanced and multifaceted messages from her lyrics, but it really seems to me to be about sexual orientation, equal rights, and the black community. (Lyrics are here if anyone wants to read them.) The video contextualizes that in a wonderfully eclectic yet coherent multi-modal artistic worldview, but the social message of this track is pretty clear.

(I was very, very excited to learn today that Ms. Monae is collaborating with a great local band next week, and then immediately crushed to realize that I have a concert of my own that night. And that tickets start at $150. But I bet it will be a great show.)
posted by LooseFilter at 12:01 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


This has bugged me since my BF pointed it out, and now I pass it onto you: count every shot where one of the dancers pulls down her skirt (to prevent a show-all).

Shit gets distracting.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 3:04 PM on May 5, 2013


Fantastic, pxe2000. Thank you!
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:49 AM on May 7, 2013


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