Janelle Monae is quite simply a force of nature. The R&B and soul singer takes the dance moves and energy of James Brown, the funk and musicianship of Parliament and Prince, and the pop sensibilities of Bruno Mars, and wraps it all up into a sexy, empowered female persona. Fans of the New York indie-pop band fun. might recognize her voice from the Grammy-winning hit “We Are Young.”
Monae, who was born in Kansas but moved to Atlanta where her career took off after meeting OutKast’s Big Boi, performs Saturday night at the Fillmore Miami Beach in support of her new double album “The Electric Lady.” You’ll hear hits including “Tightrope,” “Q.U.E.E.N.” (featuring Erykah Badu) and “Dance Apocalyptic,” plus a couple of cover songs likely including The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.”
Monae talked to Miami.com about the concert, the concept of “ish,” her performance on “Saturday Night Live” on Oct. 26, and her spiritual connection to Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.”
What’s a Janelle Monae show like?
This is the “Electric” tour, and it’s an all-new show - Miami has never seen it. We have crafted a conceptual performance a la David Bowie and concert artists who believe in giving experiences throughout the performance. I’m coming with an incredible band – the Jamonati – and we have musicians from Atlanta to Brazil. It’s just an unpredictable show – some nights I don’t know what I’m gonna do. So who knows? Just come ready with an open heart and open mind. Walt Disney could be in the audience. Michael Jackson could come back. Who knows?
You draw from what seems like about a thousand musical influences. Is there any specific sound or feeling that you’re going for, or that you want people to get from it?
Well, first, I don’t draw from a thousand influences: I actually draw from 0.6 influences. I find influence in my community – that is my biggest influence, is to find unique stories of diversity in our communities. When I was writing “Electric Lady,” I wanted to tell more female protagonist stories throughout this album. I have a song called “Ghetto Woman” that highlights this person like myself, the other woman in my life who helped raise and shape me into the person I’ve become; to “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes” to “Electric Lady” to “Q.U.E.E.N.” and so on and so on. So these are these unique, complex stories that I’m interested in telling, these universal stories, in unforgettable ways. As you can tell from these skits on “Electric Lady,” which is a double album, you hear people from the community calling me. We had to figure out a way to tell those stories through the sounds, whether it’s percussion, brass, electric guitar, the texture of my voice. All those things help tell these unique stories.
You’ve talked about the concept of “ish” regarding your music. What is it?
“Ish” is the jam. It’s something that you feel whenever you listen to any particular music. It’s soul, it is the truth, it is something that’s just undeniable. The booty don’t lie. When you’re listening to something and you cannot help but to move or to sing or to be moved by it, then that is when you have “ish.” And that can happen when you meet people, and music can have that effect, art, and performance can have that effect, too.
You’ve said that Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” has influenced you musically. What did you mean by that?
Judy Garland is someone who really inspired me when I was growing up, especially when I started to write music. I loved her voice, I loved her sound, I’m from Kansas. The people in “The Wizard of Oz,” if there were some kind of inspiration, it probably has to do with, you know, along my journey, from Puff [Daddy] to Big Boi, all these people helped get me to where I am, from helping me get my music out, to helping my independent recording label, the Wondaland Arts Society, get our message out. They reminded me of the Tin Man and the Lion, all those people who helped Dorothy along her journey.
Was meeting Big Boi your big break?
Yeah, absolutely. He helped me grab my first nationally released album, which was about really letting go of 9-to-5 that you don’t believe in, and going with your heart, taking that risk, even if it means being broke and living in a boarding house, or not driving the car that you want. You’re sacrificing for your art and for a bigger picture, and what you know is meant to be for you.
How was your experience on “Saturday Night Live”?
It was electrical. It was magnetic. I had a very visceral reaction to it. I wanted to come through the television screen, but unfortunately my hips are too big to fit through the lens of the camera.