Monday, December 1, 2008

Event Write Up 2

Venue: Varsity Theater

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to attend a Janelle Monae concert at the Varsity Theatre in Minneapolis. Janelle Monae is an up and coming artist on her own label The Wondaland Arts Society and distributed through the Bad Boy Record Imprint. I thought it was great she chose to perform at The Varsity Theatre as the venue is a very intimate space which allows artists to connect with their fans. One of Monae’s core values is to always stay connected with her fans. Therefore, her videos are populated by fans and not actors and actresses. Unlike many recording artists, she has a mission statement. Her mission statement which is plastered all over her songs and posters is “Imagination Inspires Nations!” Unique is an understatement when describing Janelle Monae. Her music is a mixture of Afro-Futuristic punk, soul, and rock. She describes her music as simply “bending”. As she likes to bend music genres, she also bends the gender line. Her signature style is a tuxedo, dress shoes, and a bow tie. However, she is most known for her pompadour. Janelle Monae stands out compared to many mainstream female artists today. She speaks out against the exploitation of female bodies in music which many mainstream artists do not.

She opened her show with her most popular song to date, Many Moons. Her show was unreal. The stage was filled with smoke and colored lighting making me feel like I was actually on a space ship. The first words out of her mouth were “You're free but in your mind, your freedoms in a bind” (Many Moons). Her message is clear and extremely political. She follows that with the chorus,

Oh make it rain, ain't a thang and the sky to fall
(the silver bullet's in your hand and the war's heating up)
And when the truth goes bang the shouts splatter out
(revolutionize your lives and find a way out)
And when you're growing down instead of growing up
(you gotta ooo ah ah like a panther)
Tell me are you bold enough to reach for love?
(na na na...)”.

Monae throughout many of her songs alludes to the Black Power movement and aligns herself with feminism. In the chorus whenever she says “like a Panther” she pumps up her fist. The reaction from the crowd was amazing. Everyone in the audience knew the lyrics to her song and people were pumping their fist through the chorus. Monae sings about love and freedom and how the two are intertwined. She calls for revolution by any means necessary through imagery of war and people arming themselves with silver bullets. I have never witnessed such an amazing performance while so conscious at the same time. It makes me wonder if people are actually listening to her lyrics. She also performed “Sincerely Jane” my favorite song off her EP. In this song she says

“Teacher, teacher please reach those girls in them videos
The little girls broken Queens, confusing bling for soul
Danger, there's danger when you take off your clothes, all your dreams go down the drain girl.”

As a mainstream artist, she is speaking out against the commodifcation of female bodies of young girls. She deliberately talks about young girls not being blinded by the music industry. She compares the music industry to a drain that steals the dreams of these young women, who often want to be models in try to use music videos as a stepping stone to an acting career. Her critique is fearless and still fearful. She is definitely taking consciousness and placing it at the forefront of her songs. Her album does not hide these songs behind a few popular club tracks. Instead, when you turn on a Janelle Monae album you hear her critique of society from start to finish. She does not just critique the industry and the greater society; she pushes for a level of self love that one can find in the pages on many feminist writing.

As I stood in the crowd being blown away by her futuristic performance, I noticed Monae’s connection with individuals in the crowd. She utilized the space effectively. She made sure she performed to everyone in the space and not just the people in the front row. She also jumped off stage to dance with me and my friends. It was the highlight of my life.

Monae’s use of Afro Futurism is seldom recognized by many people. Janelle Monae portrays a character named Cindy Mayweather. Cindy Mayweather is a robot who is on the run because she falls in love. Love is the motivating factor to start a revolution in her lyrics. She states in her song “Violet Stars Hunting”

I'm a slave girl without a race (without a face)
On the run cause they hate our ways and chase my kind.”

Monae uses the future as a way to discuss the racial oppression she faces today as an African American. Like many artists in the Afro-futuristic genre the future becomes the symbol to talk about revolution in a present day context. Monae believes that love is the force to fight oppression and start a revolution. I think Janelle Monae is changing the face of music by entering Afro Futurism into the mainstream discourse of music today. She does not hide the fact that she is politicized being, however, she uses her love for music to inspire people to stand up for what they believe in and envision a world of love.

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