We’re going to be doing something a little different here at ScienceFiction.com, and that’s exploring the science fiction in music. We have done it in the past with David Bowie, but with Janelle Monae’s ‘The Electric Lady’ new album hitting in the stores now, we thought we’d take a closer look.
For those of you who know Janelle Monae, you are aware that her last critically acclaimed album, ‘The ArchAndroid’, served as the second installment of her seven-part concept series, ‘Metropolis’ (yes, the name is derived from the famous piece of German cinema).
The premise? Just you’re typically good science fiction, by which I mean the kind that engages in “othering” (where we percieve others that are not in our groups) and what exclusion and perceptions really mean by using the lens of the future. Oh, and time traveling to save the world with dance music. Can’t forget that!
Really, though, it’s not hard to draw simple allusions to current cultural trends and the civil rights movement in her music and concepts.
Now don’t get confused and think that this is a musical. This is a concept album, so each song engages in a concept that is part of the plot, but the songs don’t necessarily drive it. They merely represent one aspect of it, from the love song between the android, Cindy Mayweather, and the human, Jay Vice, to Janelle’s escape from a time-locked prison. You then have to piece together the plot yourself in the form of radio show snippets in between the songs (most of which are not-so-veiled comments on segregation, and racial slurs), and place the songs in context of what you know about the plot.
It may sound confusing, but the music videos also help… a lot.
So, let me break this down for you to the bare bones.
Android Cindy Mayweather, who we will later know as Janelle Monae, falls in love with a human, which is forbidden in Metropolis. She escapes dissembly in the first album (‘Metropolis, The Chase Suite’), and goes back in time to fight against a time-traveling evil, called the Great Divide, which is trying to suppress love and freedom. Her weapon? Music and dancing.
Using music as a weapon for social change is not a new concept, but it’s an important one and historically significant, which places ‘The Electric Lady’ in very prestigious company. Sadly, we also know that that this music can be repackaged for a “mainstream” audience which subsequently marginalizes its power and message, but Monae’s talent of turning that repackaged music back into something new and divisive despite being derivative of it, like the song “Dance Apocalyptica“, is truly quite refreshing. It may be a high-minded reason to love the album, but it’s really one of the driving factors of my rapture. You know, aside from how gorgeous the aesthetic of it is, or how much the music makes me want to dance.
But since this is a music review, even if it’s ScienceFiction.com, I probably ought to go into that.
I won’t just simply say the songs were fantastic and leave it at that, though I’d sorely like to. If you like R&B, Funk, or just good dance music, this album can’t and won’t disappoint. It’s catchy, tells a great story, and is accompanied all sorts of great visuals that you can easily find on Monae’s channel on YouTube.
Not only that, it has some of America’s greatest talents involved. Her last album featured Big Boi from Outkast, and this one has famous artists like the reclusive and notoriously non-collaborative Prince, and the immensely talented Erykah Badu.
In short, it may be typical sci-fi using metaphors to address disparities between cultural entities, but this method is new and refreshing through its use of imagery and its vehicle, music.
I highly encourage you pick it up today (it’s even available at Starbucks…). It is also downloadable off of iTunes.