Cue all the friends screaming: I interviewed Janelle Monae. And, somewhat predictably, it was a total fucking disaster. Okay, I'm exaggerating but the stakes were high since this wound up being my first solo feature for SPIN and I wanted it to be nothing short of stunning.
Janelle was entirely cordial but totally contained during our 25-minute, poorly connected phone interview. It was difficult to break her out of "Janelle Monae the Artist," to connect with "Janelle Monae the real human being." You get a similar sense of this closed-offed-ness in other interviews (read Julianne's excellent piece for Billboard), so there's my tiny solace.
What's interesting though is that Monae isn't sticking to a PR script, but her own dreambuilt narrative. There's something interesting about a pop star who makes beautiful, wholly original music, toeing transgression without overtly allying herself with any side (no doubt, out of respect for her corporate sponsorships). It is playing the game in order to live as a creative, to the fullest.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about success, particularly as it relates to women and, even more specifically, women of colour. I'm constantly questioning myself, constantly trying to live up to expectations that I know I'll never meet -- because my whole M.O. is about upping my game. While I've been told it's an asset - "neurotic energy," was how it was presented to me - I'm also realizing that you don't get ahead by questioning yourself, your authority, your opinions. I mean, isn't that how privilege functions: it's abject faith in your inbuilt advantages. It's manifesting arrogance to your advantage.
It'd be ridiculous to describe Monae as arrogant - she was very polite on the phone - but I'm sure that temperament informs how she interacts with herself. As a result, she is never anything less than a fully-formed artist. She is aesthetically Prince and politically Lorna Simpson, and it might not make for the best interview - but it's something to feed off of. And, lest you think the girl can't cut lose, this is how she wiles out: