We chat with the singer, in town for the Toronto Jazz Festival.
Janelle Monáe doesn’t have time for your bullshit. She’s not going to hold your hand. You either find something you like at her live show, or you don’t.
When I sat down to talk with her about her upcoming Toronto Jazz Festival show and asked her if she had any jazz influences, she asked me if I listened to her record. Come on, Janelle, I just wanted to know if you had A Love Supreme on repeat in college like everybody else. At first I found her behaviour abrasive. But ultimately, her message is inclusive. “Music is the universal language” she said, “music doesn’t discriminate. I just believe in great music.”
Now that we know Janelle won’t be telling us her favourite places to eat in Toronto, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
Torontoist: A lot of people are familiar with your song “Tightrope” because you licensed it to Chevy for commercial use. Was that a difficult decision?
Monáe: Licensing “Tightrope” to Chevy wasn’t a hard decision at all, no. I love to think of people blasting “Tightrope” in their Chevys.
Social media was helpful in getting you noticed at the beginning of your career by people like Big Boi and Sean Combs. Do you think it’s important for artists to be involved in the social media landscape?
Absolutely. It’s extremely helpful. You’re getting your music out there, unfiltered. Straight from the mouth of the artist. That’s very empowering for an artist.
You present a very classy image, with the tuxedo uniform, one that’s very different from most of what we’re seeing in mainstream pop music today.
Yes, and that’s done purposefully. I feel like I have a responsibility to my community and other young girls to help redefine what it looks like to be a woman. It’s all about positivity. Stevie Wonder has done that with his career—acted with purpose—[and] that’s part of what makes him so unique as a person and an artist.
So you see yourself as a role model?
What’s next for you?
I’m working on developing a label. All artists are business people as well, but you have to make sure to surround yourself with the best people and listen to them.
You mentioned Stevie Wonder. I know you’ve performed with him in the past, is there a recording in your collective future?
Absolutely. We speak often. Everything is timing, but when it happens, something magical will happen.