Janelle Monae X FAULT Magazine
Words: Miles Holder
Special Thanks: Handel & Hendrix
In 2007, Janelle Monae released her EP entitled ‘Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), the first in a seven-part conceptual series set in the year 2719’s civilisation of Metropolis and told through the eyes of a sentient android, Cindi Mayweather.
The story continued through her 2010 album ‘The ArchAndroid’ and 2013’s ‘The Electric Lady’ and fans followed Cindi Mayweather as she fell in love with a human and travelled back in time to warn of the imminent threat posed by the secret organisation, ‘The Great Divide’.
For her 2018 Album entitled ‘Dirty Computer’, Janelle will be leaving Cindi behind and telling a new story, the story of Janelle Monae. The first two releases from the record ‘Django Jane’ and ‘Make Me Feel’ are still filled with Janelle’s signature style, Afrofuturism and punk soul swag. While a departure from the narrative fans are accustomed, it nevertheless provides what so many have a craved – a glimpse into Janelle’s personal life.
Could it be that as our reality begins to mimic that of the fictitious dystopian future of Metropolis, as too has Janelle been forced to follow in the footsteps of Cindi Mayweather and save the present day from its own “great divide”? Only time will tell. For Janelle at least, it’s all about being present, and at long last, finding the confidence to tell her own story.
FAULT Magazine: You’ve always included social commentary within your music but it was vailed within the narrative of Metropolis. On Dirty Computer, the message is a lot more in your face – why?
Janelle Monae: I knew I was supposed to make Dirty Computer before my first album came out and I always wanted to speak out, but I put it off because I needed to understand where my anger was coming from and how best to channel it.
I am such an honest person and speak very candidly when I’m with friends and family, and that’s what you’ll hear on this album. I sing about politics, race, sexuality, gender on the record but to release the album, I needed to make sure I had the confidence to not self-edit. I needed to be vulnerable, honest and open.
This project is about my freedom and challenging myself to live in the present and not in 2719 through Cindi. I feel like I can contribute to the present day and that I should contribute. I’m choosing to live in the now and to celebrate the people that are not celebrated in the present day. I want to honour those living on the outskirts of society due to their sexuality or gender identity. These are people who I love, and that love me but waking up as an American who cares deeply about the American dream and the rights of all people to it, I feel there is too much at stake to be quiet and to mince my words on specific issues.
Despite the social commentary, it doesn’t feel like a sad or hope lost album. There are many songs about self-love and sexual discovery that it ends up as quite an empowering record, was this the intention?
I’m happy you said that because it’s not meant as a sad album, it’s intended as a celebration for the “dirty computers” of the world who get told that they’re dirty and that they have viruses making them different which they need to have taken away. Dirty Computers should see their uniqueness and their so-called viruses as positive attributes which make them valuable to society.
What’s given you the confidence to say “Right, it’s time to tell the world who Janelle is and tell my story”?
Janelle Monae: There is power in vulnerability, and I think that it needed to start with me. I was inspired by many movies, some of which I’ve been a part of and the stories I read and people I’ve met; when people shared their stories with me so honestly, it resonated.
I’ve been talking about it, but I feel I wasn’t entirely embracing the things that made me unique. I was telling others to as part of my music, but I wasn’t living it, and I think that I was afraid I would lose supporters for doing so.
I had a lot of conversation with myself about who was going to be the subject of the album myself or Cindi, but I’m here now, and I think it’s right that I stay in the present and share my story and walk in my truth as fearlessly as possible.
Janelle Monae: It’s not that I don’t experience fear, but in those moments, I choose freedom and freedom is not free. Freedom always comes with great sacrifice, and there will be people who say hurtful things and not support me because I’m living my truth.
Does it scare you to put yourself out there for scrutiny when people won’t just discuss your music, they’ll twist your music and message and start discussions on you as a person and your personal life?
Janelle Monae: No, I have soul searched, and this time around, I think being honest is most important. It’s about being able to say “hey I’m ok if people don’t like that I’m embracing this side of me”, it’s the side that my friends and family get to see and they still love me the same. I think that my evolution is more important than pleasing people and I may not say it right, I might get some things wrong, and I may stumble along the way but was I honest, was I sincere, was my heart in the right place? Yes, yes and yes.
What scares Janelle Monae?
Janelle Monae: That I won’t have a family within the time frame that I want to have a family. I want to have children, but I don’t want to miss that time because I was so focused on my career and because I didn’t plan accordingly. That scares me most now more than anything. I do want to usher in a new generation of babies that will be better than me and able to dream bigger than me and go out into this world and turn it upside down in a very positive way.
Janelle Monae: One of my FAULTs is that I’m a self-editor and perfectionist and I don’t enjoy my experiences when I’m so focused on being consistently perfect in every situation. It’s something that I’ve had to work on my entire life actively. It used to consume my experience, and I couldn’t enjoy things because I was so focused on how they were going to be presented. I was so concerned with what people thought, but now I’m just at this point in my life where I’m finding strength in my imperfections, and I realise that I connect more with myself and with other people when my FAULTs are being shared for all to see.
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