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Janelle Monáe Robinson (born December 1, 1985), known as Janelle Monáe (pron.: //), is an American R&B and soul musician, composer and record producer signed to Bad Boy Records and Atlantic Records. After making a mark with her first unofficial album, The Audition, Monáe debuted with a conceptual EP, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase). The EP had a modest commercial impact, peaking at No. 115 on the Billboard charts in the United States.
In 2010, Janelle Monáe released her debut studio album, The ArchAndroid, a concept album sequel to her first EP; it was released by Bad Boy Records. This album received acclaim from critics and garnered a nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album at the 53rd Grammy Awards. The song "Tightrope" was also nominated for Best Urban/Alternative Performance at the same ceremony. This album was also more successful commercially, officially reaching the number 17 spot on the Billboard Charts.
Her success has also garnered her several Grammy nominations. In March 2012, "We Are Young", the song by the band fun. on which Monáe makes a guest appearance, reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, her first appearance in the US Top 10. In August 2012, Monáe was chosen as the newest addition to the CoverGirl spokeswomen lineup.
Monáe was born in Kansas City, Kansas on December 1, 1985, where she spent her early life. She had a step-brother, a very talented dancer and singer, named Kennedy Baah. Monáe has stated that the fictional character of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz has been one of her musical influences. She has told reporters that she has dreamed of being a singer and a performer since she was very young.
Monáe moved to New York City to study drama at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. She attended a Performing Arts School called Freedom Theatre, which is the oldest African-American theatre in Philadelphia. After moving to Atlanta, Georgia, where she met OutKast's Big Boi, Monáe founded the Wondaland Arts Society with like-minded young artists and released her first unofficial studio album The Audition.
Monáe later made appearances on Idlewild, where she is featured on the songs "Call the Law" and "In Your Dreams". Big Boi told his friend Sean Combs about Monáe, whom he had not heard of before. Combs promptly visited her MySpace page, and according to Bad Boy Records' A&R Daniel 'Skid' Mitchell in an interview with HitQuarters, the label boss loved it straight away: "[He] loved her look, loved that you couldn’t see her body, loved the way she was dancing, and just loved the vibe. He felt like she has something that was different - something new and fresh." Monáe signed to Bad Boy in 2006. The label's chief role was in facilitating her exposure on a much broader scale rather than developing the artist and her music, because in the words of Mitchell, "She was already moving, she already had her records - she had a self-contained movement." Combs and Big Boi wanted to take their time and build her profile organically and allow the music to grow rather than put out "A hot single which everyone jumps on, and then they fade because it's just something of the moment."
In 2007, Monáe released her first solo work, titled Metropolis. It was originally conceived as a concept album in four parts, or "suites", which were to be released through her website and mp3 download sites. After the release of the first part of the series, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) in mid-2007, these plans were altered following her signing with Sean "Diddy" Combs's label, Bad Boy Records, later in the year. The label gave an official and physical release to the first "suite" in August 2008, which was retitled Metropolis: The Chase Suite (Special Edition) and included two new tracks. The EP was generally well received by critics, garnering Monáe a 2009 Grammy nomination in the Best Urban/Alternative Performance for her single "Many Moons", festival appearances and opening slots for the indie pop band Of Montreal. Monáe also toured as the opening act for band No Doubt on their summer 2009 tour. Her single "Open Happiness" was featured in the 2009 season finale of American Idol. Monáe told MTV about her concept for her new album and also discussed her alter-ego named Cindi Mayweather, she said:
In a November 2009 interview, Monáe revealed the title and concept behind her album, The ArchAndroid. The album was released on May 18, 2010. The second and third suites of Metropolis are combined into this full-length release, in which Monáe's alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather—also the protagonist of Metropolis: The Chase Suite— becomes a messianic figure to the android community of Metropolis. Monáe noted that she plans to shoot a video for each song on The ArchAndroid and create both a movie and graphic novel based on the album. The Metropolis concept series draws inspiration from a wide range of musical, cinematic and other sources, ranging from Alfred Hitchcock to Debussy to Philip K. Dick. However, the series puts Fritz Lang's 1927 silent film Metropolis, which Monáe referred to as "the godfather of science-fiction movies," in special regard. Aside from sharing a name, they also share visual styles (the cover for The ArchAndroid is inspired by the iconic poster for Metropolis), conceptual themes and political goals, using expressionistic future scenarios to examine and explore contemporary ideas of prejudice and class. Both also include a performing female android, though to very different effect. Where Metropolis android Maria is the evil, havoc-sowing double of the messianic figure to the city's strictly segregated working class, Monáe's messianic android muse Cindi Mayweather represents an interpretation of androids as that segregated minority, which Monáe describes as "... the Other. And I feel like all of us, whether in the majority or the minority, felt like the Other at some point."
