Janelle Monáe: ‘I have to feel a film role in my pubic hairs. They have to vibrate’

Estimated read time 7 min read

You always look immaculate. Who are your style icons? 12monkeys
That’s very nice of you to say. I wish you could see me right now – I look like I just came out of a dirty dishwasher. I think maybe my style icons are the different versions of myself: I live in different realms, so the version of me that lives in 1960, 2719 or 2805. I think about the magazines that exist in those times and take inspiration from that. I am drawn down lots of rabbit holes and into uncovering the universe.

Have the James Bond producers ever reached out to you to collaborate on a James Bond theme? I always thought of BabopbyeYa as a James Bond theme. howcomebubblegum
I agree. I love the score of a lot of the James Bond films. Goldfinger is one of my favourites, and You Only Live Twice is another. So they can definitely call me! But BabopbyeYa was on my first album; my music has always been cinematic, so I’ve always understood cinema and big band orchestration, string arrangements. I feel it in my ovaries.

What attracts you to a particular role and to a particular movie? Kt2150
The story is the big one. Also the set: I love places that have snacks like Skittles and M&Ms on set! But, really, I love to get to know the characters and feel with anything I’m doing. I really have to feel it in my pubic hairs – they have to vibrate! [laughs] Though I don’t want anyone to go back to my old films and think: “Janelle Monáe picked this because her pubic hairs tingled.” My underarm hairs definitely tingled when I got the Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery script. That was exciting, to go to Greece and work with [director] Rian Johnson, who is a wonderful human. The whole cast were amazing; I loved having the opportunity to be in a film with Daniel Craig. I’m so excited for Knives Out 3 – I want to be a part of it so badly that I might get plastic surgery and audition as a brand new character.

Daniel Craig and Janelle Monáe in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.View image in fullscreen

What’s your favourite Prince song and album? IvanBunin77
Are you trying to murder me with that question? Prince is a world. I have seasons of songs that I love. I love The Ballad of Dorothy Parker, I love Kiss – Kiss is one of those songs I wish I had written and I’m always trying to come up with good riffs and vocals and drums that feel simple and special like Kiss. It’s the song that I always use as a benchmark. I think: how could I make Prince jealous? We were friends; I had the opportunity to really understand him as the alien, the human, the futuristic person that he was. He understood that working and practising and also being in tune with something outside Earth would only give you the results he had.

Are you a fan of science fiction and, if so, what’s your favourite work of the genre; book or comic book or movie? Garethperry
All my work is rooted in sci-fi. I would like to say I am sci-fi. My first EP, Metropolis, was inspired by Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s 1927 black and white silent film. When I saw the film – and Lang is the godfather of sci-fi – I saw the struggle between the haves and the have-nots. I thought about my own life growing up working-class in Kansas City and feeling like we’re in a rat race that we could never fight our way out of. I grew up writing for the Coterie theatre’s Young Playwrights Roundtable, in Kansas City; I wrote science-fiction short stories. I loved the Goosebumps books; I watched movies such as The Matrix and Star Wars and Blade Runner.

For the Metropolis EP I created Cindi Mayweather, an android sent from the future: the uniter between the android and the human. I’d like to think I have been sent here from the future to give warning to the humans who are still trying to understand AI. I always pose the question: “Are we going to treat AI as the new other?” Will we ostracise and colonise it, because it’s the other, and we don’t understand it and we fear it?

In increasingly dark and authoritarian times, do you think the message and music of Fela Kuti still have things to tell us? marineroloco
Fela has always been about uplifting us and creating soundtracks for people to protest to, to make love to, to love each other and protect each other to. I’ll always thank him for that and his music is all through my music. He’s in our DNA.

I love Fela and it’s so beautiful that I had an opportunity to collaborate with his son, Seun Kuti, on Float for my last album [2023’s The Age of Pleasure]. It was wonderful to be able to tell him how much his father’s music has meant to me. I’m constantly listening to Water No Get Enemy and Zombie and Expensive Shit – so much so that Champagne Shit was inspired by it.

The Age of Pleasure is joyously saucy. What’s the last thing that made you blush? WordsFailMe
You know, I DJ now. I DJ’d last night, actually, and we were up until one or two in the morning. I set up my decks and speakers and I love being able to play music that people can enjoy and dance to, or play card games to, or have conversations to. They’re turning around and looking at me and smiling and vibing, thanking me for playing particular songs. I get off on that type of stuff. That made me blush; it made me tingly inside. I think it’s one of my love languages to give people experiences.

When I was writing the album, I knew that I wanted my friends and loved ones to love this music. That’s how a lot of the songs were made – they came over and danced to the music before it even had lyrics. Joy was a word that came up a lot as they danced. To be able to gift that to your friends is something I always want to do.

What have you got planned for Glastonbury? Your set at Glastonbury 2019 was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. Paperdoors
I am so excited to be playing Glastonbury. I’m a pretty unpredictable performer and I think all of us are going to be surprised. Depending on who I look at in the audience things can go left, right, centre, up, down. I could float and land on the top of the stage and then fly to the moon. Then come back down, parachute to the ground, and dig a hole with my wellies and just lie there for an hour. We’ll just have to see what happens.

What was it like creating and performing one of the best ever songs in Sesame Street history [The Power of Yet]? JohnsonThistle

I didn’t even realise [how big it went], and then I started getting thank you messages: “My kid was crying for the last two hours then I put this on and now they’re quiet, they love you.” When these kids meet me in person they’re confused because my hair could be different that day and they’re like: “This is not the person I see on my iPad – where’s the hair and red lipstick?” And even though their parents are like, “This is Janelle, remember you watched The Power of Yet?” And the kids are just like: “No!” It’s funny, and beautiful. I love kids – and I love to also relieve their parents of stress.

You opened the 2020 Oscars with a show-stopping performance, where you declared yourself a proud Black queer artist and celebrated diversity in the film industry unrepresented by that year’s nominees. How did it feel to make such an impassioned statement on such a prestigious stage? VerulamiumParkRanger
It felt like a typical day. This is my life and my experiences and I like to think I’ll always stay curious and look at who I am, constantly learning.

Source: theguardian.com

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