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Janelle Monáe Robinson (born December 1, 1985), known as Janelle Monáe / /, is an American psychedelic soul and R&B singer-songwriter, composer and record producer signed to Wondaland Art Society, Bad Boy Records and Atlantic Records. After making a mark with her first unofficial studio album, The Audition, Monáe debuted with a conceptual EP: Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase). The EP had a modest commercial impact, peaking at number 115 on the Billboard 200 in the United States.
In 2010, Janelle Monáe released her debut studio album, The ArchAndroid, a concept album sequel to her first EP; it was released by Bad Boy Records. This album received acclaim from critics and garnered a nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards. The song "Tightrope" was also nominated for Best Urban/Alternative Performance at the same ceremony. This album was also more successful commercially, officially reaching the number 17 spot on the Billboard 200.
Her success has also garnered her six Grammy Award nominations. In March 2012, "We Are Young", the song by the band fun. on which Monáe makes a guest appearance, reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, her first appearance in the US Top 10. In August 2012, Monáe was chosen as the newest addition to the CoverGirl spokeswomen lineup. On September 10, 2013, Monáe released her second studio album, The Electric Lady, to critical acclaim. Boston City Council named October 16, 2013 "Janelle Monáe Day" in the city of Boston in recognition of her artistry and social leadership.
Monáe was born in Kansas City, Kansas on December 1, 1985, where she spent her early life. Monáe has stated that the fictional character of Dorothy from the film The Wizard of Oz has been one of her "musical influences." She has told reporters that she has dreamed of being a singer and a performer since she was very young. She then moved to New York City to study drama at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, attending a Performing Arts School called Freedom Theatre, which is the oldest African-American theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
After moving to Atlanta, Georgia in 2001, she met OutKast's Big Boi, and then founded the Wondaland Arts Society with like-minded young artists and released her first EP The Audition in 2003. Although it did not do very well on the Billboard charts - and reportedly only 400 physical copies were pressed - it still showcased her vocal abilities as well as her unique Metropolis concept that would eventually show up on her future releases. The album itself is extremely rare to find on compact disc and is now considered a valuable collector's item to fans.
Monáe later made appearances on Idlewild, where she is featured on the songs "Call the Law" and "In Your Dreams". Big Boi told his friend Sean Combs about Monáe, whom he had not heard of before. Combs promptly visited her MySpace page, and according to Bad Boy Records' A&R Daniel 'Skid' Mitchell in an interview with HitQuarters, the label boss loved it straight away: "[He] loved her look, loved that you couldn’t see her body, loved the way she was dancing, and just loved the vibe. He felt like she has something that was different - something new and fresh." Monáe signed to Bad Boy in 2006. The label's chief role was in facilitating her exposure on a much broader scale rather than developing the artist and her music, because in the words of Mitchell, "She was already moving, she already had her records - she had a self-contained movement." Combs and Big Boi wanted to take their time and build her profile organically and allow the music to grow rather than put out "A hot single which everyone jumps on, and then they fade because it's just something of the moment."
In 2007, Monáe released her first solo work, titled Metropolis. It was originally conceived as a concept album in four parts, or "suites", which were to be released through her website and mp3 download sites. After the release of the first part of the series, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) in mid-2007, these plans were altered following her signing with Sean Combs's label, Bad Boy Records, later in the year. The label gave an official and physical release to the first suite in August 2008, which was retitled Metropolis: The Chase Suite (Special Edition) and included two new tracks. The EP was acclaimed by critics, garnering Monáe a 51st Annual Grammy Awards Grammy nomination for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for her single "Many Moons", festival appearances and opening slots for indie pop band of Montreal. Monáe also toured as the opening act for band No Doubt on their summer 2009 tour. Her single "Open Happiness" was featured in the 2009 season finale of American Idol. Monáe told MTV about her concept for her new album and also discussed her alter-ego named Cindi Mayweather, she said:
In a November 2009 interview, Monáe revealed the title and concept behind her album, The ArchAndroid. The album was released on May 18, 2010. The second and third suites of Metropolis are combined into this full-length release, in which Monáe's alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather—also the protagonist of Metropolis: The Chase Suite— becomes a messianic figure to the android community of Metropolis. Monáe noted that she plans to shoot a video for each song on The ArchAndroid and create a narrative movie, graphic novel and a touring Broadway musical based on the album. The Metropolis concept series draws inspiration from a wide range of musical, cinematic and other sources, ranging from Alfred Hitchcock to Debussy to Philip K. Dick. However, the series puts Fritz Lang's 1927 silent film Metropolis, which Monáe referred to as "the godfather of science-fiction movies," in special regard. Aside from sharing a name, they also share visual styles (the cover for The ArchAndroid is inspired by the iconic poster for Metropolis), conceptual themes and political goals, using expressionistic future scenarios to examine and explore contemporary ideas of prejudice and class. Both also include a performing female android, though to very different effect. Where Metropolis android Maria is the evil, havoc-sowing double of the messianic figure to the city's strictly segregated working class, Monáe's messianic android muse Cindi Mayweather represents an interpretation of androids as that segregated minority, which Monáe describes as "... the Other. And I feel like all of us, whether in the majority or the minority, felt like the Other at some point."