Monáe received the Vanguard Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers at the Rhythm & Soul Music Awards in 2010. Monáe covered Charlie Chaplin's Smile on Billboard.com in June 2010. In an NPR interview in September 2010, Monae stated that she is a believer in, and a proponent of time travel. Monáe performed "Tightrope" during the second elimination episode of the 11th Season of Dancing with the Stars on September 28, 2010. Monáe performed at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards in 2011 alongside artists Bruno Mars and B.o.B; Monáe performed the synth section of B.o.B's song "Nothin' On You" and she then performed her track "Cold War" with B.o.B on the guitar and Mars on the drums. Her performance received a standing ovation.
Her single "Tightrope" was featured on the American Idols LIVE! Tour 2011, performed by Pia Toscano, Haley Reinhart, Naima Adedapo, and Thia Megia.
Monáe tweeted that she is planning on releasing an instrumental version of The ArchAndroid. In an interview, Monáe stated that she plans to release two albums. In another interview with Forbes, Monáe also said that she plans to release an ArchAndroid inspired film. Monae joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers as a support act on part of their I'm with You World Tour.
Monáe was featured in fun.'s hit single, "We Are Young", and also performed an acoustic version of the song with lead singer of Fun, Nate Ruess, and the other two members of the band. Monáe was also featured on "Do My Thing" for Estelle's sophomore studio album All of Me. In June 2012, Monáe performed two new songs, "Electric Lady" and "Dorothy Dandridge Eyes"—from her upcoming sophomore studio album, The Electric Lady—at Toronto's Jazz Festival. In July 2012, for the second year in a row, she appeared at the renowned North Sea Jazz Festival in Europe as well as in the 46th edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland on the 14th.
In August 2012, Monáe was chosen as CoverGirl's newest spokeswoman. In September 2012, Monáe performed at CarolinaFest in support of President Obama, just before the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. In October 2012, Monáe starred in a commercial for the Sonos Wireless HiFi home audio system, and appeared in a Sonos commercial in 2012 with Deep Cotton.
Monáe's first single from The Electric Lady, "Q.U.E.E.N.", which features Erykah Badu, premiered on SoundCloud on April 23.
The Telegraph published an interview with Monáe, talking about her first studio album, in which the journalist Bernadette McNulty said, "I begin to worry for a moment that Monáe may not just be a humourless science-fiction nerd, but actually an android herself, created in a laboratory as a super-musical cross between James Brown, Judy Garland, Andre 3000 and Steve Jobs, invented to test the desperate incredulity of music journalists". She also compared Monáe to artists such as Annie Lennox and Lauryn Hill. Her musical styles have been described as "a soaring orchestral trip enlivened with blockbuster vocals, mysterious imagery and notes of Sixties pop and jazz". The Guardian has noted some of her influences as: Michael Jackson, Prince, OutKast, Erykah Badu, Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, James Brown, Grace Jones, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Bernard Herrmann, Funkadelic and the Incredible String Band. In an opinion piece for The Quietus, John Calvert places Janelle Monáe within the Afrofuturism movement, pointing out her similarities to Sun Ra and George Clinton. He asserts that Janelle Monáe is innovating the genre. Monáe has stated that she has an alter-ego named Cindi Mayweather who according to Monáe is from the year 2719. In her first EP she gave her alter-ego a back-story stating that she was on the run after breaking the law in her home town of Metropolis by falling in love with a human named Anthony Greendown. Monáe explained about Cindi, saying "The Archandroid, Cindi, is the mediator, between the mind and the hand. She's the mediator between the haves and the have-nots, the oppressed and the oppressor. She's like the Archangel in the Bible, and what Neo represents to the Matrix."
Monáe has gained a signature clothing style of wearing a tuxedo wardrobe and she said on the matter to Honey Magazine "I bathe in it, I swim in it, and I could be buried in it. A tux is such a standard uniform, it’s so classy and it’s a lifestyle I enjoy. The tux keeps me balanced. I look at myself as a canvas. I don’t want to cloud myself with too many colors or I’ll go crazy. It’s an experiment I’m doing. I think I want to be in the Guinness Book of World Records." In Monáe's concerts she has been noted to hand out her Ten Droid Commandments which encourages her fans to be individuals. The Telegraph also commented on her image as an artist saying "Sitting in a grey, airless record company office, this slight, stiff young woman delivers her speech in slow, deliberate tones, utterly expressionless. Dressed in her trademark starched shirt and tuxedo, hair immaculately coiffed, Monáe’s face is an opaque mask of perfection: all silken smooth skin, button nose and glassy brown eyes." She has described her tuxedos as being a uniform for her career and she has stated that she wears them when she is working. She also featured in the "Style 100" of InStyle Magazine.
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Image from Discogs