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CMJ Music Marathon 2008 Day 3: Janelle Monae

Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

As P Diddy’s only non-reality TV generated musical fosterage, Janelle Monae consequently possesses immense talent -- and by default star-quality, because why else would Diddy be in the same sentence? And as Diddy’s new dauphin she is at once retrograde and innovative, feminine and masculine, mature and youthfully exuberant. She has chosen to craft her image and persona (thus ultimately controlling it to a large extent) as a nostalgic nod towards saddle shoes and Billie Holiday while at the same time writing songs about cyber-girls and alien invaders. All this mixes into one unflinching caricature, much like Stephen Colbert is impenetrable as a G.O.P. stalwart. She opened with her most popular song, “Violet Stars Happy Hunting!”, a galactic funk dance number that catapulted her energy into the set. But she then slowed it down immediately, singing a gorgeously slow and moving solo, accompanied only by electric guitar. What comparisons have been made to Holiday strike me as without merit. I found her stature and sheer singing might align with the French sparrow, Edith Piaf. Most of her songs revolved around her sociological alien experiment theme -- a reaction to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis–singing, “Are we really living or just walking dead?” Though she never fully answered the question, her inexhaustible energy led her to moonwalking (Michael Jackson’s moves were practically hereditary at times) both into and on top of the crowd. As the complete package Janelle Monae is a name I expect we’ll hear a lot of.

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