If you haven't heard of Janelle Monáe, you are missing out. Seriously. The Grammy-nominated singer has a smooth but strong voice like felted cashmere, feet like Fred Astaire, and style like nobody else. Fresh off supporting tour dates with Erykah Badu and No Doubt, she's sharing her high-energy show at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans on July 4, followed by a performance July 6 at Afro-Punk in Brooklyn. Check out her Many Moons video and you'll see why a live performance is not to be missed.
I spoke to Janelle this week about her music, her inspirations, and — of course — her style. She's as sweet as she is intelligent, so read on for the interview.
How do you manage to keep your energy so high, show after show?
You know what? I don’t know! I actually became really ill the last No Doubt date. But there’s just something spiritual — I always feel very possessed — when I’m on stage. Off stage, I’m very calm, I’m not at all that high-energy person. When I perform, I’m really into my songs. I’m really into what it is that I do.
Is the creative process a lot of work for you, or do your songs just pop into your head and it’s easy?
No, it’s not easy. For me, it’s a struggle that I go through often; I just try to write things out on paper. With this particular project, it was a lot about having fun, the songs had a lot of love, a lot of fun times . . . We were just trying out different ways of approaching music and going out of our comfort zone.
I know that you're very interested in Metropolis. What was it like to see it for the first time?
I was actually scared to watch it! It was my first German expressionist film and it was silent — it’s like the grandfather of movies. But I was interested in the character of Maria, how she's a leader, and in the concept of bringing heart, head, and hands together.
Were you always into music, or was there a moment that made everything click?
I didn't listen to a lot of music growing up, actually. It wasn't until I got out of college that I explored more. Even now, I'm careful to limit how much music I take in. I don't want to be overly influenced by others. I love to read books like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick, and I've been inspired by visual artists, especially Salvador Dali.
How did your style develop?
As I’ve grown up, I started to extract myself from color. Black and white always makes me feel calm, and I feel more in control. I like to be in a focused, clear-minded state, especially when I’m working. I just like to allow the colors to come out and be my own personality.
Do you have any favorite designers?
I like Ralph Lauren, especially the equestrian looks. And I have a tailor who creates a lot of my clothes. Not a lot of people know that. I also buy in bulk. Look in my closet and you'll see 100 pairs of black-and-white saddle shoes, 100 white shirts. I just don't like shopping.
I love it when people wear their hair naturally, and you have such a cool hairstyle. Have you always worn your hair natural?
No, actually. My mother put relaxer on it in fifth or sixth grade. When I moved to New York, that’s when I started to grow it out.
What advice do you give to others that makes you feel beautiful?
Laughter. Laughter keeps you young.
Can't see Janelle in person? Visit her at her website. Photo courtesy of Atlantic Records