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Three Things That Come to Mind When I Think of Janelle Monae


There are three things that come to mind when I think of Janelle Monae. First, it's close to 6 years ago that I saw Janelle perform at the Emory University campus in Atlanta, GA when she performed for a handful of people at a student rally to create awareness about the genocide in Darfur. Buzz had steadily been building for Monae in the Atlanta area where she resides at the inconspicious Wondaland compound somewhere just outside of the city. Still unsigned at the time, she had just independently released an EP that gave listeners a few clues about her strong artistic point of view and unique blend of soul-pop.

It was that small and intimate performance in April 2009 at Emory's United Methodist Church that completely captivated me. Her stage energy blew me away. It was unlike anything I had seen before and made me compare her to a young female version of Michael Jackson and James Brown in a review I wrote back then. 

Another thing that always comes to mind when I think of Janelle Monae is my disappointment that she has never won a Grammy for any of her music. She has been nominated multiple times across different categories, including Best Urban Alternative Performance (in 2009 for "Many Moons") and Best Contemporary R&B Album (in 2011 for the brilliant "The ArchAndroid"). Inexplicably, at this year's Grammy Awards, her most recent (and critically-acclaimed) sophomore LP "The Electric Lady" was completely shut out of consideration. Rihanna ended up grabbing Grammy gold for "Unapologetic" in the Best Urban Alternative Album category which is a category that quite frankly should have been owned by Monae.

Despite missing out on a Grammy (so far), Monae received one of the biggest honors of her career last night. She was invited by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to perform during a unique workshop event as part of a concert honoring women in soul music. Michelle Obama hosted the workshop for 124 students from middle school, high school and colleges from across the country. 

That very special moment brings me to the third thing that comes to mind when I think of Janelle Monae. She's a great example for aspiring artists. The fact that Monae bounces from genre to genre while clearly wearing her inspirations on her sleeves makes it hard for people to put her in a box. And that's a good thing.

Monae's music and performance is refreshing and trying to put a label on it would diminish her artistic intention. Her bold approach and non-conformist attitude is an example to all aspiring artists out there who have set out to create a unique path of their own. Whether you're a singer, writer, painter, dancer or, yes, even a music blogger. 

Catch the taped broadcast of the "Women In Soul Music" event including performances by Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle, Melissa Etheride and Janelle Monae, on April 7 on a PBS station near you.

March 7, 2014 | Permalink