Janelle

#IMMusicMondays: Janelle Monáe – Trailblazing in the Black and LGBTQIA+ Communities

Despite being the shortest month of the year – February houses two important celebrations: LGBTQIA+ History Month in the UK and Black History Month in the US. To commemorate these occasions, we spotlight Janelle Monáe – not only a great artist but a beacon of hope and resilience for the Black and LGBTQIA+ communities.

Who is Janelle Monáe?

Janelle Monáe is an artist living her truth, fearlessly spearheading their own creative rebellion, and encouraging others to do the same. The Kansas-born singer has always exercised her independent tastes. Her liberation shows in her music, her movies, and her fashion sense. Monáe does not shy away from the limelight, and their discography overflows with glittering, joyous, accepting, and energetic music.

With ten Grammy nominations, a Screen Actors Guild award, and a groundbreaking ASCAP Vanguard Award, Monáe’s work is revered by critics and adored by fans. The late great Prince was a close collaborator, and like similarly revered artists David Bowie and Madonna, Janelle is a cultural straddler. They excel in any genre: pop, R&B, soul, dance, jazz. Her recent album ‘The Age of Pleasure‘ epitomises the freedom she feels in this era of her life.

Janelle Monáe and LGBTQIA+

Monáe came out as non-binary on Jada Pinkett-Smith’sRed Table Talk‘ show. She has spoken extensively about how her spirit feels bigger than the gender norms and conformities attached to ‘male’ or ‘female’. She uses both they/them and her/she pronouns and has been public with her ongoing exploration of her sexuality and self-discovery. Janelle has liberated so many fans to feel free in their journey, and has clear remarks to young people struggling to find acceptance: “I see you”.

Monáe is open about not having all the answers, yet time and time again is an ally for the LGBTQIA+ community. She supports LGBTQIA+ small businesses, providing grants for non-binary youths and championing under-resourced charities. She puts it best herself: “I’m not a woman, I’m not a man, I’m an experience.”.

Janelle Monáe and Black Empowerment

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, Janelle Monáe continued with what she has always done – being vocal about what genuine allyship looks like. It is about undertaking acts of service and having difficult conversations. Monáe has championed Black rights throughout their career and is purposeful in all creative decisions to show the depth and beauty of the Black community. Even outside her music, she is purposeful in the films she chooses to be a part of – with many of her most revered projects being a celebration of Black history. “I will always stand with Black women,” she proudly told the Rolling Stone.

Who were their influences?

Prince celebrated gender fluidity in his art and was Monáe’s key inspiration. They have openly attributed Nona Hendryx, a former member of Patti LaBelle’s trio, LaBelle as an influence too. Hendryx is a trailblazer in her own right, being an openly bisexual Black woman and a gay rights activist. Furthermore, David Bowie heavily influenced Monáe – whose unique artistic character made him an icon in the gay community. Grace Jones‘ rebellious spirit as both an LGBTQIA+ ally and a proud Black woman fuelled Janelle. Madonna’s celebration of sexual liberation and individuality at a time when this wasn’t condoned, also opened doors.

Madonna
David Bowie

Who has she inspired in the music industry?

Today, we have a myriad of artists who embrace being both a member of the LGBTQIA+ and Black communities. It’s pioneering artists like Janelle Monáe that have paved the way for a new generation of liberated free spirits. Kehlani, Victoria Monét, Tayla Parx, Syd, Big Freedia, Lil Nas X, Steve Lacy, Willow Smith, and Chika – these are just a handful of examples. All these artists share a common thread: they are unapologetically themselves; their freedom radiates through their beautiful music. To these artist’s fans, their music means more than loving their compositions – supporters love their spirit, what they stand for, and who they inspire them to be.

Closing words

We need more artists like Janelle Monáe – fearless innovators who don’t fit in any box. Art is meant to be fluid, emotional, unrestricted, and come from an authentic place. Despite already inspiring the next generation, this singer/songwriter is far from finished. We always feel we’re just experiencing the tip of the iceberg of what this dynamic artist has to offer. We are looking at a future EGOT winner and a genre-bending superstar talent, who offers what we all look for, no matter what community you are part of – hope.

Janelle Monáe is on Instagram, X, and TikTok. Read more spotlight pieces here and stream ‘The Age of Pleasure’ below.

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