Janelle Monáe: A Revolution of Love
"If you look throughout history, if you look throughout any movement, love was at the center of it,” reflects Janelle Monáe in her new YouTube Music Artist Spotlight Story. "It’s contagious, It’s a good virus — and I want to infect people with it”
Directed by Emma Westenberg and released today on YouTube, "A Revolution of Love" takes fans behind the scenes of the multi-talented — singer, songwriter, producer, dancer, actor and activist — Monáe’s creative movement. Shot primarily in the artist's home base of Atlanta, the film serves as an intimate portrait of the people, places and ideas that have helped shape the vision of empowerment, radical creativity, and love that stands at the core of Monáe’s work.
Born in Kansas City, Kan., Monáe gravitated to music from her earliest days. "She was always singing something," explains Janelle’s mother, recalling her daughter’s early habit of choosing pop hits over hymnals at church. "3 years old and I used to cover her mouth before the preacher came on!" Over time, the impromptu church crooning evolved into leading roles in local productions, eventually landing Monáe a slot at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York.
But it was with a move to Atlanta in 2001 that Monáe started the current chapter in her musical journey. "Atlanta shaped me,” she explains. "I was just looking for a new experience and I think it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I found my creative soulmates. I found people that inspired me and motivated me" As chronicled in "A Revolution of Love," it was with these like-minded artists that Janelle founded her Wondaland Arts Society, which has since grown from a collective into label, studio, and brick-and-mortar headquarters.
Galvanized by her newfound artist community, in 2007 Monáe released her debut EP, “Metropolis: Suite (The Chase).” With its cover depicting our heroine as a cybernetic chanteuse, the EP presaged the singer’s enduring interest in themes of technology, feminism, and race. Bolstered by the accompanying short film for the Grammy nominated single "Many Moons,” the release also served as a early taste of what would become one of the artist’s calling card — meticulously crafted visuals with a strong message.
"It's really, really great to have something like YouTube to get my message out," explains Monáe. "There is power in seeing people in action, seeing an artist who does have messaging of empowerment and wants to contribute. If you want to become an activist, being able to see that is being able to be that. It's like the revolution is being televised."
For the visually oriented Monáe, this tried-and-true maxim is no mere catchphrase. While the music and the accompanying videos off her critically acclaimed LPs "The ArchAndroid" and "The Electric Lady" established the singer as a household name, it was the sci-fi-themed, funk-flavored album “Dirty Computer” and its 48-minute "e-motion picture" companion film that put Monáe in a league of her own. The concept album and accompanying film tells the story of an android working to shed the stifling grip of a dystopian regime, exploring themes of creativity, sexual acceptance, and female power in the process.
"It digs deeper into what it means to have your identity erased” explains Monáe. “What it means to have a society try to cleanse you because you are different — because you are queer or black, or because you might be an immigrant.”
"When I was writing this album,” she continues, “I went through a lot of emotions. [I was] angry about feeling like women’s rights are constantly being trampled on by those in a position of power. It can be very challenging to find the love, find the peace, so I had to figure out how to work through being upset about it. How can I be solution oriented?"
For Monáe, the answer to that question is always rooted in themes of positivity, self-empowerment, and creative risk-taking. It is an outlook that continues to connect with fans around with the world — “Dirty Computer” hit No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on the R&B Albums Chart, with Rolling Stone describing it as a "liberated futurist funk masterpiece,” and the singer recently surpassed 500,000 subs on her YouTube channel. Along with her recent acting roles in “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight”—not to mention her inventive YouTube Q&As, live clips, and trailers—the work has secured Monáe's status as one of the most thrilling creative forces in pop culture. And as her Artist Spotlight Story proves, love and community have remained central through it all.
“To me, love is a force that cannot be contained,” the singer explains. “One that people take for granted, but when used it has power to change the world.”