ELLE Canada sits down with indie artist Janelle Monáe to talk about confidence, feminism and ambition.
“When I look at myself in the mirror, I’m attractive. I really have a nice body. And I had to pick: Do I want them to focus on my body? Do I want them to focus on how curvy and really, really gorgeous my figure is? Or do I want them to look at my music? What has more value? And I made that decision. I want them to focus on the message and the music because I feel like I have a higher calling.”
“I am naturally shy,” she says softly. “That’s what people are most surprised by, because when I’m onstage there’s nothing shy. It’s all electricity. I feel fearless.”
“I got this Facebook message and it really just touched my heart and reminded me where I came from and how I can never complain. I’ll show you,” she says, scrolling down her wall, which is bursting with exclamation points from fans.
The message is from a girl whom Monáe worked alongside as a maid, cleaning houses while trying to make money for college; she’s congratulating Monáe on her success and reminiscing about listening to her sing while they cleaned. There are a lot of emoticons. There are a lot of actual emotions too.
“A lot of the women I worked with had rough lives,” says Monáe. “They were recovering addicts or getting out of jail.” The cleaning service hired desperate women who couldn’t get a job anywhere else. Monáe herself was desperate to leave her hometown and attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York.
“You have to protect your heart and your spirit so you’re not tainted by money, greed, power, arrogance…. I don’t get off on those things,” she says flatly.
“I have a responsibility to my community,” she says at the next. “I have a responsibility to tell the universe a story in an unforgettable way,” she says again. The ArchAndroid certainly told a mesmerizing story.
“I really want to open doors for all those starting to have their voice…. I want to speak to my cousins who are still in Kansas and feel like they don’t have anyone; I want to speak to the young lady who is trying to understand who she is and how she’s going to follow her dreams living in a disadvantaged environment.”
“I want to present a different perspective of what it means to be a strong woman, and I just hope to be an inspiration to the next generation of girls, to help them define what makes them unique and what makes them special.”