Janelle Monae: The gay interview

Janelle2The 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.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

2011 Year in Review: Concerts

Minaj-89

Nicki Minaj

The ladies ran the world this year — or at least the concert stage, whether dives or arenas.

1. Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae (Verizon Theatre). These two crashed the venue with the year’s most amazing live performances. Monae, in all her spastic glory, ran across the stage and into the audience, proving why she is the next Prince. And with her futuristic-themed album Archandroid, her band was loud and live minus any apparent electronic help. Mars did the same but recalled old-school showmanship, channeling Marvin Gaye, James Brown and Smokey Robinson as he and his own band filled the place with raucous horns, slamming percussion and Mars’ charisma.

2. Nicki Minaj (American Airlines, pictured). Britney sputtered before her concert hit its stride halfway through, but Minaj brought it from the get-go. With military precision, she and her troupe marched and danced while the audience roared, spanking the American Airlines Center as if she were the headliner, making everyone in the crowd her bitch. And all were on board. Her ovation with Spears was proof that Minaj’s star has arrived.

3. Jackie Hall (Lakewood Bar & Grill). A surprise at the May edition of Twist LGBT, stepped in with local band One Night Stand to end the night with a bang. Even as the crowd dwindled, Hall went full bore, working up those left into a frenzy with powerful covers. This lady sings the blues and rock and pop, but turns them out like no other.

4. Scissor Sisters (American Airlines Center). There is no way to steal a show from Lady Gaga, but the Sisters didn’t need to, giving a workout of a show. Ridiculously pumped Jake Shears burned a million calories with his high-energy antics (and that ass-reveal, a great bonus). Ana Matronic held her own as Shears’ equal with funk and sass. True fans were breathless.

5. Brandi Carlile (Granada Theatre). Without much fanfare, Carlile and her legions of fans in the mid-sized Granada were like one entity fused together. Her fans gave her space to sing softly, to go unplugged and to simply love her. She gave it right back with both grit and tenderness that were triggering all the ladies’ pheromones.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

— R.L.               

—  Kevin Thomas

REVIEW: Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae at Verizon Theatre on Tuesday night

Janelle Monae surfs the crowd. (bighaber.com)

My hope is that there were a few “come to Jesus” moments last night at the Haus of Mars & Monae. With way different approaches to pop music, both still melded into each other like fried batter and beer. And Texans love that, ya know. Plus, they delivered strong showings and raw talents.

I’m sad to have only caught the last half of Monae’s set, but upon my arrival, she was filling the room with her avant-garde music backed by a huge band complete with horns and strings. Monae, in her signature black suit (which I hate) is hard to pin down. She’s erratic and all over the stage like James Brown on crack, but it’s also exciting to watch. Whether she’s laying down on the ground singing or diving into the crowd for major body surfing, it’s hard not to just want to let loose with her. And she has the talents to back it up. Her vocal runs were extraordinary in a piercing, raw manner. She gets scary, gritty and then goes into sonic high notes with ease. Then she turned around to deliver sheer innocence in her cover of The Jackson 5′s “I Want You Back.” She nevertheless delivered strongly on her own hits “Cold War” and “Tightrope” as did her backing band, which generated the richest of sounds seemingly without any electronic help.

Mars was my big surprise. His music hasn’t resonated with me so much, but live, he worked it with beautiful overkill. Mars was a big flirt and he worked his lady fans over with smiles, hip thrusts and high notes. As with Monae, Mars’ band recalled many a soul concert from decades ago and his background visuals were effective. His songs translated much better as the live show with an overflow of energy and even joy. Where Monae recalled James Brown, Mars exuded Marvin Gaye with touches of Michael Jackson. Clearly, he had the retro thing down right. Although he pushed his big hits, when the tempo chilled around “The Lazy Song,” despite the cheers, the show plateaued and the vibe dissipated into the ordinary, but that didn’t change the fact that Mars ruled over his show and his fans.

Of the two, Monae edged out Mars in sheer dynamic. Her rawness in delivery was astonishing where Mars’ polish is showing. The crowd was definitely more into Mars, but gave Monae proper props which gave me hope that she’ll gain a bigger crowd of fans through this tour. Mars and Monae delivered big on Tuesday night, but Monae left a lasting impression.

—  Rich Lopez

Bruno Mars & Janelle Monae tonight at Verizon

The concerts continue with two legends in the making

With eccentricity oozing out of their pores, they also have the talent to back it up, proving that on their Hooligans in Wondaland Tour.

