Janelle Monae brings high-concept pop statement ArchAndroid to UK
Soul fused with elements of cabaret, movie scores, psychedelia and English folk
The immaculate pop offspring of Little Richard, Annie Lennox and David Bowie, Janelle Monáe is the most exciting figure to enjoy – and court – mainstream exposure since the entrance of a certain bad romancer. But whereas Gaga often relies on well worn tropes (hypersexualisation, the Europop kitty fart that was ‘Alejandro’), Monáe’s Grammy-nominated debut album The ArchAndroid is the sort of accessible high-concept pop statement that Prince used to make. Certainly The ArchAndroid matches the likes of Purple Rain for breathtaking ambition, attention to detail and unexpected stylistic turns.
Fusing elements of cabaret, classic movie scores, warped psychedelia and even English folk onto a frame of soul, funk and r ‘n’ b, it delights and beguiles without sacrificing cohesion. It stars Monáe’s alter-ego Cindi Mayweather, an android on the run for the crime of falling in love with a human. Mayweather, also the protagonist of Monáe’s 2007 debut EP Metropolis: The Chase Suite, has a brief to unshackle the androids of 2719. ‘I love speaking about the androids because they are the new “other”,’ said Monáe recently, echoing the liberatory pronouncements of afro-futurists George Clinton and Sun Ra. The influence of that pair is readily acknowledged by the broccoli-coiffed Monáe, as is that of Fritz Lang, Judy Garland and James Brown, the latter’s taut, syncopated funk immediately recognisable on the outrageously cool ‘Tightrope’.
Having grown up in Kansas to a family afflicted by drug addiction, a whim took her to Atlanta. Here she co-founded The Wondaland Arts Society with producer Nate Wonder and lyrical collaborator Chuck Lightning and caught the attention Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs who described Monáe’s signing to his Bad Boy label as ‘one of the most important of my career’. If that and the aforementioned comparisons sound a little fanciful, check back post-gig; she isn’t just another girl, but Monáe’s certainly from another planet.
O2 ABC, Glasgow, Sat 26 Feb