Janelle Monae walks a gender tightrope, and dammit, girl, you know she never falls off!
Elise Moore has included Monae in her exploration of women artists as ‘witch’ figures. But I place Monae much more in a ‘masculine’ androgynous tradition, including Little Richard, James Brown,various incarnations of Michael Jackson, and sometimes a spunkier, sharper, less ‘feminine’ version of Prince.
Here’s Moore on Monae and Paglia mash-ups:
‘The cover of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, however, seems to draw specifically on the cover of Sexual Personae, which no doubt Monae has read, since it includes Paglia’s android-Bowie/Nefertiti comparison. For Paglia, the head-heavy Nefertiti represents a new, nature-rejecting image of woman as aspiring, soaring intellect; for Monae, claiming this right for women seems to mean embracing an android persona that (although, ironically, object-like) repels attempts to turn her into a sex object’.
I’d add to this that she could also be reaching towards the way that ‘gender’ and ‘sexual identity’ is going anyway: towards the ‘post-human’ ‘post-sexual’ world, that Gaga already lives in. As Mark Simpson said, in a spirited reposte to Paglia’s dissing of Gaga last year:
‘Gaga, however, is reclining in the shop window of the world. Paglia’s accusation that Gaga is “asexual” spectacularly miss the point that Gaga is postsexual.’
And this photo of Monae, that features on her website, is definitely ‘post’ something. The wide-open staring eyes, the ‘airbrushed’ look of the face and make-up, the ‘hyper-real’ version of herself as lifeless mannequin, compared to her jerky, sprightly, full-of-life self you see in videos (and presumably on stage). Though even those performances could be seen as ‘puppet-like’. I love this artist, but I still feel that chill wind of metrosexual masculinity, or rather the coldest aspects of it, blowing through her imagery.