Monáe received the Vanguard Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers at the Rhythm & Soul Music Awards in 2010. Monáe covered Charlie Chaplin's Smile on Billboard.com in June 2010. In an NPR interview in September 2010, Monae stated that she is a believer in, and a proponent of time travel. Monáe performed "Tightrope" during the second elimination episode of the 11th Season of Dancing with the Stars on September 28, 2010. Monáe performed at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards in 2011 alongside artists Bruno Mars and B.o.B; Monáe performed the synth section of B.o.B's song "Nothin' on You" and she then performed her track "Cold War" with B.o.B on the guitar and Mars on the drums. Her performance received a standing ovation.
Her single "Tightrope" was featured on the American Idols LIVE! Tour 2011, performed by Pia Toscano, Haley Reinhart, Naima Adedapo, and Thia Megia.
Monáe was featured in fun.'s hit single, "We Are Young", and also performed an acoustic version of the song with lead singer Nate Ruess, and the other two members of the band. Monáe was also featured on "Do My Thing" for Estelle's sophomore studio album, All of Me. In June 2012, Monáe performed two new songs, "Electric Lady" and "Dorothy Dandridge Eyes"—from her then upcoming sophomore studio album, The Electric Lady—at Toronto's Jazz Festival. In July 2012, for the second year in a row, she appeared at the renowned North Sea Jazz Festival in Europe as well as in the 46th edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland on the 14th.
In August 2012, Monáe was chosen as CoverGirl's newest spokeswoman. In September 2012, Monáe performed at CarolinaFest in support of President Obama, just before the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. In October 2012, Monáe starred in a commercial for the Sonos Wireless HiFi home audio system, and appeared in a Sonos commercial in 2012 with Deep Cotton.
Monáe's first single from The Electric Lady, "Q.U.E.E.N.", featuring Erykah Badu, premiered on SoundCloud and made available for download purchase at the iTunes Store on April 23, 2013. "Q.U.E.E.N." garnered 31,000 digital sales according to Nielsen Soundscan with the accompanying music video gaining four million YouTube views within its first week of release. Thematically, The Electric Lady continues the utopian cyborg concepts of its predecessors, while presenting itself in more plainspoken, introspective territory in addition to experimenting with genres beyond conventional funk and soul such as jazz ("Dorothy Dandridge Eyes"), pop-punk ("Dance Apocalyptic"), gospel ("Victory") and woozy, sensual vocal ballads ("PrimeTime", featuring Miguel). The album features guest appearances by Prince, Solange Knowles, aforementioned Miguel and Esperanza Spalding with production from previous collaborator Deep Cotton (a psychedelic punk act) and Roman GianArthur (a soul music composer), and was released to critical acclaim on September 10, 2013.
On September 14, 2013, Monáe performed along with Chic at the iTunes Festival in London. On September 28, 2013, Monáe performed at the Global Citizens Festival in Central Park alongside Stevie Wonder. Monáe performed as the featured musical guest on Saturday Night Live October 26 with host Edward Norton.
Her voice is heard as veterinarian Dr. Monáe in the movie Rio 2, released in the U.S. on April 11, 2014, and her song "What Is Love" was featured on the soundtrack. In April 2014, Monáe was invited to perform along with Tessanne Chin, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, Jill Scott, Ariana Grande, and Melissa Etheridge at the White House as a part of their PBS-broadcast "Women of Soul" event, which celebrated American women artists whose work has left an indelible and profound impact on our national musical culture. She performed "Goldfinger", "Tightrope", and joined in on the all inclusive performance of "Proud Mary".
On April 14 2014, Monáe was the recipient of the inaugural Harvard College Women's Center Award for Achievement in Arts and Media for her achievements as an artist, advocate and feminist. She tweeted earlier that day, "Headed to #Harvard to meet the beautiful ladies in the Women's Center. Can't believe I'm the honoree today. Just So thankful". She was also recognized as the 2014 Woman of the Year by the Harvard College Black Men's Forum at their annual Celebration of Black Women gala.
