An engigma wrapped in a tux, Kansas-born songstress Janelle Monáe is one artist where “defies classification” feels very right: a sci-fi geek who believes in time travel; a Badu-meets-Bowie genre-bender who talks "emotion pictures" and who’s signed to Diddy’s Bad Boy Records; a pro-Obama political voice; and the creator of one of the best concept albums ever produced in 2010 futuristic love opera The ArchAndroid. At last, Sydney, she’s here. By Joel Meares
We were disappointed you couldn't make Good Vibes, but now you’re finally coming are excited for your first trip to Sydney?
I’m really excited! I’m so looking forward to playing at the Sydney Opera House. I hear it’s one of the most photographed places in the world, and I love opera houses! To have my first performance in the country there feels like a really historic night. I’m more happy and thrilled to share it with all of my Australian fans, though. They’ve been really waiting for me to come.
Wait, you’re a fan of opera houses? Any other particular favourites?
I’m from Kansas City and Kansas City has a great opera house. But I just love theatres. I love something that has a very sophisticated and historic look to it. I love playing theatres over outside, because it has this warm, intimate, but theatrical feel that I’ve been in love since I was nine.
What can we expect from the show when we bring it to our Opera House?
If I told you what to be expecting you would be expecting it, so I don’t think I should tell you.
Will you be bringing a few trunks of tuxes on the trip?
I don’t think I need trunks – I’m only there for two days. But I'll have some.
True. When did you start wearing tuxes?
Growing up in Kansas, between the ages of 9 and 14, I wore tuxedos. Then I switched and started to wear a police uniform so that people would respect me. That didn’t work out, so I started to wear cheerleading outfits so I could be popular – and that didn’t work. I ended up cultivating a style that was very minimalist. I love simplicity in wardrobe; pieces that are transcendent and never go out of style.
What’s the key to a good tux. If you’re in the market, what are you looking for?
One: I love tailored things. You have to try it on and for me I have to check if it tears if I crouch in it. Or if I dropkick someone or do a karate chop. How durable is the material?
Your alter ego Cindi Mayweather, the main character in your concept album ArchAndroid, is a kind of android messiah to the futuristic community of Metropolis, an android who falls for a human and fights the system. Er, where did she come from?
She’s always been within me. And I think she’s lived in a lot of young girls. She’s just a strong girl – she wants to take her community to the next level. You can relate to her because she struggled with acceptance, and accepting with her differences. But she accepted her differences and embraced them as the things that make her unique. I think Cindi represents the higher us, the more evolved us. Who we are.
What happens with Cindi next? Will we see her again?
When timing is right, I’ll reveal a lot of what’s going on. We're working on the new album now. Just know that I’m growing as an artist and you’re I’m going continue to create exciting emotion pictures.
Did you struggle fitting in growing up in Kansas?
To a certain extent, but I’m deeply rooted in family and my community. I have like over 50 first cousins, so I’ve always felt I had a support system. That allowed me to explore and to be creative growing up. I would write short stories, I was part of a theatre and young playwrights’ team and professional actors would do my plays. I’ve always been one who tapped into my imagination at an early age. I’ve never been apologetic for some of the quirky things I would say at school. There’s no place I’ve been that I don’t feel I have a good sense of who I am.
So, if you were different you never let it bother you.
Absolutely, but I there are a lot of people who struggle with that and struggle with feeling out of place. That’s why I write music: for those who can’t speak and might not be as strong as I am. Of course, I’ve gone through experiences that have helped come to the conclusion that I’ve come to and who I am as a woman and what you see me representing as an African American Android Artist in today’s society.
I’ve chosen to take a really unique approach to creating music and in coming into the industry. I want them to know we don’t tall have to take the same coordinates to get to the same destination. We don’t have to look the same to be applauded.
You’re album leaps off from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and you’ve said you were a huge science fiction fan. Why this genre?
I’m a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock films, too, and my grandmother and I would watch the Twilight Zone pretty often, Star Trek… Science Fiction is cool because there are so many possibilities: you don’t know what can happen, and what can’t happen. There are limitless possibilities and that’s what I love. You’re also able to hold a mirror up to the present when you’re peeking into the future: you’re looking at where they could be if they don’t make certain changes, and where they can be if they make certain changes.
Speaking of 'Change', I know you’ve played at the White House and rallies for President Obama. Why do you think he’s the man to continue with the job?
He’s given over 2.5 million young people health insurance, he’s ended the War in Iraq, he’s created a law that women should be paid the same amount as men and not be paid less because they’re a women. He’s constantly looking out for the poor and those who just don’t get a break. They can’t afford luxuries. I think somebody needs to look out for them, and I think that President Obama is absolutely doing all he can to make sure that the next generation is taken care of.
And… he’s a fan of yours. What’s he like to perform to?
When I got the letter to come and perform at the state dinner for Korea in October I was like, Wow, blown away – I was jumping up and down, I couldn’t believe it. Out of all the artists in the world they asked me to do it. Then when I met him, he was just so... cool. I wrote ‘Tightrope’ [her hit single] during the time he was running for office. I was really inspired by his ability to stay even-keeled and not get too high, or too low, but to stay right there and stay on message.
Not even a hint on the show?
I don’t think it’s appropriate to give you any hints! But I’m bringing an ArchAndroid Orchestra. I’ll have a string quartet and a lot of the instruments that made up the ArchAndroid album. You can count on an experience, not just a concert or a showcase of songs. An experience y’all will never forget – just like I won’t forget.