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Janelle Monáe: My Fair Lady

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Photos: Erin Patrice O'Brien

Design: Serra Semi


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My Fair Lady
When it comes to sophistication and conquering R&B, no one knows the game better than Janelle Monáe. This singer-phenom is a force of nature.

WORDS: Deena Campbell | PHOTOS: Erin Patrice O'Brien

When you hear the name “Janelle Monáe,” pleasant descriptors come to mind—drama-free, beautiful, talented—and for the most part, what you see is what you get. But as she sashays into a brightly lit New York studio for our August cover shoot on a warm afternoon, a new set of adjectives arise—feline, intriguing, powerful.

Navigating the chaos surrounding the stark-white studio, she embodies the muse for her upcoming fourth album, The Electric Lady, which drops September 10th. “An electric lady,” says the 27-year-old, Kansas City-bred singer, “is quirky, unafraid, epic and ‘nicety’—that’s when you’re being nice and nasty, noble and naughty, all at the same damn time.”

 

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Her new album is a hodgepodge of electric heavy-hitters, including Prince, Esperanza Spalding, Miquel, and Solange, and delves further into the exploits of Cindi Mayweather, the android heroine of her first EP MetropolisThe Electric Lady serves as Suite IV and V of her sci-fi saga and where Cindi learns more about herself. Much like her cosmic counterpart, Janelle, too, has ripened over time.

That might have something to do with her upbringing. Janelle comes from a working-class family that was backboned by her grandmother, a former Mississippi sharecropper and a mother who worked as a janitor. Her father was a garbage truck driver who struggled with drug addiction, and after years of seeing its negative effects, Janelle moved to Atlanta where she self-produced her demo, Janelle Monáe: The Audition. Grinding is in her genes.

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“I’ve evolved,” says an excited Janelle. “When you realize it’s your responsibility to be a leader and create the world that you want to see, you have to do it. It’s my responsibility to create music and come up with ideas that keep my community first.” Her personal community includes almost a half million Twitter and Instagram followers—all of whom are waiting with bated breath for The Electric Lady to surface.

I ask a question from @EssKayGA: “Have you considered releasing an all-rap mixtape?” Janelle seems excited at the prospect. “I’m flattered that people wonder that,” she says, smiling. “I love rap music, and I love hip-hop. I use rap as a way to communicate [and tell a story]. Yes, I will keep that in my thoughts.”

While her philosophy is grounded in innovation, style-wise, Janelle hasn’t achieved a myriad of transformations. Her popular tuxedo uniform pays homage to the working-class woman; but she did morph into a rocker chick for her recent “Dance Apocalyptic” video—a total 180 degrees from her norm. Our Instagram follower @christalbaybee noticed her makeover and asked, “Janelle! Your look in the “Dance Apocalyptic” video is SO different from your usual look. What inspired the change?”

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Without hesitation Janelle replies, “I was inspired to create a female rock star. I think an electric lady isn’t to be marginalized. As the narrator and creator of these characters, I have lived by not making myself a slave to my own interpretations of who I am or a slave to your interpretations or anybody’s interpretations of who I am.”

No one knows Janelle’s style better than her stylist, Maeve Reilly who crafted looks for all of Janelle’s recent red carpet appearances, including the all-white Dolce & Gabbana suit she wore to the 2013 BET awards. “Janelle isn’t trendy,” says Maeve. “Tailoring is most important for her. She knows what she likes and she knows what fits. She’s just a classy lady with a great sense of style.”

Her look on set is a fashionista’s wet dream. She steps out of the dressing room in a sparkled Catherine Malandrino jacket that’s complimented with black TopShop pants and Chanel fingerless gloves. Later on, she punctuates her style with snakeskin Christian Louboutins and exquisite broaches. Could she be anymore stunning? A true CoverGirl, Janelle wore the beauty brands lipsticks (Hot 305 and Spellbound 325) and bronzer (Ebony) to mimic a look inspired by the late Dorothy Dandridge.

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“What’s it like to be one of the hottest CoverGirl models ever?” I quote our Facebook fan, Kirista Sellers. Honored, Janelle replies, “Thank you! I feel privileged to stand alongside strong women like Ellen DeGeneres, Pink, Sophia Vergara, and Queen Latifah. We come in many shapes and sizes, colors. CoverGirl inspires young girls to dream big and say ‘I can be a CoverGirl too.’”

