I am angry about the situation Janelle Monae finds herself in. She is an artist who should be absolutely lauded and revered by the press, radio and audiences but for some reason she is still seen as a fringe urban artist. Every day I grow convinced that she is the most important artist of our generation – she is our Hendrix, our James Brown, our Michael, our Prince – but the album she released in 2013 has sold under 100,000 copies. It is a disgrace.
I am a person who loathes the use of the race card. I feel it is done far too often by my fellow chocolate people, but in this instance I’m going to dust mine off and use it here (we blacks all carry one). If Janelle Monae was just as quirky and just as different but was a white woman she’d be one of the biggest selling artists of our time – I am convinced of this.
Although I am not a fan of Lady Gaga, I respect her quite a bit. If you look past her theatrics she is actually a very talented song writer and a somewhat gifted vocalist and musician – but her talent and song writing ability pales in comparison to that of Ms Monae, an artist who isn’t shy of using a little theatre herself. People say that Janelle is too far out there, but she has yet to arrive at an awards ceremony in a meat dress or an egg.
I have recently gone back to listening to The ArchAndroid, her first official album, and it shocked me. It is easy to forget what an astonishing achievement it was. It is almost a perfect debut (I am looking at you ‘Make the Bus’) and it went practically unnoticed here in the UK and wasn’t nearly as big as it should have been in the US. Just to use Lady Gaga as a barometer, Cold War and Tightrope, Say you’ll go and Mushroom and Roses are equal, and in some cases, better than anything she has ever released – again, I like Ms Gaga’s music.
Her latest album, Electric Lady, has rarely left the CD player in my car since it was released, and although it is a lot more refined, it still manages to make me fall deeper in love with Ms Monae.
So why do I say her lack of success is down to her race? Around the time The ArchAndroid was released, I asked my youngest sister what she thought of Janelle and her answer angered me more than if she said she hated her music. My little sister simply said she dresses weird and is … well, weird.
What my sibling captures in her answer is what society (and I am including the black community in this) expects a black woman to be in this day and age. Janelle is a very beautiful woman and I bet money that if she exposed more skin, people would be more receptive to her music. Damn, if she went all Rihanna she’d be an international superstar.
Forget, Rihanna for a moment, think of Beyonce… there is no reason why Beyonce should be frolicking around on a beach singing her latest jam, but she does so anyway. Sex has been part and parcel of the reason why Beyonce is now referred to as Queen B – from Dangerously in Love to this day. Truth is her music has been ‘meh’ for sometime and it is the image of Beyonce, not her music, that we have fallen for (not to say that Bey hasn’t had a banger here and there).
I deeply admire and respect Janelle Monae for not sexualising her music and find people’s reaction to her fashion sense revealing. It is because Janelle is sexually ambiguous, uncompromising when it comes to her image and, lastly, black that she isn’t a household name. These are the only reasons that make sense… because she is awesome, and I love her, and so should you.