Janelle Monae, aka Cindi Mayweather, aka The Electric Lady. It’s a lot of personae for one woman, but Monae is unflinching in her dedication to the flawlessly crafted images.
Even as just Janelle, she never cracks, even as reporters and critics start to show frustration with the facade. It works in her favor anyway because they’re all expressing a similar sentiment, whether directly or indirectly: I want so much to love her music.
In reviewing her new album, The Electric Lady, New York Magazine music critic Jody Rosen has flat out said it. Carrie Battan gets at the idea in her Pitchfork cover story, and SPIN’s profile does the same. Most people I talk to agree that the way they feel about Monae’s music never quite matches the way they feel about the person.
She is, unintentionally, a Bizarro Kanye.
I actually really enjoy Monae’s music. “Tightrope” was my jam for a while, and “Dance Apocalyptic” has me dancing in my chair while I write this. When “Q.U.E.E.N.” was first out, I did a lot dancing to that song on repeat, when I wasn’t ogling the video.
But that last clause made me realize something. More than most artists, the videos really amplify my enjoyment of the songs. I really hate saying that, because the discussion about women in music should never put appearances first, but therein lies the reason this is bugging me. I like her image better than her music. That includes the third-wave feminism, but, you know, there’s still some nagging guilt.
Monae works in a whimsical Wondaland. She’s adamant about the need for creative freedom and successfully demanded full control when she signed with Diddy and Bad Boy. She landed Prince for The Electric Lady. Expectations are set for brilliance and she keeps landing at pretty damn great.
I’ll save my thoughts on The Electric Lady for a proper album review. Listening to it right now, I’m into the groove but not especially excited. And it makes me uncomfortable to say so. It’s the reverse-Kanye in action. It’s a struggle to explain how much I love his music because he’s so hated, and it’s a struggle to tell someone that Monae’s music doesn’t quite get there for me because she’s so lovable.
Her carefully constructed persona is exactly why we watch her and the reason expectations are so high. So, this turns into one of those “don’t think too hard about it” situations. That’s certainly not what Monae would want, but I’m going to stop thinking too critically and dance.