Her beauty may be blown up on billboards, but her love life is one thing that is definitely not on display. She admits she only dates passionate androids who are smart, idealistic, and funny; however, most of her love life is protected by a well-oiled privacy machine. "An android is my preference," Janelle says coyly. "Two androids and a cyborg. I’m someone who sees your spirit and soul. I love passionate androids; one that knows exactly what it’s going to do in life. I like an android who knows how to handle and support an electric lady's dreams and wings when it's time to fly."

@brialovesmj  bravely questioned, “When are you going to have kids?” After a quick pause, she replies. “When the time is right, everything is about timing. But, right now I’m giving birth to this album.”

Janelle_androidAnd she is—complete with midwife Erykah Badu who is not only featured on “Q.U.E.E.N,” but is also one of her best friends. “‘Q.U.E.E.N’ really developed from a deep conversation Erykah and I were having about a woman’s place in the world. And how we were expected to be freaks and muses and virgin goddesses all at the same time by patriarchal cultures and religions.”

Unfortunately, not all female artists remain relevant while steering clear of sexually-laced lyrics in the midst of a violent society. Janelle’s explanation? She uses her voice as a weapon, and empowers us to use her art as a medicinal treatment. An electric lady indeed.

Stay tuned for behind the scenes footage from our August cover shoot with Janelle!

Styling by Maeve Reilly
Hair by Caprice Green
Makeup by Jessica Smalls
Photography by Erin Patrice O'Brien

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In a new interview with Essence, actress Vivica A. Fox discussed how she initially turned down her role in Two Can Play That Game based on the script. The established entertainer said it's her mission to ensure that black people are positively portrayed onscreen, and noticed the aforementioned film's prose didn't live up to those standards.

"I think the reason why—no I know the reason why—I've been doing this for such a long time is that I fight," Fox said. "When we did Two Can Play That Game, I fought for the way we talked, walked, the way we loved each other." The Set It Off actress continued to state that she consistently declined Two Can Play That Game before signing on to play the lead role. "Because the script, when I first got it, I turned it down three times because it just wasn't a good representation of African-Americans, so I fought them on everything," she noted. "I want to make sure that the images of African-Americans are as positive and as true as they can possibly be."

In 2001, the romantic comedy debuted to fanfare, boasting an all-star cast of Morris Chestnut, Mo'Nique, Anthony Anderson, Bobby Brown, Gabrielle Union, Wendy Raquel Robinson, and more. Directed by Mark Brown (Barbershop, Iverson, How To Be A Player), Fox plays a career driven person named Shante Smith who navigates a curveball when her boyfriend Keith Fenton (Chestnut) cheats on her with a co-worker.

After its release, Two Can Play That Game raked in over $22 million at the box office.

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Actress Gabrielle Union attends the Being Mary Jane premiere, screening, and party on January 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET)
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BET To Unveil Edible Billboard For 'Being Mary Jane' Wedding Finale

As Being Mary Jane comes to an end, BET is willing to offer fans a taste of what's to come in the series finale.

The network has enlisted the help of Ayesha Curry, celebrity cook and cookbook author, to create an edible billboard that also doubles as a wedding cake. The sweet treat will commemorate Mary Jane's (played by Gabrielle Union) nuptials in the two-hour series finale.

On April 20 from 1:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. at Brooklyn's Atlantic Terminal in New York, fans will be presented with the edible billboard. At the intersection of Ashland Place and Hanson Place, the closer Being Mary Jane enthusiasts get to the billboard the quicker they'll notice that the four-tiered wedding cake is created from individual boxes, each containing a slice of Curry's prized wedding cake.

All fans have to do is pull a box from the billboard, snap a picture for the 'Gram, take a bite and enjoy. Although lovers of the show won't be able to celebrate with Mary Jane herself, biting into a slice of her wedding cake, for free, is the next best thing.

Don't forget to tune into the series finale of Being Mary Jane on Tues. (April 23) at 8/7 c.

Also, check out what's to come on the series of Being Mary Jane below.

Save the date! 👰🏾It'll be worth the wait. Join us for the series finale of #BeingMaryJane TUES APR 23 8/7c only on @BET! pic.twitter.com/jEwkbC71OW

— #BeingMaryJane (@beingmaryjane) March 29, 2019

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The North Face

Ella Mai On The North Face's 'Explore Mode' Campaign, New Music And Living In The Moment

Ella Mai is in her own age of exploration. Her eponymous debut album scored her a platinum plaque with her breakout hit, "Boo'd Up" earning her a Grammy for Best R&B Song. But the accolades aren't driving her creative path. The arc in her compass is all about the places she's traveled, the people she's met and the lessons learned along the way.

