Pop star Janelle Monae is using her platform to advocate for the #BlackLivesMatter movement
BY: BRITTANY VICKERS
Atlanta (CNN)The crowd roars as the tiny performer glides across the stage in her signature black and white, her moves seemingly choreographed and spontaneous at the same time.
It’s the Electric Lady herself, Janelle Monae, and her set at the recent One Musicfest in Atlanta is a showcase for her powerful voice, smooth raps and effortless footwork. It’s easy to see why big names like Prince and are infatuated with her talent.
As thousands of fans jam along to “Tightrope,” the song that catapulted her to pop stardom in 2010, Monae looks at home on the stage. It’s because, essentially, she grew up there.
Hailing from a family of singers, she began performing as a child in her Kansas City living room. After a stint in New York, she moved as a teenager to Atlanta, where she was discovered by Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, half of the hip-hop duo Outkast, and founded the Wondaland Arts Society, a collective of like-minded young musicians. Monae then caught the eye of Sean “Puffy” Combs, who signed her to his music label, Bad Boy Records, and her career took off.
But you get the feeling she would have made it soon enough on her own.
Most noticeable is her singular style, as the 29-year-old has crafted a unique persona. There’s her alter ego, Cindi Mayweather, an android she describes as the “Other” — representing anyone who has felt stifled by the mainstream.
There’s also her bold, distinctive look: an upturned crown of hair, red lipstick, Cover Girl skin (she’s a spokeswoman for the brand) and a preference for black-and-white tuxedos.
Mostly, though, there is Monae’s determination to call her own shots. She founded a music label, Wondaland Records, and has built an eclectic stable of young, breakthrough artists — Jidenna, Deep Cotton, St. Beauty — who share her eccentric sensibilities.
And as her fame has grown, she has begun speaking out on issues of social justice. Monae has attended rallies by members of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and in August released a protest song, “Hell You Talmbout,” that recites the names of unarmed African-Americans killed in recent confrontations with police.
CNN sat down with Monae after her One Musicfest concert. Here is a condensed version of our conversation.
CNN: The black-and-white outfits you wear during performances seem like more than a costume. Can you explain what they represent?
Janelle Monae: The colors black and white are my uniform, to honor the working class. People like my parents, who were janitors and had to wear a uniform every day. It keeps me grounded.
CNN: You use your platform as an artist to inspire those who don’t fit the traditional mode. How has your message evolved?
Monae: I’m always thinking about that young girl or young boy who doesn’t quite know if their music, their messaging, their imaging, their voice is going to pop, if people are going to understand them. So I represent the other and those who feel like they don’t even want to be normal. They embrace the things that make them unique.
I’m always thinking about those people first when I’m writing music. Whenever I can reach that young person and inspire them to go after their own dreams, start their own movement just like I did with Wondaland. Starting their own tribe and showing people that we are not all the same, we’re not all monolithic. I think that’s what it’s all about for me.
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