Monae is probably the smaller of the two stars, but her Archandroid album was a brilliant musical high point and her energetic live performance is a spectacle beautiful to behold. Did you see her at the Granada with Of Montreal last November? Killer.

Bruno Mars is an anomaly. He’s doing the hipster throwback version of old soul acts but here’s hoping his songs from his debut Doo-Wops & Hooligans have a stronger impact live. The kid is talented and his multi-instrumentalism should be respected. Expect big things from these two.

DEETS: With Patrick Stump. Verizon Theatre, 1001 Performance Place, Grand Prairie. May 17 at 7 p.m. $35. Ticketmaster.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Music: Year In Review 2010

RICH LOPEZ  | lopez@dallasvoice.com

TOPMUSICTheNational
NATIONAL TREASURE | The National’s ‘High Violet’ took dark and bleak personal tones and turned them into an 11-song poetic masterpiece, topping our music releases of 2010.

The way music flourished in so many fashions this year was not only refreshing but hopeful. With brilliant releases coming out all year long, popular genres graduated to a more enlightened state. Pop music straddled the fence of innocuous and smart, indie rock grew up a few inches and even dance music took inventive turns.
The following releases offered a spectrum of originality that respected the past and hinted at the future. But really, they just kicked my ass over and over.

1. The National, High Violet — Matt Berninger’s baritone voice is super seductive and the first thing most people notice, but the band polished off rough edges while keeping their same Americana sensibilities from their previous four releases. The result was an epic album worthy of a John Steinbeck novel. Key tracks: “Little Faith,” “Bloodbuzz Ohio.”

2. LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening — A perennial fave among critics, the fusion of punk and dance never sounds as good as it does here. James Murphy, the man behind the music, ties clever and irreverent lyrics to musical constructs akin to an Escher painting. But in the album’s first track, “Dance Yrself Clean,” it’s like sex to music structured with minimalist foreplay, pounding rhythm and orgasmic moans. He even finishes it off with time for a cigarette. That is if your sex clocks in at eight minutes. Other key tracks: “Drunk Girls,” “One Touch.”

3. V. V. Brown, Travelling Like the Light and Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer (tie) — Where everyone focused on Janelle Monae’s brilliant debut Archandroid, Brown got ignored with an early 2010 release. Light is the ideal companion to Green’s Killer — both with strong singers possessing the sheer force of a runaway train. Modern production over old school Stax and Motown sounds never sound contrived, but sound as fresh as ever.

4. Robyn, Body Talk Pt. 1 — The singer pulled off a trilogy of pop without much effort, but the Pt. 1 EP outshone the other two parts and even the compiled full-length. Straddling dance and electronica genres, Robyn steered clear of trivial lyrics and beats and instead made pop music her bitch. Key tracks: “Dancehall Queen,” “Dancing on my Own.”

5. Owen Pallett, Heartland — The gay singer/violinist twists his approach to avant-garde pop with orchestral leanings. His compositions have the quirkiness of a Tim Burton film but his voice is pristine and balances the music with a crisp elegance and cerebral lyrics. Key tracks: “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt,” “Tryst with Mephistopheles.”

6. Best Coast, Crazy for You and Lovie, Because of my Mattress (tie) — With noise pop sounds of the summery ‘60s, both bands dropped albums that were worthy of repeat plays. The throwback tones are effortless and the cheeriness never wears thin. In fact, they are both infectious.

7. Girl Talk, All Day — DJ Greg Gillis mashes up classic rock, hip-hop and even ‘80s confections into pure aural pleasure. Day is like an entire party in 12 tracks and not one lets down. For anyone who questions remixing as a talent might get shut up by what Girl Talk is able to do every time.

8. Trombone Shorty, Backatown — Taking the horn out of the usual jazz motif, Shorty blows into new dimensions of rock, funk and even punk with this debut album. Then he throws down some more with impressive trumpet and vocals. Lenny Kravitz lends his help, which is almost derailing, but otherwise, Backatown is stellar. Key tracks: “Suburbia,” “The Cure.”

9. Wakey! Wakey!, Almost Everything I Wish I’d Said the Last Time I Saw You — The fact that Wakey’s Michael Grubbs was a regular on TV’s One Tree Hill should put this out of the running … if it weren’t so damned charming. Despite offering radio friendly jock pop in the vein of Coldplay and Keane, Grubbs’ created earnest tunes that were just slightly out of the box and the catchy hooks kept me coming back for more. Key tracks: “Car Crash,” “Dance so Good.”

