Cindy Mayweather, The ArchAndroid, The Electric Lady, and Android No. 57821 are all just a compilation of one of the many characters within the universe Janelle Monáe creates within her music. Mostly known by the general public for her ten second guest appearance in Fun.’s We Are Young. Last month, Monáe released her second album The Electric Lady as the third part of her conceptual series. Based on Fritz Lang’s Sci-Fi classic Metropolis from 1927, Monae’s discography follows the tale of an Android on the run. In the opening song of her 2007 EP titled Metropolis, Violet Stars Happy Hunting creates the entire universe her music is set in. With the opening lines: “I’m an alien from outer space/ I’m a cybergirl without a face a heart or a mind”. She tells the fictional tale of Cindy Mayweather, an android who fell in love with Anthony Greendown, a human. Being chased by the Ministry of Droids for falling in love, she slowly begins a revolution. In one song alone, she is able to fully create the setting in which her entire catalogue follows and make compelling, innovative music with the idea.
Deciding to split the tale of Cindy Mayweather into seven suites, with the release of The Electric Lady she has released the first five chronicling this fictional character. With the release of her 2007 EP, Metropolis is the first suite following Mayweather on the run. Composed of just five songs, the EP quickly caught on with many music sites and publicist. Three years later, Monáe would release her first full album to deep anticipation. Released in 2010, The ArchAndroid contains Suites two and three. Based on it’s initial release the album received universal acclaim. Amounting to a composite score of 91 on Metacritic and listed on several best of the year lists. Even amounting to number one on The Guardian’s best of 2010 for music and nominated for Best Contemporary R&B album at the Grammys, her continuing tales of Cindy Mayweather was very successful. When titling the ArchAndroid the best album of 2010, this is what The Guardian had to say. “No other album this year seems so alive with possibility. Monáe is young and fearless enough to try anything, gifted enough to pull almost all of it off, and large-hearted enough to make it feel like a communal experience: Us rather than Me”. The albums biggest single, Tightrope featuring Big Boi from Outkast, was just as universally loved as the album. Titled the 8th best song of the year by Rolling Stone Magazine and as number one in NME’s top music videos of 2010, Monáe had hit a gold mine of acclaim.
Monáe’s chronicling suites can be considered albums themselves. Suite two is composed of eleven songs and suite three is a collection of seven songs. What is apparent when listening to the two of them is neither of them can be tied down to just one genre. Both Suites start out with an orchestrated intro that not only carries several of the sounds from the previous suites but is composed of several hints towards what will be in the following suite. Using both a fully organized orchestra and decked out band, the range and direction she is able to take her music is wide. In Dance or Die and Neon Valley Street, Monáe raps. Faster and Locked Inside harkens back to the King of Pop’s reign over music. With Cold War and Oh Maker, Monae shows her vocal talent with the combination of emotional prowess. Come Alive and Mushroom & Roses, she shows the full talent of her excellent band. With one being a haunting punk song and the other being a psychedelic, artistic song of expressionism. In 57821, Monáe shows her folk side reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel. Lastly, Monáe ends the album with BaBopByeYa, a song that sounds like its straight out of the ending piece of a musical.
Her new album, The Electric Lady carries the same amount of variety and production value as anything previously released. Once again split into two suites, Suite four and five. The first suite being jammed with what seems to be a collection full of would-be hits, Monáe shows her excellency when it comes to creatively making smart, but very danceable tracks. She brings out her big guns out quickly with her first song, Give Em What They Love. Featuring the R&B legend Prince in all his glory, the song is full of fun funky grooves as the two break it down. Followed by Q.U.E.E.N featuring another R&B legend Erykah Badu and the title track with Solange(Beyonce’s sister), she continues to jam with her friends and idols. She slows down things with Primetime, a lovely ballad with Miguel that is carried by the rawness of their vocals. Shortly after she finds a way to break out with Dance Apocalyptic, instantly the closest song to becoming a major hit. Harkening back to the fast paced beat of Hey Ya by Outkast, the song shows her talent as a performer. Going into the next suite, Monáe gets a bit more experimental. Starting with It’s Code playing out like a Motown sound of the 60s, the song quickly transitions into the next one. With Ghetto Woman, Monáe addresses several of the social-economic issues in her fictional universe that are reflective of our own. With Victory, Janelle Monáe shows off her vocal range by beautifully singing words of inspiration. With Sally Ride, Monáe goes over the trials and tribulations carried with being alone, while once again showing off the great ensemble within her band. She perfectly concludes the album with What an Experience, similar to the easy going synth music of the early 80s. The Electric Lady is not only organic and full of rhythmic progression but it doesn’t try to be anything more than it is. What it is just like her previous albums, is a compilation of cinematic and entrancing songs that compile an excellent double album. Looking at each song itself, every single one stands out as flawlessly executed and solid.
Concerns over sexuality, race, and identity are just a few of the major themes carried within her songs. Unlike the majority of her competitors, Monáe isn’t afraid to go with anything when it comes to her music. She also doesn’t let her persona consume her creativeness. She comes to every stage with the same amount of energy and wearing her defining suit and tie. She has played live with her idols, including Stevie Wonder and recently performed on Letterman where she took the opportunity to dance on top of his desk. After her performance, he said: “Ladies & Gentleman, the hardest working woman in show business”. While none of her songs have reached Top 40 stations, Monáe is currently one of the most important, entertaining, and creative performers out there. For someone who is on the run from being immediately dissembled, one can only hope that she doesn’t stop anytime soon.