"To be honest, personally, exploration is like growth. I feel like if you don't explore new things, whether it's going outside, meeting people or trying new food, you won't ever grow because you're just stuck in your little comfort zone which can be super scary to come out of," she tells VIBE at The North Face's Explore Mode event in New York on Monday (April 15). The singer is one of three women (including model-activist Gabrielle Richardson and chef Angela Dimayuga) who teamed up with the brand to share a message of enjoying the outside world without digital confinement and the global initiative to make Earth Day a national holiday.

The London native's urge to explore came in handy over the weekend when she performed in the brisk desert of Coachella. Inspired by artists like Rihanna and Ms. Lauryn Hill, Mai helped fans enjoy the hazy sunset as she performed hits like "Trip" and her latest No. 1 song, "Shot Clock."

"It's such a good feeling, especially when it comes to radio," she shared about her track reaching No. 1 on the airplay chart. "I wasn't even sure if people listened to the radio because people have so much access to streaming platforms, but obviously having all three of my singles from my debut album, go number one on urban radio is incredible."

That energy was brought to the Coachella stage with the festival being her biggest artistic exploration so far.

"My favorite part of the performance would have to be when I performed "Naked" and because it was dark, and I performed when the sun went down, I couldn't see how far the crowd actually went back. But during "Naked," it was such an intimate moment I asked everyone to put their lights up (phones) and when I saw how far it went back I was like, "Woah." That moment sealed it for me."

"Even there were two people in the audience, I still would've done my best," she added. "But just to see the crowd be so engaged, even if they didn't know the music, was a really good feeling. I had so much fun."

As the festival energy in Indio, Calif. continued to thrive, another rested on the streets of Los Angeles following the loss of Nipsey Hussle. With the singer having ties to those close to the rapper like DJ Mustard, she says the shift in the city was hard to ignore.

"As weird as it sounds, you felt it," she said. "Even in the weather, it was super hot and then everyone got the news and it started raining. Just a weird energy shift." As a new L.A. resident, the singer says Nipsey's influence cannot be denied.

"I feel like the energy shift went both ways; everyone was really sad, grieving and mourning but everyone feels more inspired by what he was doing that they want to go out and do something and change in their community. It's still a very touchy subject in L.A., especially the people that I'm around since they were very close to him. I think everyone is super inspired to do better and try to be more like him, which is great to see. YG's whole set at Coachella was dedicated to him, I know Khalid had a dedication to Mac Miller. Everyone is super aware of what Nipsey was trying to do and how he wanted to change the world."

Engaging in The North Face's mission to explore seemed to be in the cards for Mai. Like many of us, Mai was familiar with the brand's effective coolness factor. "I remember running home and telling my mom that I needed a Jester Backpack because my cousin had one as well, and it's similar to the other stories, I wanted to be like my older cousin (laughs) so my mom ended up getting me one." But there's also the incentive to showcase the importance of stepping away from the phone screens and into leafy green forests.

"I'm such a live-in-the-moment person," she says of her lack of identity on social media. While she might share a thought or two on social media, Mai is interested in appreciating the world around her. "I feel like everyone is so consumed about documenting the day, you don't really get to live the day. You just watch it back but I like to have the memories in my head. Of course, sometimes, I'll take out my phone but I try to live in the moment as much as possible."

Part of that mission is ensuring Earth Day is celebrated the right way. With the support of Mai, Richardson, and Dimayuga, The North Face officially launched a petition to make Earth Day a national holiday.

“The North Face is no stranger to exploration and this Earth Day we are proud to join our partners and fellow explorers in a global effort to make Earth Day a national holiday,” said Global General Manager of Lifestyle at The North Face, Tim Bantle. “We believe that when people take time to appreciate the Earth, they feel more connected to it and are more likely to protect it. Explore Mode urges us to unplug from our digital lives to connect in real life to the world, each other, and ourselves in the effort to move the world forward.”

Mai hasn't hit her all of her exploration goals just yet. "I really want to go to Indonesia or Bali," she said. "That's one of my Bucket List places I really, really, really wanna go." For her essentials, the singer knows she has to bring along a windbreaker set and of course, a jester backpack. "I think the backpack is the most important thing."

In addition to a few trips around the globe, one destination includes the studio for new music. While she hasn't had time to lock down a moment to record, the inspiration is sizzling.

"When I work in the studio, I like to be like there for a good amount of time," she explains. "I like to block off two to three weeks at a time, I don't like to go to different studios and different places, it's just a comfort thing but I'm very excited to get back cause I have a lot of talk about. I've seen so many different places and met so many new people and a lot that I didn't get to experience last year."

Learn more about The North Face's petition for Earth Day here.

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