The Influence of Janelle Monáe
Alright y’all… it’s Women’s History Month and what better way is there to celebrate here at WIDR then by sharing some of our favorite influential women musicians! To start us off on this little series I’m going to be talking about Janelle Monáe who is an inspiration to many, and if she isn’t already an inspiration to you, she really should be and hopefully I can convince you why.
First of all, I have never listened to someone’s music that is so empowering. There are some people who shy away from discussing social movements in their music and art and what have you, but Janelle Monáe just sends it. Like who can listen to “Q.U.E.E.N.” or watch the music video for “Pynk” (vagina pants am I right?!) and not feel like they can take on the world? I just don’t think it’s possible.
So what is it that makes Janelle Monáe so influential and incredible? Well first off, she is a woman of many talents - both an extremely successful musician and actress. She has taken on powerful roles on screen and has created similarly powerful roles in her music videos. Don’t get me wrong, her music stands alone extremely well, but the Emotion Picture (film) for her album Dirty Computer (arguably one of the best pop albums of all time) enhances the experience even more.
Of course you can’t forget the musical influence of The ArchAndroid. That album has some fantastic singles but the album experience as a whole is impeccable. It is definitely meant to be experienced all at once and when you listen to it you’ll quickly understand why, because you won’t want to stop once you start.
As for music overall, Janelle Monáe is very much a genre bender. While her music can be considered pop, it has strong influences from jazz, funk, hip hop, and more. Speaking of genre bending, can we talk about the fact that she sampled Debussy in her song, “Say You’ll Go”? I’m a huge fan of when pop artists sample classical music and Debussy was a stellar choice. Her music also takes place in the past, present, and future which has made her known as somewhat of a musical time traveler. She dives into the wrongdoings of the past, acknowledges the issues of the present, and imagines what a better future could look like in her musical stories. The themes of her music are very much grounded in reality, but by portraying the art as fictional, it is even more powerful.
As for empowerment, seeing a black, queer, woman not shying away from those identities in her art is extraordinarily empowering. She challenges so many social constructs in her music and is paving the way for other women, people of color, and queer people to be more of themselves. Her music empowers people to fight for what is right in a world still so full of wrong.
I mentioned this earlier but “Q.U.E.E.N.” is her song that I find the most empowering particularly because it challenges gender norms for women and encourages them to express their sexuality and not allow the world to diminish their confidence. I’m a big proponent of not trying to conform to a world with messed up systems and this song captures that idea perfectly, especially with the lyric “or should I reprogram these programs and get down?!” “Electric Lady” has a similar vibe of encouraging women to be unapologetically themselves - to be electric - but is less of an anthemic rebellious song and more of a jazzy jam that is so fun to get down to.
I’ve created a playlist of some of my favorite and iconic Janelle Monáe songs here so be sure to check it out to experience all of her awesomeness!