Who is the Best? Janelle Monáe.

The album cover of Electric Lady, with Janelle Monae surrounded by futuristic women

"I want to redefine beauty and goals for young women," Janelle Monáe told Rolling Stone. "It's about breaking down stereotypes, fighting against oppression, trying to save the world." 

Not everyone would agree that Monáe is the number one, no-question, absolute best artist making music in America these days. But those who disagree clearly haven't heard her new album, The Electric Lady, which went on sale yesterday. The album jumps between musical styles, from R&B and rock to hip-hop and jazz, and incorporates artists from Prince to Solange Knowles to Esperanza Spalding to create a fabulous, over-the-top feel. As Monáe told MTV: "It is to encourage a million electric ladies to build and come into existence, and 'electric lady' does not have a particular skin color or hair texture but our communality is community and wanting to nurture the community and knowing that we have to be the change."

Monáe herself describes the album as "undefinable." But music critics who have taken on the task have found all sorts of ways to define The Electric Lady: it's "the shining pop future," it captures Monáe's "X factor-style," it is a "futuristic tableau rooted in a terre firme earthiness that suggests deep ties to prog-funkers Sun Ra and P. Funk."

Whatever it is, you can listen to the complete new shining-pop-X-Factor-future-tableau album for free—it's streaming right here. Monae's first album, The ArchAndroid, was equally critically aclaimed, but only sold 186,000 copies. That's criminal. So if you have the cash, consider buying a copy.  

by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is Bitch Media's online editor. She's interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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4 Comments Have Been Posted

I know, right?!

I was streaming the album on repeat last week when it was being previewed on Exclaim! I knew I would love it from the 1st time I heard Q.U.E.E.N, though.

Also, how sad is it that in the aftermath of the VMAs this year no one was talking about how well-deserved her award for best art direction for Q.U.E.E.N's perfect video? I love it so much I wrote a whole blog post about it: http://alagarconniere.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/janelle-monae-q-u-e-e-n-o...

Just an FYI...

Janelle's first album was actually <i>Metropolis: The Chase Suite</i>. It has a pretty brief tracklist (so maybe it doesn't count as an album?), but was also (as one would expect of Miss Monae) kick ass. The "Many Moons" video off Metropolis is one of my favorites.

It's great, too!

Thanks for bringing that up! I was counting Metropolis as an EP, not an album, but I should have mentioned it in the post because everyone should know about it!

"Who is the best? Janelle

"Who is the best? Janelle Monae"....I actually spoke those words out loud the other night spontaneously because I couldn't keep from dancing around the room to 'Dance Apocalyptic'. She <i>is</i> the best. Her work is so graceful and smart and principled and delightful in every way and her voice (voices, really, as she has a bunch) is so beautiful and warm. I just cannot get over her work.

Also, she collaborates with so many people who are really great - like Erykah Badu, of course, but also Deep Cotton (who have an album coming out) and Wendy Morgan, who directed the video for "Tightrope". Every time I look more closely at anything Janelle Monae has done, I also discover the amazing people she worked with.

And I love how her videos have this great emphasis on collectivity and envisioning a racially just society. I look at her videos and they just seem (even if the actual narrative, as in "Tightrope" is one of an oppressive situation) to be structured in this amazing utopian joyful way. Her videos seem to reflect a truly radical understanding of how people can be together.

Also, all the science fiction is absolutely brilliant. I feel like Afrofuturism in pop culture is this fantastic counterweight to all the dead, stupid, reactionary, militaristic, individualistic and just generally crappy narratives we find in a lot of pop science fiction movies and TV shows [most of which centers white people...not that you can't have a radical reading of a show like Stargate Atlantis, for instance, but the world-building assumptions of the show are deeply, deeply reactionary and colonialist].

I mean, how could Janelle Monae be anything but the best? I hope she has a long, long career and I can collect all her albums.

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