Does The Monáe Revolution Need To Be Televised?

With Diddy standing next to Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show to announce Janelle Monáe's now infamous performance and some great first week sales, the Bespoken Suited ArchAndroid That Could is tipping closer and closer to the mainstream with each passing day. But is that enough for her to transcend the narrow classifications embedded in mainstream music markets? A thoughtful article on The Root uses Monáe to explore the ways in which antiquated ideas of "race music" aren't as dead as you'd think. This notion was never lost on us here at SoulBounce. But maybe you fellow Bouncers can answer some questions that the article raised for me.


  • Why is mainstreaming still considered an ideal endgame? 
  • Isn't incorporating Debussy ("Say You'll Go"), and utilizing orchestral arrangements without straight sampling them extremely conventional to the point of actually becoming radical?
  • Isn't it kind of shocking that her being fully clothed, not singing solely about/to men will probably cap her record sales more than the fact that she's not making stereotypically urban music? (No really. Think about it.) 
  • Shouldn't her ability to blend styles and move fluidly between genres, disregarding the limitations thrust upon her, precisely what makes her music unequivocally Black, be lauded instead of deconstructed to fit into the same old paradigms that hold us all back?
[Image: Daniel Jackson for Interview Magazine]

TAGS:  , ,

17 Responses

  1. 1) because money talks, bs walks
    2) huh?
    3) no, its still a man's world...
    4) i would laud it if it didnt sound so manufactured and corny...

  2. Absolutely. I agree and understand your questions at the end of your article. Janelle Monae is truly a breath of fresh air. I would hate to see her style and originality be devoured by mainstream. I don't know what I would do if she fell into the masses like everyone else.

  3. 1.) I think it boils down to the desire to share ones music with the biggest audience possible combined with the (somewhat misguided) idea that "mainstreaming" is inherently lucrative. Who doesn't want more people to appreciate their music? And if that wider fan base is perceived to equal more cash? Double bonus. The prospect is enticing even if a bit naive.
    2.) I don't think this is really a radical concept. A different spin on an age old concept. I appreciate those artists that are writing/performing original orchestral pieces in their original soul music. Khari Lemuel comes to mind.
    3.) I totally agree with this comment. Sex sells, but who was the last brother to keep a shirt on and make it huge? Luther?
    4.) I agree. I was drawn to her as an artist because of her creativity and style that seems to be without borders. I hope this new founded audience doesn't change her into the next mainstream sell out, but I'd prefer to wait and see. Her newly found fame isn't a creative death sentence. There are other musicians that have been kinda mainstream for years (Erykah Badu and India.Arie come to mind) and except for a few minor slips (India.Arie and Akon "I am not my hair" for example), they have pretty much stuck to their creative guns.

  4. got damn, yall like that album THAT much that it warrants ALL THIS intellectual hooey?
    Theres a billion reasons why a billion different artists make it or don't. Good luck Janelle. I like it, and I'm bumpin it a lil bit.

  5. @lookadeez: To each their own. I don't think either the article that inspired the post or the post itself are all that intellectual, actually. But whatever. Your word. And neither are any more or less "hooey" than simply listening to something because you like how it sounds. Just different.

  6. 1 - At day's end, no matter how "deep" an artist is, the music game is about that paper. Bottom line.
    2 - Radical? Please.
    3 - That's really not the issue with this chick, which brings me to ...
    4 - Her genre bending would be more tolerable if it were not so contrived ... people just don't buy the hype and how "different" she is. She comes off as corny, not different. I feel like I'm watching a minstrel when she's onstage.
    That said, I think people need to stop worrying about whether or not this girl gets mainstream success anyway. I'm not a fan, but building a small but loyal army will benefit her more in the long run. A year from now, the mainstream press won't even be talking about her, because she's viewed as a novelty - and it will be the people who have been with her from the beginning who will sustain her career.
    I get that we all want that artists we love to be successful, but at the end of the day we just need to enjoy it and do our best to be supportive and stay loyal, even if the masses don't bite.
    Just my two cents.

  7. Avatar

    contrived is 99% percent of the bs on the radio these days.
    She isn't for everyone nor is she trying to be for the masses per say, good, GREAT that some don't get it, but please don't confuse the real thing with the watered down bs most are used to and enjoy!

  8. I have more thoughts:
    I think because the article is so focused on black radio, it doesn't take into account more fully the multi-sectored nature of what Janelle is attempting.
    It doesn't interrogate that "black radio" is largely a misnomer -- we don't own radio like that. And what is "black-owned" is just as consolidated and, thus, ruled by national playlist thinking rather than localism or the desire or ability to break, different, new artists.
    And lastly, it conflates "black radio" with "black people" as if there is a symbiotic - or shit ANY - relation between the two. What happens in black radio has almost nothing to do with what black people like and listen to. So it doesn't posit that significant black folks could not like Janelle, but like J Davey or Sy Smith. Or it could be that people don't need the Metropolis nonsense to appreciate her and so resent the marketing campaign behind her. The piece simply doesn't take into account the "different" types of artists that Black folks appreciate on a daily basis, as evidenced by blogs such as Soulbounce, and assumes that if it isn't picked up by "black radio" it must mean that "blacks don't like different shit."
    NOTE - that she's basically Joi Gilliam with more a more "trendy" "post-racial" aesthetic that makes white folks and bougie blacks trip all over themselves is far more interesting a topic to explore.

