It’s probably safe to assume that most people are not intimately familiar with German expressionist films from the 1920s, much less a particular sci-fi film by Fritz Lang called “Metropolis.” But that obscure roll of celluloid, which depicts a futuristic world divided between the elite and the working class, has famously inspired artists like Madonna and Lady Gaga, and none more so than Janelle Monáe.
Lang’s film spoke so deeply to Monáe that the songstress split herself in two: There’s the beautiful, petite (5 feet tall, if you include her signature hairdo), Kansas-born Janelle, and then there’s Cindi Mayweather, her android alter-ego from the distant future. “The android is symbolic of ‘The Other,’ the majority and the minority, the have and the have-nots,” explains Monáe. “It’s parallel to the way we live, from the immigrants to the gay community, even women and the black community — those that are often marginalized.”
Monáe addresses this issue directly on her appropriately titled sophomore album, “The Electric Lady.” Out Sept. 10, the record is a collection of upbeat songs written by Monáe and features her friends Solange Knowles, Erykah Badu and Prince. “My job as an artist is to continue to uplift and empower the community,” she says. With inspirational lyrics such as, “Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am,” (from her single “Q.U.E.E.N.,” which recently won an MTV Video Music Award), Monáe is out to make music that leaves listeners — and herself — feeling better. “What encourages me is writing songs that inspire me when I’m having a down low moment,” she explains.
A big part of Monáe’s appeal is her androgynous, meticulously cultivated sense of style. “I look at it as walking art with a message, from how I wear these gloves to this Tiffany bracelet,” she says, pointing to her space-age silver cuff. “Everything is minimalism. It’s a uniform and it pays homage to the working class.” She’s recently been added to the exclusive roster of CoverGirl campaign faces, alongside beauties like Sofia Vergara, Ellen DeGeneres and Pink. “I feel so honored to have a big platform to inspire young girls — and [adults] — to love themselves for who they are and embrace their uniqueness,” she says.
Though Monáe embodies the self-confidence she wants to inspire in others, the singer admits to having doubts of her own. “I’m part human,” she says. “And the human side of me definitely comes out. But [then I realize] that the people who love me love me for who I am, and not what I look like. They see my spirit — and I see their spirit.”
While in town recently for an exclusive listening party for “The Electric Lady,” Monáe took a minute to chat about her ideal day in Chicago.
Catch Monáe when she’s back in town Oct. 21 at The Vic (3145 N. Sheffield). Tickets available at Jamusa.com.
9 a.m. Monáe wakes up at Hotel Sax (333 N. Dearborn) and starts her day with peaceful meditation.
11 a.m. Monáe, a painter, heads to the Art Institute (111 S. Michigan). Her favorites? The pointillism paintings and, of course, Monet.
1 p.m. The songbird takes a trip to the South Side to visit relatives. “One of the biggest sacrifices I’ve made so far is leaving my family and having to go on tour. So I love to spend time with them,” she says.
6 p.m. The sci-fi aficionado takes in the latest futuristic flick at AMC River East (322 E. Illinois).
9 p.m. The night ends with Monáe’s favorite sweet treat: an Oreo milkshake from Hotel Sax room service. “I stay at the hotel just to get that milkshake,” she laughs.
Janelle’s Daily Beauty regimen
Monáe is constantly on the go, juggling photo shoots, concerts and recording sessions. Here, she shares the everyday items that keep her glam. All available at Walgreens locations citywide; Walgreens.com.