Or Should I Reprogram, Deprogram and Get Down?
I love Janelle Monáe.
Like, I want to be her when I grow up. She has an immense sense of confidence, is amazingly talented, and her hair game is always strong.
She is also a self-proclaimed android.
And not in the way you might think of the world of Ghost in the Shell or the very campy The Terminator. No, as Janelle Monáe would put it, androids are the perfect metaphor for the narratives of multiple marginialized groups.
If there’s one concept that comes up more than any other in Monáe’s songs, its androids. That is, after all, what an “electric lady” is. The hero of her Metropolis series (her two most recent albums and the Metropolis: Suite I EP) is a persecuted android named Cindi Mayweather sent from the future… who turns out to be a messiah to the people of a class-divided city. “When you talk about androids there are so many parallels between androids and African-Americans, androids and minorities, androids and gay people, androids and females,” Monáe says backstage following the REDF event. “We’re talking about those who are oftentimes discriminated against or treated as less-than, and I just thought it was such a world that hadn’t been talked about in that way and I wanted to be one of the first to do it.”
Monáe is redefining what it means to be a queer woman of color in the United States through her unique pop-R&B fusion of music. With the persona, though, she is also taking the opportunity to make commentary on oppression and marginialization with her movement. It many ways, calling herself an android seems to be more accessible for audiences than simply presenting herself as a black woman in music.
In her song “Q.U.E.E.N.” (which stands for the queer community, the untouchables, emigrants, the excommunicated, and the negroids), she questions the way we look at the bodies of marginialized groups, and she asks questions that not only society should ask itself but also the individuals of these groups should ask themselves, too. From twerking to wings to freeing Kansas City to the “electric ladies,” Janelle Monáe combines futurism with social justice and revolution and that’s beautiful.
Her music video also brings up the concept of archiving. You enter into a room filled with “living rebels” in the beginning of the video. They are in suspended animation (so does that make them real or simulations of their former selves?) and are essentially “captured” as they have time traveled. This fits with Monáe’s narrative for her android named Cindi Mayweather.
They eventually start grooving (along with the wonderful twang of Erykah Badu and Monáe’s epic rap at the end) and break out of their frozen states. What do you make of Janelle Monáe?
“Will you be electric sheep, electric ladies will you sleep? Or will you preach?”