  9. All I can say is.. I can't remember the last time an artist has had such a divisive effect on people...geez.. now my answers..
    1. Money, you can't eat a 5 star review
    2. not so much..Kanye has has string what
    3. I don't think so, but she is very androgynous, visually and musically so that could hurt..maybe..I've no idea
    4. I think experimenting can make some interesting music..but a jack of all trades ends up being a master of none. Now, If she can hold this sound together at the same quality over say 4 albums then she will go to become legendary..kind of how Stevie did in the early to mid seventies, though, .I'm skeptical that she can suceed where Andre 3000, Gnarls Barkley, and Joi have fallen short.

  10. I love your post Tyler.

  11. @Ro- Yes.. "to each his own"... so why examine the history of race music, just cuz a lot of people aint buy ONE artists album? A lot DID, including ME. I understand where you're coming from a little bit, cuz I've wondered why some of my faves aint been more popular too, but sheeeeit. Yall doin to much (you and the writer of this blog). And I call it intellectual cuz yall use a lot of words to ask this question:
    Why they don't play "tightrope" on Black radio?
    I had to read it twice to figure that out LOL. You at least thought it was "thoughtful".
    I'm answer your questions too, just for fun
    1) It just is to some.
    2) um, huh? Debussy... now if that aint intellectual... anyway... what's the question again? oh yeah.. no, it isn't. is the fact that it aint sampled important? It aint like SHE actually played the parts, so what does that say other than tell me she likes Debussy?
    3) this question is loaded and assumes that the evidence is conclusive as to why or IF she even has a cap.
    4) This happens to artists from all cultures.. Target audiences don't just happen to Black artists. Theres more than racist reasons for it. Maybe some people just don't like it. I don't think all doors from the past will be knocked down in ONE day by ONE artist. If they were, this is where I get off the JM fanboat, cuz I wouldn't pick her to be the one (as much as I do likeand support her talents).
    P.S. When I get back to DC, don't shoot me LMAO

  12. @Tyler: Awesome points. Joi makes bougie black senses tingle as well, so well played.
    I don't think Janelle is the most original artist out there. She's cobbling together all of these well-worn musical tropes that trigger memory and emotion. But she's doing in a way that sampling obscure Northern Soul b-sides from the 1970s, or whatever, could never accomplish.
    "Um ..." called her corny, which I think is half right. She is prone to drama and sentimentality. And she uses a lot of dusty, populist melodies to strike that tone. But I don't consider it trite. I think it's earnest and kind of refreshing. Especially when you consider who's dominating mainstream music right now.
    @lookadeez: LOL. Rest easy; I'm nowhere near DC. I took that basic question as a launching point for others. Was it doing too much? Yeah. Welcome to SoulBounce.

  13. Adding nothing of substance to the convo, I just have to say that her photos drive me mad! The wide eyed mouth open pose she sports in every last photo I have seen bug me so...

  14. This girl is talented but her image is just so obviously contrived. I've seen her live and though I was impressed by her musicianship, I could not help but think that she was trying hard to be weird and different. I would love it if all you fans would listen to "Audition" and tell me what you think. I know that artists evolve, but I just can't help but think that this was a forced, instead of a natural, evolution. And what's up with all these artists wanting to be robots or having robotic alter egos? I don't get it.

  15. Janelle is so unique that she becomes an open invitation for us to over-analyze her.
    For me it comes down to the fact that the Tightrope video is amazing, as was her appearance on Letterman. She clearly is a talented singer, but that said, there are parts of ArchAndroid that I'm on the fence about.
    We've all seen examples of singers that are all persona and no talent. That's clearly not the case with Ms. Monae.
    One word missing from all this discussion is "fun". On camera she is absolutely kick butt fun!

  16. Most people are contrived pieces of who they think others want them to be. All those who would disagree, I encourage you to post your own unadulterated opinion and sign your own name ( no user name). THEN, we can talk with you about the problem of being contrived.Janelle is a nut and I love it.

  17. first let me start with whats wrong with u people on here.. who said she was trying to be mainstream..she said and i quote "i make positive music to uplift and inspire the people. i make music for the people"
    now to answer the questions
    1.term "mainstream" means maxium exposure. anybody who makes music wants as many people to hear there music as humanly possible.
    2.kind of a dumb question. but instruments has always been the best way to get the raw emotion of the song .duh
    3. i think the fact that she is fully clothed and sing about todays issues will help her and not cap her..everybody or at least i am tired of the bubblem gum songs.. most people like songs with soul and actual singing. rather is rock country or r&b if u put your feelings in it people will feel that.
    4.yes it should be lauded..and for the people who says she is corny and forcing it. what the hell is u people watching and listening to?it's minstrel when she on stage WHAT? LIKE my boy on boondocks say man eat a dick!


Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!