Janelle Monáe: an android herself

Gillian Scharf |
Janelle Monáe combines the vocal talents of the most acclaimed names in music while drawing artistic inspiration from internationally renowned artists. All this combined for the ultimate feel-good vibe that makes you want to get up and dance.

Monáe is an American R&B/Soul artist whose similar artists range from Lauryn Hill, Amy Winehouse, Alicia Keys to V.V. Brown. Her vocal inspiration comes from Stevie Wonder, OutKast, Prince and Michael Jackson, while her visual inspiration comes from Salvador Dalí, Walt Disney and Andy Warhol. Bernadette McNulty for The Telegraph states that Monáe is “an android herself, created in a laboratory as a super-musical cross between James Brown, Judy Garland, Andre 3000 and Steve Jobs”. Her second album, The ArchAndroid, perfectly illustrates the strange combinations of sounds that has given Monáe the accreditation she deserves.

The album was produced in collaboration with Bad Boi Records and the Wondaland Arts Society, with Monáe as a main writer for every song except one. Monáe uses the same collaborative writers in every song and employs the talents of Saul Williams, Deep Cotton, of Montreal and Big Boi. Monáe drew ideas from different parts of the world, which were employed during recording by experimented with a huge range of sounds before making any decisions.

Album Cover

Released in 2010, The ArchAndroid is the second installation of a series Monáe hopes to create following her alter ego, Cindi Mayweather, in her quest as a messianic leader of an android colony. This album narrates Cindi’s discovery of love, identity and self-realization.

The tracks themselves vary greatly, with different references to various other artists and styles. The opening number is “Suite II Overture/Dance or Die”. Similarly to her first album, the track opens with an orchestral theme playing beautifully as in the beginning of a musical from the past. The piece gets interrupted by Saul Williams’ performance, where the listeners get a taste of the neo-soul influence. This is the only track with that specific influence, the rest range from retro pop, gospel, mellow R&B to disco. Certain other tracks also seemingly take musical ideas from songs of other artists. “Tightrope” takes influences from “Hey Ya” by Outkast, “Mushrooms and Roses” was influenced by Prince’s “Purple Rain” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles. All these combinations make it an album that needs to be in everyone’s collection.

Monáe in her infamous tuxedo wardrobe

Monáe in her infamous tuxedo wardrobe

Monáe as her alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather

Monáe as her alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather

This album is an expression of self-discovery. Cindi must find it in herself to be a good leader and these songs teach her. The most obvious example of this is “Cold War”, arguably the best song on the album. It was rumored to be the next theme track for James Bond, and while the opening chords are misleadingly slow, the song quickly picks up and begins the journey towards finding deeper meaning in life. The song is Cindi looking for solace in a crazy and unpredictable world. Monáe talks about underground artistry, being alone and learning how to stick to your guns. The next song is “Tightrope”, featuring OutKast member Big Boi. This song encourages listeners and Cindi to not allow haters to get them down. “Cold War” was how to understand and appreciate worth, while “Tightrope” is encouragement to stick with what you have. Never let anyone bring you down.

This album is so diverse, there isn’t a single person who won’t find something to enjoy. From the influences of retro pop, disco and classic 80’s feel-good music, Monáe has a unique voice that makes them all sound good, all on one record. A rare and compelling voice to listen to and dance around with. I absolutely recommend it to anyone who has any interest in cool new artists on the rise. A must-have album.

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