In a new short film, the pop star discusses her identity and the responsibility that comes with celebrity.

The galactic glamour of Afrofuturism may reign over Janelle Monáe’s aesthetic, but the principles that compel her have always been of this world. The Atlanta-based musician, known for her pristine tuxedos and polished stage presence, has spent the better part of two decades crafting funky art pop for a dystopian universe in which she could safely develop Monáe, the artist, through the lens of her alter ego, an android named Cindi Mayweather. On Monáe’s 2007 début EP, “Metropolis: The Chase Suite,” where the persona was formally introduced, Cindi has fallen in love with a human and, as a result, is being persecuted and hunted for disassembly. The subsequent albums—“The ArchAndroid,” from 2010, “The Electric Lady,” from 2013, and “Dirty Computer,” from 2018—have advanced the narrative, which includes themes touching on the pitfalls of an oppressive society and a fear of the “other.” Monáe’s genius is in her ability to deploy these story lines and ideas in a way that never burdens the music; there is levity, heightened by the philosophical stance that the act of dancing, of having joy, is subversive and a tool of survival. In this video, Monáe talks about using her platform to highlight the issues that are important to her.

Legends such as Stevie Wonder and Prince, artists who often weaved cultural critiques and political messages into their music, have been instrumental in Monáe’s career. Her rubbery funk and flamboyant performances have long earned her comparisons to the Purple One, but the idea that the revolution can be rapturous, and that it starts and ends with love, is Wonder’s influence through and through. She is a preëminent artist of her generation, and her style only gains in dynamism as she opens herself up.

Last year, Monáe, who had spent the majority of her public-facing life performing as Cindi—she once told Rolling Stone that “I only date androids”—seemed to fully shed her insecurities, for which Cindi had been a useful cover. The process of decoupling had been gradual, but the veil finally fell, and Monáe offered more of herself, publicly and musically, than ever before. She shared that she is pansexual—a revelation that underpinned “Dirty Computer,” her most explicitly political album to date. Though there was continuity with her previous albums and callbacks to Cindi’s persona via a film that accompanied it (which Monáe called an “emotion picture”), “Dirty Computer” felt decidedly personal. The details of Monáe’s identity, eroticism, and social commentary were no longer shrouded in abstraction and metaphor—instead they were the central force of the project. It was, in many ways, like meeting her for the very first time. The push-pull between Cindi and Janelle, together with a resounding sense of social responsibility and a duty to interrogate systems of oppression, has remained a constant in Monáe’s career, and it’s a purpose that only grows more pronounced as her star shines brighter and the world around her shifts.

Sourse: newyorker.com

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