10. Gorillaz, Plastic Beach — Hip-hop thrived this year with artists daring to stretch the genre into audible art. When Gorillaz collaborate with the likes of Snoop Dogg, The National Orchestra for Arabic Music and Lou Reed, the results are transcending. But it’s magic when they team with Mos Def and Bobby Womack in “Stylo.”

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2010 LGBT releases

This was a big year for out artists both independent and major. In case you missed, here is a sampling of the year’s top queer releases.

Antony & The Johnsons, Thank You For Your Love EP, Swanlights. Trans-identified Antony Hegarty helmed two releases of original material which showcased the band’s lighter side.

LGBTreleasesWoodpigeonChely Wright, Lifted Off the Ground. Her first release as an out singer delivered a more folky vein.

Derek & the Darling, Rockface EP. Derek Nicoletto’s new duo dropped this quietly but made a lasting impression.

Woodpigeon, pictured, Die Stadt Muzikanten. Another gay Canadian strikes. Headed by out frontman Mark Hamilton, this dreamy release is a patient but worthwhile listen.

Xiu Xiu, Dear God, I Hate Myself. Trippy indie pop at its finest.

Chris Willis, “Louder.” Dance single by possibly the gay Usher.
— Rich Lopez

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Front row seat: 7 best live shows

ConcertOWENPALLETT

Owen Pallett

From a dive bar to a sold out sports arena, North Texas gays likely enjoyed concerts across the spectrum.  A certain Lady was perhaps the highlight of the year, but smaller touring artists — and one local musician — made impressions of their own.

1. Lady Gaga and Semi-Precious Weapons (American Airlines). There was no doubt that Gaga would deliver the goods, and she did so decisively. The energy was insane and her vocal shout-outs to the LGBT community were not only cool, but touching.  She went beyond giving a concert and offered an experience.

2. GLBT Twist Dallas (Lakewood Bar & Grill). Local musician SuZanne Kimbrell organized one of the best nights ever of local LGBT musicians — and perhaps the most important. A hefty lineup of seven gay or gay-friendly acts on a Wednesday outside of Oak Lawn might sound like a no-go, but people packed the small East Dallas bar and saw that local music does have a gay voice.

3. Cazwell (Station 4). This show was easily underestimated. The club kid/rapper packed it in tight at Station 4 with a crowd that filled up the dance floor, the balcony and even the perches from the upstairs Granite Bar. Fans shouted and screamed for his underground dance hits — and his hunky ice cream guys didn’t hurt either.

4. Big Freedia (The Loft). Sissy bounce came to Dallas and in big fashion. The New Orleans hip-hopster threw down in the tiny venue to an audience split between bouncing along to the party music and those with “WTF” looks on their faces. Perhaps the best part of the show was the men outdoing the women in the ass-shaking performances onstage.

5. Jay-Z and Trey Songz (American Airlines). Like Lady Gaga, Jay-Z turned his show into something more. Part hip-hop extravaganza, part religious experience. he kept the entire arena on its feet with hands waving in the air — like they just didn’t care. Without much agenda, he straightforwardly delivered track after track slapping us in the face with pure talent and amped- up fun.

6. Owen Pallett, pictured (Granada Theater). With an adorable face and lanky body, Pallett is hardly the vision of rock star. Add a violin and he’s borderline geeky. But he turned on a show layered with intricate playing, smart pop tunes, a gorgeous voices and quiet intensity. Think Leonardo DiCaprio in concert.

7. Jay Brannan and Eric Himan (The Loft). Brannan performed his acoustic set nicely, but Himan was the breakout here. He balanced Brannan’s mellower show with an energetic performance. In about six songs, Himan ran the gamut, playing with the heart of a musician hungry for bigger things. And all he had was a guitar to do it with. Bravo.
— R.L.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Your plans for tonight: of Montreal listening party at Good Records

Of Montreal fans who have been waiting with baited breath for tomorrow can get a sneak preview tonight of the new album. Good Records hosts a listening party for the upcoming False Priest, the band’s 10th full-length release, at 8 p.m. Although, I have some issue with frontman Kevin Barnes defiance of sexual labeling, the band whips out some pretty smart indie pop.

Good news for buyers. With every CD or LP purchase, Good Records will giveaway buttons and posters and more. But the best free item of all tonight? Um, the free beer.

And in case you didn’t know, of Montreal comes back to Dallas with the mega-cool Janelle Monae. They perform at the Granada Nov. 2.

—  Rich Lopez