Winning song of the year. Earning a Video Music Award for best art direction. Collaborating with Prince. It has been quite a year for Janelle Monáe, the twenty-seven-year-old who got her musical start at the Atlanta University Center, where she met Nate Wonder and Chuck Lightning, her partners in Wondaland Arts Society. She has redefined what it means to be a female R&B artist ever since.
Monáe’s unique and unapologetic style earned her fans like indie pop group Fun. and local legend Big Boi. P. Diddy’s Bad Boy Records, in partnership with Wondaland, produced her latest album, The Electric Lady, which debuted at number five on the Billboard 200 list. Lady represents the fourth and fifth installments of her seven-part Metropolis concert series featuring protagonist Cindi Mayweather, Monáe’s android alter ego. The album showcases Monáe’s signature funk and powerful lyrics. In addition to Prince, it features crooner Miguel and sister-of-Beyoncé Solange Knowles.
Q.U.E.E.N., the album’s first single, is a duet with former Atlantan Erykah Badu. The title is an acronym for “queer, untouchables, emigrants, excommunicated, and Negroids.” Monáe describes the song as a tribute to the marginalized, but she herself is far from the music industry’s margins now.
This article originally appeared in our December 2013 issue under the title “Space-Age Spitfire”