The ambiguity of Janelle Monáe can be summed up in her own two words: “top secret.” That (plus “I’m sorry, I can’t tell you”) is all she says about her pompadour when asked how it stays in a perfect pouf. It’s the kind of James Bond elusiveness that’s left a lot to the imagination since the Kansas City native spawned her fembot alter ego. The Electric Lady, the third in the saga, is designed to be a prequel to the narrative of 2010’s The ArchAndroid. It’s very gay — but it doesn’t mean she is.
Our Chris Azzopardi talked to the pop singer — about gender-bending fashions, her new album and more.
Dallas Voice: People have speculated that the album’s first single, “Q.U.E.E.N.,” alludes to your attraction to women. And on “Givin Em What They Love,” you refer to a woman who follows you back to the lobby for some “undercover love.” Are people reading too much into the lesbian themes of this album and applying them to you? Monae: I actually have never heard that. This is the first time I’m hearing it. But I will say that a lot of my work always comes from an authoritative stance, so it may not be about me; it may just be about a story, or something that I’ve witnessed, or my imagination. You just never know.
A lot of people are relating this music directly to you. And that’s fine. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being gay or lesbian or straight or black or green or purple, so I’m OK with that.
“Q.U.E.E.N.” uses phrases like “throwing shade” and “serving face,” which are often heard in drag culture. Has the drag world influenced your style and how you present yourself and your music? Yes. I think it is an art form that’s so funny and so inspiring, so I use it in my lyrics. I have gay friends who speak in this language, and it’s just hilarious and entertaining and I thought it would be cool to, you know, give them something to kiki about.
Because of your fondness for suits, people have described you in some ways as being a drag king. Right.
How do you feel about the term “gender bender” as it’s applied to you? I think it’s awesome. I think it’s uniting; I’m a uniter. I won’t allow myself to be a slave to my own interpretation of myself nor the interpretations that people may have of me. I just live my life, and people can feel free to discuss whatever it is that they think and use whatever adjectives they feel. It’s a free country.