If Elvis Presley is the king of rock and roll, then Janelle Monáe is certainly the queen – pompadour, red lipstick and trousers included.
On Thursday night (March 26), the Mother Android surprised her fans and Samsung users alike with a free show at New York City’s Best Buy Theater in celebration of Samsung’s new Galaxy S6 and S6 edge phones as well as her new title of Boss Lady of Wondaland Records.
In true Monáe fashion, she brought the funk and then some with her eclectic and trendsetting sound. After Outkast’s “Bombs Over Baghdad” blared through the speakers – a precursor to the turn-up that would commence once she set foot on the stage, Janelle was wheeled out in a metal Frankenstein-like contraption, coming alive as soon as she touched the mic and took the crowd to church.
For an hour and a half, the lady of the night pulled off four stylish outfit changes while performing Stan favorites “Q.U.E.E.N.,” the upbeat “Electric Lady,” the soulful “Primetime” and her debut hit “Tightrope.” Janelle kept the crowd jamming and two-stepping all night with her remarkable catalog of hits. With her dope dance moves and unmatched level of energy, she commanded the stage like a true rock star from start to end.
Honestly, there is an aura about Janelle Monae that can’t be put into words. In her purest form, Monáe erases the audience’s troubles and teleports them to a funky and futuristic planet of love, empowerment and unity. After tearing down the house at the Best Buy Theater, Janelle sat with Vixen for a quick chat about her latest business venture and how she creates her own Wondaland.
VIBE Vixen: What an amazing show you just had tonight. Why did you decide to partner with Samsung for a free concert strictly for Samsung customers?
Janelle Monáe: I’m all about the people, and doing this was a way to give back to my fans and show them love.
On and off stage, you are truly a standout artist who is known to defy labels and stay true to herself. Were you always a confident woman?
I wasn’t always so sure of myself. (Laughs) I still have moments where I’m not, but I got tired of that feeling. At the end of the night, I’m the only one that has to deal with me, and I realized that fighting spirit that my grandmother had was in me. I grew up around matriarchs and strong women who stepped up and provided for the family when the men weren’t there. They were leaders. Being surrounded by women like that, I knew it was in my blood to be the same way.
Speaking of being a leader, you have launched a joint venture imprint with Epic Records called Wondaland Records, and the collective is set to drop a project this summer. What can people expect?
Yes, on May 19, The Eephus EP will be coming out. It’s a compilation CD featuring four amazing artists on Wonderland Records: the swing master of all ceremonies Jidenna (his latest single is Classic Man“), dynamic duo St. Beauty, the son of soul, Roman and the punk prophets, afro punk masters Deep Cotton. Everyone is so unique and brings their own perspective. Wondaland comes as a movement, not just a record label. I had a dream of us swimming to this boat, and no artist being left behind so I’m just thankful that Epic [Records] took all of us. I told them, “You can’t just take one, you have to take us all.” It’s really going to be incredible. The term “eephus” actually means game-changer and that is what we are setting out to do.
This has to be a full circle moment, starting your own imprint, and giving other artists the opportunity to be heard like Puffy and Big Boi did for you. How does this moment feel?
I feel thankful and a great deal of responsibility. I have to continue to do yoga daily to stay balanced. (Laughs) Puffy and Big Boi are both on the board of Wondaland Records so before I did any deal and any business, I talked to them first and got advice. I really love the fact that if I do need to talk the them that they are always there. They’ve always respected me as a young woman and one of the things Puff told me, I’ve actually never told anyone this before, but he told me to be better than him. He was like, “Janelle, promise me you’re going to be better than me.” So I owe that to him because he created an opportunity for me and now I get the opportunity to create platforms for visionary artists. I’m excited. I want to see more women in leadership roles in the music industry and more A&Rs. I feel like we [women] have a very unique way of doing business, a special way because we have the ability to be compassionate and strong.
Earlier, you mentioned yoga keeps you balanced. How does a singer, songwriter, fashion icon, Cover Girl, and the leading lady of Wondaland Records remain so classy and poised at all times? It seems like we never see you break a sweat. Do tell us your secret.
I’m an android, that’s it. Seriously, when I call home and I talk to my original tribe, my family, they keep me centered. People ask me all of the time what is the hardest things you’ve had to do, and it’s really leaving my family because I love them so much. You miss birthdays, you miss so much. [My family’s] like you’re going to do it because you’ve left us already so you better do it all the way and that really gives me encouragement. My grandmother was a sharecropper in Aberdeen, Mississippi so she turned nothing into something, and I want to continue to make her proud, too.
Which would you rather wear: heels or brogues?
Florals or stripes?
Tuxedo jacket or cape?
Tuxedo jacket with a cape on top and a brooch.
Your hair is yet another piece of the fabulous Janelle Monae experience. With natural hair a huge trend among women of color, what advice would you give to ladies wanting to take a leap of faith and try it out?
Fall in love with it. No matter what, stay married to your natural hair. Ya’ll will have bad days, ya’ll might get into it, ya’ll might argue and fuss and fight, but at the end of the day, remember it’s til death do us part. You came here together, you stay here together. That’s it.
As a past Vixen cover, in your own words why do Vixen voices matter?
As a black woman, I stand for the rights of all and for everyone’s voice to be heard. This year is the year of change and the year of women – us all working together to raise a generation. Let’s not believe in hate, let us choose love.