Janelle Monaé Works the Tightrope

A couple weeks ago I read about a petite, wing-tip wearing powerhouse strutting onto the music scene in the April issue of Vogue.  Her name? Janelle Monaé.

Janelle on jmonae.com

With the upcoming release of her dance-funk album The ArchAndroid on May 18, I cannot wait to see the success of this fresh and effervescent new performer. Combing the vocal range of a spunky Lauryn Hill with the quirky-pop of Lily Allen, Monaé also has a splash of Gnarls Barkley and the soul of a modern day James Brown. It’s no wonder she’s this year’s breakout act, complete with a pompadour, tux and a new dance called the “Tightrope.”

Last year Janelle Monaé opened for No Doubt and on March 31, 2010 she released the music video for her single, “Tightrope,” featuring Big Boi of Outkast. Though the Palace for Dogs asylum hallways in the music video are reminiscent of the fallen pop star Britney Spears‘ first single “…Baby One More Time,” this more interesting and chic update to the hallway dance music video strikes a sophisticated chord, opening the door for the fun, talented and feminist Ms. Monaé who “lives by her own compass.”

“I want to be looked at as a leader and a businesswoman,” she says on her website.  “I really feel that music and artists have a huge influence in the way we think. My goal is to help bring as many people as I possibly can together with my music.”

Based in Atlanta, Monaé is one of the chief founders of record label and production studio, The Wondaland Arts Society.  You may have spotted her in the Outkast video for “Morris Brown,” as mentioned in Afrobella’s homage to the singer. As you’ll see from her post, Monaé considers herself an “alien,” connecting with the character of her sci-fi-themed album (and maybe because she is so different from the run-of-the-mill pop acts). Despite her inspiring confidence and otherworldly claims, she seems down-to-earth and humble.

In the Vogue feature contributor Mark Holgate asked about her slick style, Monaé said, “I want to be able to look at images of myself over the years and not be able to date them. Plus,” she added, ” you can go anywhere wearing a tuxedo.” As for the basic palette of black and white? She replied, “it lets the colors in my personality come out.”

Janelle Monaé moved to Atlanta after growing up in Kansas City and attending New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She was “discovered” — though she was doing well on her own — when Sean “Diddy” Combs first heard her music on MySpace.  She continues her work with Wondaland Arts Society and now has a full creative control record deal with Bad Boy.

If we could all move in the direction of Ms. Monaé who is filled with energy, spontaneity and class — dubbed as “A Girl From Another Planet” — I’m sure I’m not the only one wishing I could be from the same imagined world.  For now, I’ll work on my “tightrope.”

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