[VIDEO] Q.U.E.E.N.s Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu Make Magical New Music

Janelle Monae’s latest single is determined to ‘defy every label.’

Continuing to tip the ‘Tightrope’ of mainstream success, the ‘Android’ American singer-songwriter from Kansas City unveiled “Q.U.E.E.N.” an anthemic track featuring Neo-Soul/Funk music legend Erykah Badu.

Released April 22nd 2013, she announced via twitter the new song “is inspired by private discussions between Erykah and me. It’s meant to make you JAM. DANCE. FUNK OUT. And dialogue later.” Guided by a Prince-and-Jimi-Hendrix-esque instrumental, Monae and Badu’s verses strut with empowered voice and vision. Some rebellious confidence with playful, probing wit is thrown in for good measure. Monae even commands a daring rhythmic flip to deliver a plosive rap section echoing and reinforcing the songs broader message of diversity and empowerment.

Currently, the anticipated hit leads the release of her upcoming album The Electric Lady under management and distribution of Atlantic Records and Bad Boy Records, the latter being founded by rap-mogul/mentor Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs. Until now, her most recent musical endeavors include a tour with Bruno Mars as well as a vocal contribution and video appearance on indie pop band Fun.’s angst-driven, five-times platinum, Grammy-winning single “We Are Young.”

The 2007 debut EP Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) and Grammy-nominated 2010 studio album The ArchAndroid set the stage for Monae’s career and signature style.

A self-proclaimed minimalist, her preferred black-and-white wardrobe with occasional, subtle pops of color has caught the attention of Andre Leon Tally and other international fashion leaders. Most notably her tuxedo, which she comments is more of a uniform, was featured in Vogue magazine.

I wear a uniform on stage…. my mom was a janitor, my father drove trucks, my stepfather worked at the post office. I want to create music that moves and inspired the people that I grew up with, working class people. I create music to celebrate our differences, our individuality, and unite those people.

The cover art portrays Monae in sleek, edgier attire departing but alluding to the songstress’ signature style with a monochrome filter and bowtie nail design. Music critics approve of the song so far with Slate.com questioning it as a commentary on her sexuality; noting lines “Is it weird to like the way she wear her tights? / Am I a freak because I love watching Mary?”

While possible, such an interpretation risks diminishing and eclipsing the songs scope, power, and advocate tone. Refusing to “eat cake” and preferring to “eat wangs [then] throw them bones on the ground”, it arguably speaks not for Monae but marginalized communities and citizens categorized as “other” with a concept frame and focus on LGBTQQIAAP and Drag Queen communities. Monae expands on the idea speaking on her fascination and identification with androids.

Despite walking into a room where opponents are “throwin’ shade left to right” Badu and Monae urge the outsiders, others and outcasts to “serve face” and “act a fool.” ‘Throwing shade’ and ‘serving face’ being popular slang of modern of the aforementioned communities; as well as high-fashion and urban lifestyle enclaves. NY-based photographer Leland Bobbe partially contributed to the latter term’s exposure and prevalence with his “Half-Drag” photo series.

Even if a commentary on her sexuality… so what? (Pardon the colloquialism). Seriously, there are many other creative, philosophic and activist aspects deserving of attention. EXAMPLE: Monae inquires, “What’s the price of fame?” and “Am I a sinner with my skirt on the ground?” She asks a ‘brother’ can he “save [her] soul from the devil” and a ‘sister’ if she is “good enough for [her] heaven… Will your God accept me in my black and white… Would he approve the way I’m made?” Many Christian communities, some condemning of LGBTQQIAAP and “otherness”, refer to members and faith leaders as “brothers and sisters” implying familial-religious relation. Further, “love watching Mary” may suggest a romantic attraction for a same sex member, an appreciation for drag performers (who wear tights and address each other as “girl”, “she”, or “her” despite their sex), and a variety of scenarios in between.

Regardless, as Monae tweeted, the time for dialogue and analysis will come later.

As a Cover Girl cosmetics spokesperson and founding member of Wondaland Arts Society, Monae frequently addresses her interest in breaking down negative and restrictive expectations in social, cultural, musical and creative spheres. During an award acceptance speech at the BLACK GIRLS ROCK! 2012 ceremony, she stated:

“I want to be clear… I didn’t have to change who I was to become a Covergirl, I didn’t have to become perfect because I’ve learned through my journey that perfection is often the enemy of greatness. Embrace what makes you unique, even if it makes others uncomfortable.”

Janelle Monae and Wondaland Arts Society seriously ‘put some voodoo on it’ with this track. While modern female music artist have been allowed to transcend the dichotomous industry images of  “angelic sweetheart” and “rebellious temptress”, many simply oscillate between the two inside a predetermined, controlled freedom predicated on male gaze. For women of color especially, the appropriate public image (i.e. R&B Diva, Hip-hop mistress etc.) has remained very narrow and only in the new millennium’s last decade begun to recognize the spectrum of identity. An artist likely to be around for ‘Many Moons’, Monae remains an exciting, new representation without any desire or need for categorization.


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