Artist Review: Janelle Monáe

Pop music, if at all successful at its stated job, should be difficult to dislike. This is, to be sure, not to say that all pop music is good or even listenable, just because it’s popular. Now that pop has switched from an assessment of performance to a genre title the game is a bit more…subjective, to put it kindly. When I think of pop music I love, I think of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” or Rick Springfield’s undeniable earworm, “Jessie’s Girl”. But these songs were created by artists trying to write great songs. Popularity followed because they succeeded at song craft. These songs became pop music because of their popularity. Now, in 2013, it seems like a spate of boy bands through the 90s giving way to some ‘Spice’ and a certain Ms. Spears have coined a genre of folks trying to cultivate popularity first, while making music has been relegated to being a tool used to achieve the goal of fame.

Have you ever had a friend that wanted to be popular so bad that they’d say or do anything? Tell yourself honestly, what did you think of them? What you’re probably thinking is, to be honest, what I think of most pop music today. I can tell when someone is trying too hard…and they almost all are. I’d feel bad for them if there wasn’t so much money in filling the unchallenged ears of 9-year-olds.

However, this is all preamble to a ‘pop music’ singer I’d like to submit for your consideration (yup, I can still throw the curve).

Janelle Monáe is a future force to be reckoned with, it would seem. There is an undeniable likability to her musical personality that transcends the box that today’s version of pop music would put her in. She’s bigger than the genre. Hell, the video for her next single even acknowledges the history of pop music in its setting and then manages to juxtapose it’s place against our modern culture.

The tune below, “Dance Apocalyptic”, is from her upcoming record, The Electric Lady.

Now, I half expect you to be thinking, “Jones, you’re nuts! It’s a fun video to a catchy song.” And I agree. I feel a bit like a tool for making more of it.

But, there is more there. And in context of the tripe falling out of Justin Bieber’s mouth these days I think it’s extremely important to point it out. Ms. Monáe is trying (and succeeding) to create a larger context for the song she’s singing. She has a vision. She has a history of having a vision, too. Her first record, The ArchAndroid, was a concept album that uses androids as a metaphor for oppressed people (sounds like it could be a lost Pink Floyd idea to me). It seems what we may just have here is a singer who wants to create music for a larger purpose. She wants the music to be heard, not just her own voice. In other words, what we have in Janelle Monáe is an actual artist.