I’ve been dying to write about Janelle Monae for so long now, so I apologize if this whole thing comes off as overly gushy and hyperbolic. But this woman, this unbelievably amazing woman has blown me over tip to tail. I don’t know if it’s her fancy, gravity defying hair-do or her spit-shine-clean oxfords tapping around on the stage like she ain’t got a care in the world, but she knows how to get down. Her show at Coachella was one of my absolute favourites (among many, many other outstanding acts we saw) and she just blew it out of the water. Her set list was a noirish, new-soul extravaganza, that included “Tightrope”, “Dance or Die”, “Cold War” and one of my favourites “Locked inside” which served as the opening salvo of her last album. There were absolutely no lulls during the set, [[MORE]]so much so that you were sure to get mean mugged if you even dared to take a peek at your phone. “PUT THAT THING AWAY! JANELLE IS WEARING A CAPE NOW!” their judgemental eyes would say to you. There was a sassy James Bond-ish intro video, as the white-tuxedo clad chanteuse bounced on stage, there were cloaked druids, there was dancing, there was dance-fighting and above and beyond there was crowd swimming. Monae, at the end of what I can only assume was a physically exhausting set, jumped out into the crowd and swam her way through the throngs of fans for a solid 5 minutes. It was the front stroke if I remember correctly, although she might have thrown in some breast stroke just for funsies. It was that inimitable live music experience where every note, every dance move and every moment coalesced in such a way, that you are left aghast and speechless at what you just witnessed.
While the moniker “unique” gets thrown around a lot about musicians, in this case it’s true. Monae is one of a kind. A show of that energy and calibre can’t be pulled off by anyone that isn’t infused with passion about performing. Her commitment to her brand and her image are enviable, as is her eclectic wardrobe. Girls got style for days. Her songs are rambunctious, yet soulful and refined, and she seems determined to break down labels and categories, and not be defined by boundaries of sexuality or musicality. Her look defies gender boundaries, and opens up the door for a discussion of the “othering” of artistic performers who go against the grain. Her signature tuxedo uniform, as New York magazine noted back in 2010, is inspired by gay icon Marlene Dietrich and she identifies with one of the greatest gay icons of all time, Judy Garland. “I’m Dorothy and we are all on a journey to Oz,” she said in an interview with Pride magazine, referring to the help her mentors and collaborators have offered along the way. She’s done some really insightful and engaging interviews along the way and many have described her breakout performance on Letterman in 2010 as one of the best he’s ever had on his show. So I say, lady singers out there watch your back, because I think a new Q.U.E.E.N. just arrived in town.
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