Like other feminists, songs like these by Black women stop me in my tracks and make me take notice (maybe you could tell that already). See, right now I'm standing in the BART station twerking as I type and wait for the train. Can't help it. Serious. Believe, I'm twerking because the drums so tight but, more so because almost every single lyric makes my bones shake.
Even if it makes others uncomfortable.
(I will love who I am)
What I like most about the song are the questions that Monáe, who says she knows what it's like to feel like the other, asks throughout the song; often starting with "Am I a freak?" As in,
Am I a freak for dancing round?
Am I a freak for getting down?
Am I a freak cause I love watching Mary?
I'm cutting up
So don't cut me down
Every once in a while she'll give answers to her questions: like the title question, is it true that we're all insane? (I just tell them no we ain't and get down). But mostly, she leaves it for us to decide. No matter the answer, I will always love freaks--like a real deep love--so just the question pulls me into the song. And not a freak as in, "Let your freak flag fly because nobody understands me," Gaga-style; but more a freak in the sense of blending past and present, funk and protest, which many of us have long embodied.
Some have begun to speculate that this song may be about her (queer) sexuality, which may be true, and that's ok. But, I'm more interested in the ways her freak status is about weaving in a politic that is specific to this generation, her generation, our (hip-hop) generation(s). This is most exemplified in the rap lyrics at the end of the song. Some surprise as in, "I'm tired of Marvin asking me 'What's Going On;" while others challenge "Categorize me, I defy every label;" and my favorite --as a Missouri girl with roots deep--stays grounded, "Gimme me back my pyramid, I'm tryna free Kansas City." Those lyrics, that (brown girl) insurgency explored through a simultaneous connection and refusal to be pinned down are indicative of the margins many of us have have been relegated to. Have celebrated in. Created alliances through. Where we've landed and where our true possibilities lie. As Lorde states, Monáe gives a nod to "those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference." Whether it's because of our sexuality, our political stances, our backgrounds, or our hairstyle, what we have forged on our bodies and in our collaborations are the tools, the communities we depend on. Not throwing out one piece in favor of or deference to another.
And this is also evident in the sonic flow from Monáe to Badu, without missing a beat. The change in pace and music refer back to Baduizm with lyrics that build on the themes of qwerk, solidarity, and what Shana Redmond refers to as "a sound/sight corpus of black feminist knowledges that take advantage of social movement methods" (Redmond 2011: 406) As Badu sings,
Shake til the break of dawn
Don't mean a thing, so duh
I can't take it no more
Baby, me and tuxedo crew
Monáe and E. Badu
Crazy in the black and white
We got the drums so tight
Baby, here comes the freedom song
Too strong we moving on
Love. In particular, I love the displays of solidarity: the love of music, the tight drums. As much as I also love the difference in style, presentation, age, and cadence. And I especially love love love how it's all brought back together by the unifying "the booty don't lie." Reminding us that this blend is the (Afro)future for Black girls in the margins.
So I ask and end with another Monáe question:
"Electric Ladies, will you sleep? Or will you preach?"
In the meantime, for your pleasure: