It’s been one year since Janelle Monáe released her chart-topping half pop, half R&B album, Dirty Computer, and unabashedly came out to Rolling Stone as pansexual. She told the magazine, “Being a queer black woman in America, someone who has been in relationships with both men and women – I consider myself to be a free-ass motherfucker.”
In her new movie, UglyDolls, Monáe aptly marches to the beat of her own drum as a lonely “ugly doll” who preaches self-acceptance and self-worth while celebrating all types of body image. Her character speaks to her real life persona as an entrepreneurial role model for the LGBTQ community, but she wasn’t always so forward with her sexual identity.
“There were just conversations that I had to have with myself and my family about my sexuality and the impact that speaking honestly and truthfully about it through my art would have,” Monáe said before explaining to the queer magazine, them, that she grew up in a small, Midwestern town. “To be anything other than heterosexual is a sin in that community, and growing up, I was always told I’d go to hell if I was. There was a part of me that had to deal with what that meant.”
Her 2018 album, Dirty Computer, has since helped guide her through her coming-out experience, but more than a personal or confessional work, it has cemented Monáe’s place as a champion for marginalized groups. Through her songs, Monáe transforms human “flaws” and socially unaccepted taboos into something much more inspiring.
“People say that these dirty computers, these humans have these bugs and these viruses, the things that make them unique are looked at as negatives,” Monáe told CBS. “But dirty computers look at their bugs and their viruses as attributes, as features, as added value to this country, to this society….it’s just saying that I’m a dirty computer, but I too am American.”
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Her desire to break traditional norms doesn’t just stop there. As the CEO of her Atlanta-based record label, Wondaland Records, Monáe has enjoyed critical success as a pioneer in the music industry. Many have likened her genre-bending music to Afrofuturistic funk, but Monáe continues to forge her own path as a voice for the voiceless.
Monáe told NPR, “I’m just looking for those unique stories. There are a lot of other people that I respect and admire, like Issa Rae and Lena Waithe and Jordan Peele, who are also pushing forward underrepresented voices. I just hope, and Wondaland hopes, to continue to push culture forward and and redefine how we are viewed.”
Monáe gives her two-cents on female underrepresentation in the music industry, too.
“We need more female label heads. We understand, we are strong yet compassionate. We understand how the music goes… we get it in a way that I have not seen… I want more women running these labels and calling the shots.”