Friday, May 3, 2013

Is it true we're all insane? Monáe and Badu, Legendary Rebels

I've watched the video for Janelle Monáe's new song, Q.U.E.E.N (featuring Erykah Badu) just under a  hundred times in the last 24 hours. Um, really. It's on a loop. When I'm not watching it, I've been streaming it online, posting it online, and downloading the single. Then I spent a good 10 minutes telling my musical soulmate friend Holly about it this afternoon on the phone. This is all par for the course when I like a song and here's why:

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
Dance 'til the break of dawn
Don't mean a thing, so duh
I can't take it no more
Baby, we in tuxedo groove
Monae 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

Complete lyrics: http://www.directlyrics.com/janelle-monae-queen-lyrics.html

Um. Love. 

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: 

6 comments:

Frugal_Femme said...

Nice breakdown! The Crunk Feminist Collective also offers this vid as yet more proof that #blackgirlsarefromthefuture ... seems legit ;)

I just turned this on once again and bopped off the bus and down the street on my way to work.

Demetria said...

This song is EVERYTHING!! Brilliant commentary/analysis. :)

TSR said...

love this.

TSR said...

love this!

Here is the link to the blog I am keeping while I am in Grad School. This is also where I will eventually be
writing about my trip to South Africa -- (and posting pictures:)



http://femininepronoun.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/the-reason-im-here/

Valarie said...

This is cool!

Anonymous said...

SAD!