All it takes is listening to a few tracks of Janelle Monáe’s music (or watching her music videos) to grasp hold of the multifaceted, Afrofuturistic energy coursing through nearly every aspect of the artist’s work. For her set at this year’s Coachella, though, Monáe made a point of making sure that her numerous costume changes were also infused with layers of deeper meaning.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Monáe’s stylist Alexandra Mandelkorn explained how the varied-ness of the performer’s ensembles was meant to be reflective of her alter egos’ adventures that stretch across time and space. Monáe’s militant looks, Mandelkorn elaborated were all crafted to feed back into the idea of leading a revolution:
“She’s like some starship commander from an amazing Afrofuture planet. There’s a through line of militaristic elements throughout the show. It gives a commanding presence and evokes the sense of leadership and leading a revolution, leading a charge. And Janelle’s message is one very much rooted in love and spreading that sort of mentality. Having the militaristic elements but someone who is preaching love is a dynamic we don’t often see.
But then we’re also trying to create a feel that feels futuristic and something that would be from [the year] 2194. Something that feels a little other-worldly but also things that feel current to now. So we try to take little bits and pieces of all these different time frames and incorporate them together into one experience.”
Monáe performed a number of songs from her most recent album Dirty Computer for her Coachella set, and in a recent conversation with Lizzo (who also came up on stage to perform with her the music festival), she emphasised how much she appreciates the deeper, personal meanings people pull out of her art that she herself never considered:
“I like to think that I know everything that a project is gonna do and be when I go into it — ‘I’m gonna go in and write this song, and it’s gonna mean this.’ But you know like I know, once you put something out and you sit with it, you find out new things that you weren’t even paying attention to. People will come up to you and say, ‘This is what this means to me.’ And you’re like, ‘Wow, I had no clue that that’s what I was saying, and that you would feel that way after you heard it’” The beauty of art is that it reveals itself over time, even to the artists who create it.
With Dirty Computer, I made a bigger declaration to myself — that I’m not putting out an album if I can’t be all of me. You’re gonna take the blackness, you’re gonna take the fact that I love science fiction. You’re gonna take the fact that I am a free arse motherfucker. You’re gonna take that all in and because that is what you’re gonna get.”
Janelle Monáe is currently touring.