Janelle Monae has been pushing boundaries since she debuted her first album back in 2010 but her latest release, Dirty Computer is on a whole other level.
The 32-year-old singer, songwriter, actress, and model who dropped the 14-track album in April along with a 46-minute narrative film of the same name in keenly aware of herself and her influence and that’s what propelled her to come out as queer when she launched the project.
“I think that things that are personal to you should only be spoken about when you feel the need. No one should feel pressure to speak about their sexuality or personal life until they’re ready. It’s not everybody’s business” she said during our exclusive interview. “I can only speak for myself and for me, I was inspired by my cousins and those around me who are constantly being told that they’re going to hell, that they’re less than because of their sexual identity or because of who they love.”
Dirty Computer went to great lengths to be inclusive and to celebrate and encourage fans who feel marginalized.
“I did it for them. I did this to let them know they are not alone and to let them know I will continue to help celebrate you. I will continue to choose my freedom over my fear in hopes that you will become a little more comfortable enough to choose your freedom over your fear. That’s really what it was about. It was a selfless act because really it’s not an easy thing to have to talk about all the time,” she explains.
“I have lived with who I am for many years and I am comfortable with myself and I still have to deal with family members that are not accepting of me. My parents are very supportive but I have people who I love who don’t accept it. Talking about this causes a lot of complications in your family. People don’t realize that. It’s not easy for people to just live openly and honestly because you have to go home and deal with people who have these views about homosexuality and have these views about what it means to be a queer black woman and it’s not an easy thing to do. I don’t think it’s brave. It just had to do with me looking at the people that I love who live in a small town where they feel ostracized and feel like who they are is not enough. I want them to know I see you, I hear you, this project is for you. I’ll go out ahead of you so you can walk out more confidently when you’re ready.”
While the news of her queerness made national headlines for obvious reasons, it wasn’t the first or last social issue Janelle Monae tackled in her music. While some of the biggest stars in music continue to ignore the world around them when it comes to the content they create, Monae seems to reflect exactly where we are as a society and inspires fans to do their part, whatever that may be.
“I like to add value to the culture, I like to push culture forward and I like to push ur conversations forward and I try to be as progressive in my thoughts as I possibly can. I try to read and be as inclusive and honest as possible so that others can feel more honest and vulnerable. I try to give as much as I possibly can while saving a piece for me that is sacred and I walk that tight rope. When I’m creating art, I always try to be honest and vulnerable about who I am as I am writing and putting the projects together. I like to follow my inner compass and soul clock and am moved when it’s the right moment to speak about certain things. I think I have felt a deep responsibility to using art to promote social change and social activism. Certain issues tug at my heart and I feel like I don’t hear it spoken about enough. You have every right to speak out and speak up. There’s not right or wrong way to do art. We’re all criticized for not saying enough or saying too much. You have to lead with your heart. It’s always an honor when what I’m saying registers with other people,” she says.
“A lot of the things I speak about are things I feel I want to prevent or respond to. In my heart, I have felt a sense of hurt, pain, a prediction that I would like to prevent us from. Looking to the past and trying to correct the mistakes and not repeat them, especially when it comes to human connections. When you’re dealing with racism or you’re dealing with homophobia, classism, all these things that we are talking about now, we have to think more long term. Sometimes those conversations take a little time for people to process which is fine. I consider myself a part of a fabric. I don’t think the universe revolves around me. I am involved in it and I am here to serve a purpose and when I go on to a different frequency the work that I do here will help me live on if it is as impactful as it should be. I hope and pray that it will and I’m fine with it reaching the people it needs to reach.”
One of the issues Janelle Monae is passionate about is mental health and the need for all people to have access to resources they need.
“I think mental health is a real thing and it should not be taken lightly. Those of us who deal with depression– I have dealt with depression myself as well as million of other people. I think it’s important to be honest about where you are and seek help from those who are available for you,” she says. “I wish that our system here in America made mental health care more affordable, or quite frankly, free for every human being. It’s something that we deal with. The highs and lows of life are inevitable and it’s not realistic to not experience the changes in your journey.”
The Covergirl whose beauty is celebrated far and wide admits she continues to fight the same demons we all do.
“Yes, I’m an artist and have been given an incredible opportunity to do things but at the end of the day I go home as a human being, I go home as an American, I go home as a young African American, queer woman. When I think about what those in a position of power in America say about people like me, it doesn’t make me feel good. It doesn’t make me feel seen, it doesn’t make me feel heard,” she admits.
“It’s a day to day thing. Choosing to be free and confident is something you have to fight for every single day. Ultimately, I realized my freedom is more important than my fear and it’s more important for me to walk fearlessly in the choices that I make. It’s still a struggle. You deal with your own self on top of what society or magazines or social media says. You have to deal with your own issues around beauty. As I grow and evolve, my thoughts around what’s beautiful have changed. I don’t look at people and think, ‘Oh, they’re gorgeous.’ I see people’s spirits first. I see their intentions. I see their spirits before I see their outer beauty and I think I find the beauty in their spirit.”
Janelle Monae is set to perform at the 2018 BET Awards this Sunday and we can’t wait for all the magic she’s sure to serve up.