It’s a rare thing when an artist like Janelle Monae appears. I’ll eat my blog hat if the 24 year old Kansas musician isn’t a superstar by this time next year. The proof came last Thursday night when I was lucky enough to be in attendance at Monae’s small London club gig in Hoxton Bar in Shoreditch last week: capacity – 240, price – just £10 and status – an absolute sweatbox.
Dressed in spats, a tuxedo with a cool quiff and knocking out future/retro R&B, pop, soul and funk in front of my eyes, it was pretty obvious that we were witnessing something special from the off. The performance was fueled by concept behind her debut full length The Archandroid – one of the albums of the year, that is an “interactive emotion picture” concerning itself with themes of female androids and outcasts, inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 groundbreaking sci-fi film Metropolis.
As it turns out Outkast is a good reference point. Monae owe’s her early discovery to Big Boi of the group, who helped release her first EP and set up Monae signing to P Diddy’s label. Monae shakes it like a polaroid picture for the entirety of the gig; dancing on an elevated platform, exuberantly throwing her limbs to the music. She is magnetising. Your eyes are drawn to her. She is backed by a great band but she draws you in. She rips up the rulebook for female pop stars which says you have to show skin and be sexualised. She makes Beyonce look quite boring really.
Her voice is absolutely faultless. Clearly, her time in musical theatre stands to her. And the songs? Oh, the songs. If you were a fan of the futuristic funk of Andre 3000’s The Love Below then you’ll love The Archandroid. It draws influence from Prince, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, orchestral overtures, the Atlanta arts and music scene (including the collective Monae actively promotes Wondaland). She even does ‘Smile’, the Charlie Chaplin with a voice that not many can match.
It’s easy to imagine Monae filling out stadiums, arenas, festivals, clubs, art spaces and sweatboxes like this one to great effect. If she added backing singers, brass and dancers, well then, the live show would be incendiary. The Hoxton Bar gig just confirms the inevitable: Janelle Monae is already unstoppable.
Janelle Monae – Cold War