The Telegraph published an interview with Monáe, talking about her first studio album, in which the journalist Bernadette McNulty said, "I begin to worry for a moment that Monáe may not just be a humourless science-fiction nerd, but actually an android herself, created in a laboratory as a super-musical cross between James Brown, Judy Garland, André 3000 and Steve Jobs, invented to test the desperate incredulity of music journalists". She also compared Monáe to artists such as Annie Lennox, Lauryn Hill, and Corinne Bailey Rae. Her musical styles have been described as "a soaring orchestral trip enlivened with blockbuster vocals, mysterious imagery and notes of Sixties pop and jazz". The Guardian has noted some of her influences as: Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Prince, OutKast, Erykah Badu, James Brown, Grace Jones, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Bernard Herrmann, Funkadelic and the Incredible String Band. In an opinion piece for The Quietus, John Calvert places Janelle Monáe within the Afrofuturism movement, pointing out her similarities to Sun Ra and George Clinton. He asserts that Janelle Monáe is innovating the genre. Monáe has stated that she has an alter-ego named Cindi Mayweather who according to Monáe is from the year 2719. In her first EP she gave her alter-ego a back-story stating that she was on the run after breaking the law in her home town of Metropolis by falling in love with a human named Anthony Greendown. Monáe explained about Cindi, saying "The Archandroid, Cindi, is the mediator, between the mind and the hand. She's the mediator between the haves and the have-nots, the oppressed and the oppressor. She's like the Archangel in the Bible, and what Neo represents to the Matrix." Chris Champion of The Observer described Metropolis and The ArchAndroid as "psychedelic soul with a sci-fi twist".
Monáe's roots in Kansas City, where she was born and raised, are evident in her lyrics and style. According to Carrie Battan's Pitchfork feature on Monáe, the song "Ghetto Woman" directly addresses Monáe's working-class Kansas City mother—as well as the portrayal of working-class black women in U.S. culture—with the line "Carry on, ghetto woman, even when the news portrays you less than you could be." Monáe also told the London Evening Standard that she has internalized her KC roots by wearing the working-class uniform of her parents and expressing concern that she cannot let "her community down." On her album The ArchAndroid, especially in songs like "Cold War" or "BabopbyeYa," Monáe relates "the dystopian cityscapes depicted in Metropolis to the boarded-up projects of poverty-wracked Kansas." Kansas City, therefore, represents not only Monáe's physical roots within her hometown, but also serves as an important influence on her lyrics and science-fictional setting.
Monáe has gained a signature clothing style of wearing a tuxedo wardrobe and she said on the matter to Honey Magazine "I bathe in it, I swim in it, and I could be buried in it. A tux is such a standard uniform, it’s so classy and it’s a lifestyle I enjoy. The tux keeps me balanced. I look at myself as a canvas. I don’t want to cloud myself with too many colors or I’ll go crazy. It’s an experiment I’m doing. I think I want to be in the Guinness Book of World Records." Monáe's signature look harkens back to dandyism. Citing Grace Jones and Josephine Baker as role models, Monáe takes the classical 18th century look in the classical white and black pattern. Monáe's signature look can also be attributed to the early days in her career when she was employed as a maid as she revealed in her 2012 Black Girls Rock! Young, Gifted, and Black award acceptance speech. In Monáe's concerts she has been noted to hand out her Ten Droid Commandments which encourages her fans to be individuals. The Telegraph also commented on her image as an artist saying "Sitting in a grey, airless record company office, this slight, stiff young woman delivers her speech in slow, deliberate tones, utterly expressionless. Dressed in her trademark starched shirt and tuxedo, hair immaculately coiffed, Monáe’s face is an opaque mask of perfection: all silken smooth skin, button nose and glassy brown eyes." She has described her tuxedos as being a uniform for her career and she has stated that she wears them when she is working. She also featured in the "Style 100" of InStyle magazine.
Although Monáe has never personally addressed the rumors of her sexuality in public, during a 2011 interview with London Evening Standard she said that when it comes to her preferences, she "only dates androids", a reference to her musical alter-ego found in many of her songs. She also has said, "I speak about androids because I think the android represents the new 'other'. You can compare it to being a lesbian or being a gay man or being a black woman ... What I want is for people who feel oppressed or feel like the 'other' to connect with the music and to feel like, 'She represents who I am'," adding that she would talk about her sexual orientation "in due time".
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Image from Discogs