“The Electric Lady” by Janelle Monae

The Electric Lady is Janelle Monae’s second album, and it was released in early fall of 2013.  This follows her first album, The ArchAndroid. which was released in 2010.  Janelle Monae’s single “Q.U.E.E.N.” was featured on The Electric Lady. The lyrics and music video, as well as the album as a whole, feature a number of queer topics such as same-sex attraction, resisting labels, questioning religion, and challenging gender roles.

The Electric Lady fits in a queer archive because Janelle Monae embraces difference, an idea often associated with the queer community in numerous ways, including her album’s concept, lyrics, and music videos.  She as an artist is unafraid to take risks and address potentially taboo topics in her work.  Additionally, Monae speaks to a number of possible identities, including queerness, blackness, and womanhood.  The story of The Electric Lady is queer in itself.  Both it and The ArchAndroid depict a dystopian community in which there is a totalitarian government, humans are forced to wear cages on their heads, and everyone looks down on androids. Monae portrays the character of  a revolutionary android who actively resists the regime that is in power.  The androids could be compared to various societal minorities, including those with which Monae identifies.

“Q.U.E.E.N.” is a song that does not shy away from questioning our societal roles. Janelle Monae is well-known for this, and while she has not officially confirmed or denied any rumors about her sexuality, she is a great representation of queer ideals, saying “I won’t allow myself to be a slave to my own interpretation of myself nor the interpretations that people may have of me.” “Q.U.E.E.N.” itself has many lyrics that can be connected to queer thought, such as “Am I a freak because I love watching Mary?,” “Hey sister am I good enough for your heaven?,” and “Categorize me/I defy every label.” Also, Monae sports a multitude of styles in the music video which include aspects of masculinity and femininity, challenging gender norms. I wanted to feature this song because I believe Monae is one of the more progressive artists of our time. Her music constantly questions the labels and differences our society seems so focused on.

The ideas expressed by Janelle Monae’s music seem to align specifically with those of Monique Wittig. Monae resists the general norms set up by society, which is reminiscent of Wittig’s sentiment that “these discourses of heterosexuality oppress us in the sense that they prevent us from speaking unless we speak in their terms…these discourses deny us every possibility of creating our own categories.” This is echoed in Monae’s lyric; “categorize me I defy every label.”  She does not believe in the labelling that is so prevalent in both our culture and that of her dystopian fantasy world.  Monae resists the norms in both her appearance and her creative output, and her work should be cemented in this queer archive as an example of an artist who is not afraid to take risks.

 

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