Monday, March 4, 2019

100 Albums: "The Electric Lady" by Janelle Monáe

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Janelle Monáe
Title: The Electric Lady
Released: 2013
Genre: afrofuturist R&B


The Electric Lady picks up the tale of Cindi Mayweather, a time-traveling android, hunted in her home city of Metropolis for falling in love with a human. So, Janelle Monáe is a big old sci-fi nerd, is what I'm getting at.

This album was a bit of a slow burn for me. Dance Apocalyptic is just breathtakingly fun, but nothing else on the record is quite as immediately accessible. The songs do get under your skin, though. After a complete listen, I found myself going back to groove on Electric Lady, It's Code, and We Were Rock & Roll. Monáe mostly belts out soul, but Q.U.E.E.N. and Ghetto Woman both feature some blistering raps. But I think my favorite on the album--after Dance Apocalyptic--is Sally Ride, an ode to eponymous astronaut who was the third woman in space, the first American woman in space, and the presumed first LGBTQ astronaut ever.

I poked fun at the sci-fi stuff above, but it's an important part of the album's aesthetic and message. A lot of it is relegated to the music videos and liner notes and some oblique lyrical references, but there are three interludes that take the form of a call-in android radio show that do some interesting world-building. The host, DJ Crash-Crash, fields calls from pro-human and anti-human androids, android sorority girls (the Electro-Phi Betas), even a human who has called in to say that "robot love is queer." It becomes pretty evident that in the context of this album, androids are an oppressed class who have formed their own vibrant subculture. And in case that metaphor is too subtle for you, I'll remind you that this is afrofuturism.

The Electric Lady is fun, inventive, soulful, immersive, and it has something to say. And I have a soft spot for ambitious projects, especially ones that you can dance to.

Further Listening: The Electric Lady is parts IV and V of a proposed seven-part concept series that started with the Metropolis EP and continued with The ArchAndroid. Both of those are highly listenable. Her most recent album is Dirty Computer, which I haven't listened to yet, but it's been very well-received. And while it's not exactly "further listening," Monáe gives a great performance as real-life mathematician and NASA engineer Mary Jackson in the movie Hidden Figures. Science!

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