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Janelle Monáe says she felt “othered” early on in her career

Janelle Monáe has revealed that she felt “othered” early on in her career because she didn’t know how to make her music “translate”.

The Kansas singer, actor and rapper is set to headline the first-ever I Made Rock ‘N’ Roll Festival, which will take place this Saturday (May 18) at the American Legion Mall in Indianapolis, Indiana. To promote the event, Monáe spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about her career and her musical fluidity.

She said when she released the 2007 ‘Metropolis: The Chase Suite’ EP – the first instalment in her “science fiction odyssey” – she had a “smaller” audience that “got her,” but kept wondering how her music would “translate to everybody”.

“I did go through a moment during that time where I felt super othered and like I had to cut off certain parts of me because people won’t understand it,” she said. “I think that that’s been proven wrong. I think that there [are] a lot of people that get the frequency.”

Janelle Monáe at The 2024 Met Gala, where the theme was “Sleeping Beauties”. Photo credit: Marleen Moise/Getty Images

Monáe continued: “Music is just about a feeling and people gravitate towards the feeling. You can say, ‘I’m going to do a jazz album’ or ‘I’m going to do this or that,’ but if the feeling’s not there, I don’t think people will talk about it. If you can capture a feeling and an honesty and a frequency that people want to make their soundtrack, then you’ve got a hit, you’ve got something special.”

She added: “Once I knew that people understood the feeling that I was trying to get across, the breaking away from expectations, creatively and musically, and the community that I was trying to make and the journey that I was on, that gave me the confidence that I needed. And it wasn’t about everybody. It was about the right people.”

Alan Bacon co-founded GANGGANG – the Indianapolis-based creative advocacy firm behind I Made Rock ‘N’ Roll Festival – with his wife Malina Simone Bacon in 2020. In a statement obtained by THR, he said: “We’re really on a mission to showcase the authorship of the creatives that helped to build American culture. Rock ‘n’ roll is a big piece of that as one of America’s genres and Black creatives and artists have such a strong history in the creating of that genre.”

Monáe said she had an affinity for the festival’s mission. “They reminded me a lot of Wondaland, my arts collective,” she said. The singer further explained that, with the help of HBCUs in Atlanta, she created an art society of actors, artists, musicians and storytellers that “respect the past, but [also] look to the future and shaping it and making it inclusive for the folks that have been pushed to the margins of society artistically.”

Monáe’s acting career includes star turns in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Human Rescources, Antebellum and much more.

Meet Me @ The Altar, Gary Clark Jr., Robert Randolph Band, Joy Oladokun and Inner Peace are also on the bill for the inaugural “Black rock festival”. Tickets for the one-day event can be found here.

This summer, Monáe will do a brief run of UK shows in London and Manchester this summer. She will first perform at O2 Brixton Academy on June 29, before heading to Aviva Studios for a three-night residency on July 2, 3 and 4. Fans can find tickets for the London show here, and you can buy ones for Manchester here. She’ll also be playing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, as well as appearing at Mad Cool among other summer festivals.

She recently dropped the uplifting remix of her song ‘Champagne Shit’ featuring Latto and Quavo taken off her recent album ‘The Age Of Pleasure’.

In a four-star review, NME described the album as “an Afrobeats and disco-laced 14-track joy ride” that ” positions the pursuit of unabashed delight at its centre.”

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