What’s the meaning of freedom for Janelle Monae? | Age of Pleasure
No, I’m not the sameJanelle Monáe – Float
Janelle Monáe breaks her chains and leaves her alter-ego Cindi Mayweather behind her to share with us her vision of pleasure. Let’s appreciate the evolution of such an innovative and freedom-craving artist. Through the exploration of her latest albums, from Metropolis to The Age Of Pleasure, you’ll be able to decypher the meaning of her personal freedom and gender identity.
The Metropolis concept series: The Saga of Rebellion
Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase): Rebellion vs Oppression
Before beginning her quest of pleasure, Janelle Monáe has been known for her famous tuxedo and her alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather, illustrated in her first EP, but also in her first albums, The Archandroid and The Electric Lady.
Metropolis: The Chase Suite album cover, 2008
In her first EP, the artist makes us discover her world, a world where all kind of enjoyment, feelings, emotions, love is prohibited. Partly inspired by Fritz Lang film Metropolis (1927), Janelle Monae also took inspiration from afrofuturism. In this first opus, she established what would be the foundation of her two next concepts albums.
Cindi Mayweather is not like the other androids. Indeed, she is rebellious. She wants to escape her condition, she falls for a human, which is not allowed in her dystopian world.
“I speak about androids because I think the android represents the new ‘Other,’” Mayweather says. “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.’”Janelle Monae, as Cindi Mayweather
The only song from the EP which had a music video, “Many Moons”, is a great introduction to the world of Cindi Mayweather : we can see an auction, where buyers can acquire the android they want, based on their personal preferences.
“Many Moons” established what would become Monáe’s signature Afrofuturistic aesthetic: an exploration of real world issues of race, class, gender, and politics in a sci-fi setting. “Civil rights, civil war / Hood rat, crack whore,’ Monáe sings. “Cybergirl, droid control / Get away now they trying to steal your soul.” The video ends with a Mayweather quote – “I imagined Many Moons in the sky lighting the way to freedom” – predicting that Many Moons and many worlds will be how Mayweather (Monáe) gains her freedom. These moons and worlds will be the various “emotion pictures” and Afrofuturistic aesthetics that Monáe will create throughout her career, in a quest for total creative and political freedom.Source : Dazed
The ArchAndroid: Janelle Monae’s Mission, in war for Liberty
The ArchAndroid was co-released by Bad Boy Records and Janelle Monae’s label, Wondaland Arts Society, a label with its very trailblazing philosophy.
We at Wondaland are inventors. We wear tuxedos everyday. We jump in pools during performances. We wear Civil War hats and rock vintage Jordans.About Wondaland Arts Society
We believe truth can be broken down with the following formula: Truth= Love x Imagination.
We believe songs are spaceships. We believe music is the weapon of the future. We believe books are stars.
We believe there are only three forms of music: good music, bad music and funk.
The Archandroid album cover, 2010
Through The ArchAndroid, her breakout album, Janelle Monáe goes further in her sci-fi inspired narrative. Here, Cindi Mayweather is no longer just a simple android, but she also realised that she is the chosen one, her mission is to save the city, hence the city on her head, which takes the form of a crown : this symbolises the weight of her mission on her shoulders.
Sonically, this album is more experimental with a wide range of sounds.
I’m trying to find my peace (we’re trying to find our peace)Janelle Monáe – Cold War
I was made to believe
There’s something wrong with me
Electric Lady: Liberty & Empowerment of the oppressed ones
The innovative ladies seen as rebellious women.
Back in the time, Electric Lady offered a good resolution to the Metropolis Saga, as it featured a protagonist fighting for her rights and her liberty, within politicaly-charged songs.
Difference between freedom and liberty:
Liberty can be defined as the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views […].
Freedom, on the other hand, refers to the ability to act or think as one wants without being hindered by outside forces. It is often associated with the idea of self-determination and the pursuit of happiness […].Source United Wepledge.
The Electric Lady album cover, 2013
The Electric Lady contains the suites IV and V of the Metropolis saga. With this album, Janelle Monáe wants to share new ideas and to tell universal stories. Her goal is to cover a wide range of topics, such as politics, religion, sexuality, LGBT and Black woman communities, sciences (cf her feature in the 2017 movie Hidden Figures).
Am I a freak for getting down?Janelle Monáe – Q.U.E.E.N.
In her songs, the artist often asks, “Am I a freak?“. This is also the case in her song “Faster”, featured on The ArchAndroid. Here, Janelle Monáe already seems wanting to live her true self “Even if it makes other uncomfortable, I will love who I am”. She already raises questions related to sexuality, and she wants to live her life with authenticity.
In 2018, Janelle Monáe released her third album, Dirty Computer. This album is even more personal than the previous ones and here, she deepens the questions related to sexuality and identity. However, the artist hasn’t commented if this opus is the continuation of the Metropolis sci-fi saga.
In her 2018 opus, a liberation had begun. On Dirty Computer, she celebrates her true self. Indeed, here, the goal of the artist is to “step into a more authentic self”.
“The Age of Pleasure” : The Freedom Album
A new age, a new philosophy and a new sound for Wondaland inventors.
Janelle breaks character and reveals herself in the flesh. Here, the artist gets rid of her tuxedo to show some skin. Indeed, The Age of Pleasure is a honest and provocative album which aims at celebrating the beauty, the love, the well-being, and the sexual empowerment.
The Age of Pleasure goes even deeper in the narrative of liberty of body and spirit. The concept here appears more straightforward and less sophisticated than the previous Metropolis saga, until Dirty Computer. Her music, much more personal and selfish, feels more and more digest for the mass, and reflects how much lighter Janelle feels. Her music started to feel this way since Dirty Computer already.
Now, with this latest body of work, Monae can finally get in touch with her emotions, and dive deep in her very own pursuit of Happiness.
I’m feeling much lighter nowJanelle Monáe – Float
The overall mood of the album is festive, sometimes relax and laid-back. In some songs, we can hear some sounds reminiscent of Fela Kuti sonically, but this is no surprise because Seun Kuti, the son of Fela Kuti participated in the production of the album.
In the song “Only Have Eyes 42”, we can hear violin, which procures a cinematic sound to the track, which reminds of some tracks on her previous opus, like The ArchAndroid. Even though the artist is in her quest of pleasure, Janelle Monáe seems to never let go the drama side!
In The Age of Pleasure, the production is less complex and more simplified, which is a reflection of her new-found freedom.
In interviews, Monáe sometimes speaks as Cindi, at once evading and inviting questions. “The lesbian community has tried to claim me, but I only date androids,” she said, deadpan, to Rolling Stone, in 2010.Source : The New Yorker
The interview below is interesting, because in it, she is saying that it took a long time before she finally understood that she didn’t need to hide her skin.
It took me a long time to realise that it was not my responsibility to adjust my freedom in order to make you comfortable.Janelle Monáe
Despite her pleasure found in her freedom, the artist never lets go of love. The last track of The Age Of Pleasure, “A Dry Red”, is a sweet and dreamy ballad, with sounds of guitar, where she is notably saying that she is choosy, and that someone has been on her mind since the summer.
To conclude, we can finally say that Janelle Monáe has always been in a quest for freedom and love, whether she is Cindi Mayweather, the android #57821, or simply Janelle Monáe.