Janelle Monáe and Science Fiction: Metropolis, Freedom, and the Other   4 comments

I like finding science fiction in odd places.   Janelle Monáe is a genius.  Think if the Archies had been a ska band with a funk lead singer.  But she’s more than that.  She’s also a brilliant storyteller.  Her “Many Moons” reimagines the beginnings of science fiction cinema, Metropolis.  She gives the silent film Metropolis the soundtrack it needed.  For Janelle, Metropolis is about many androids now…and there are comments on slave auctions, blaxploitation, and the lack of freedom–for anyone.  For women, for minorities, for humans in a world overcome by technology.  There is no fear of androids in “Many Moons”—but even I would think that at the corners of the movie Monae makes, there is jealousy at the perfection of the androids, and even a bit of jealousy when Cindy Mayweather erupts in a spasm of freedom, or is it a spasm of realization that she is not free…. all I know is that she breaks loose and begins to dance, dance so high, that she short circuits.  But the crowd is in ecstasy with her.

Monae has certainly looked here at humanity as commodity.  She’s done it with brass.  And artistry.  She’s even mixed in a bit of Sesame Street.

I like finding science fiction in odd places.  And this small film is beautiful.    It’s got solid worldbuilding where she’s imagined, in one scene, the state of society.  The characters all have the hint of well-developed backstories; they have desires, weaknesses, past confrontations.  Cindy Mayweather grows as an android/character.  Her growth, perhaps, comes from her realizations–of the names that keep her as Other.  The names are not androidish—they are names leveled at minorities.  Check out the Cybernetic Chantdown after the break.

Before we get into the lyrics too far, the visuals tell their own story of the price of too much freedom, in a place where you aren’t allowed to cut loose.  She has another video, called “Tightrope,” that centers too on images of forbidden dancing….a freedom, a luxury that people have to do in privacy, in back rooms. It talks about trying to find the middle ground—not letting yourself get overwhelmed by the highs and lows of life (this is her explanation).  I think there is much more to both songs, but that’s for us to find.

The gush:  I love the part where the android fix-it team arrives, women in bridal gowns with green glowing eyes, an officer on a white horse.  I love that she’s imagined character names, and has tiny subplots for the humans who are trying to buy their version of the android.  I love how they bicker over what model of the android they want in this fashion show. I love the vampire.

Janelle Monáe refashioned Metropolis and created a concept album, Archandroid.  This from Wikipedia:

However, the series puts Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film Metropolis, which Monáe referred to as “the godfather of science-fiction movies,” in special regard.[12][13] Aside from sharing a name, they also share visual styles (the cover for The ArchAndroid is inspired by the iconic poster for Metropolis), conceptual themes and political goals, using expressionistic future scenarios to examine and explode contemporary ideas of prejudice and class. Both also include a performing female android, though to very different effect. Where Metropolis android Maria is the evil, havoc-sowing double of the messianic figure to the city’s strictly segregated working class, Monáe’s messianic android muse Cindi Mayweather represents an interpretation of androids as that segregated minority, which Monáe describes as “… the Other. And I feel like all of us, whether in the majority or the minority, felt like the Other at some point.”[12][14]

Monáe isn’t afraid either of being bold with her writing–of tackling social issues–some pretty big ones.  I don’t think she’s going to explain them to us.  She is careful about her writing, about how she integrates deep social issues inside of a danceable hit and a great movie.  We need to think about not only creating entertainment, but also something thought provoking too.  She came out with ArchAndroid nearly full formed—a concept, plot, characters.  She hit the scene with a crafted story and image.  Wow!

Below are the lyrics to “Many Moons” taken from Songmeanings, one of the many lyric sites.

Lyrics:

We’re dancing free but we’re stuck here underground
And everybody trying to figure they way out
Hey Hey Hey, all we ever wanted to say
Was chased erased and then thrown away
And day to day we live in a daze

Refrain:
We march all around til’ the sun goes down night children
Broken dreams, no sunshine, endless crimes, we long for freedom (for freedom)
You’re free but in your mind, your freedom’s in a bind

Chorus:
Oh make it rain, ain’t a thang and the sky to fall
(The silver bullet’s in your hand and the war’s heating up)
And when the truth goes BANG the shouts splatter out
(Revolutionize your lives and find a way out)
And when you’re growing down instead of growing up
(You gotta ooo ah ah like a panther)
Tell me are you bold enough to reach for love?
(Na na na…)

2nd Verse:
So strong for so long
All i wanna do is sing my simple song
Square or round, rich or poor
At the end of day and night all we want is more
I keep my feet on solid ground and use my wings when storms come around
I keep my feet on solid ground for freedom
You’re free but in your mind, your freedom’s in a bind

Chorus

Cybernetic Chantdown:
Civil rights, civil war
Hood rat, crack whore
Carefree, nightclub
Closet drunk, bathtub
Outcast, weirdo
Stepchild, freak show
Black girl, bad hair
Broad nose, cold stare
Tap shoes, Broadway
Tuxedo, holiday
Creative black, Love song
Stupid words, erased song
Gun shots, orange house
Dead man walking with a dirty mouth
Spoiled milk, stale bread
Welfare, bubonic plague
Record deal, light bulb
Keep back kid not corporate thug
Breast cancer, common cold
HIV, lost hope
Overweight, self esteem
Misfit, broken dream
Fish tank, small bowl
Closed mind, dark hold
Cybergirl, droid control
Get away now they trying to steal your soul
Microphone, one stage
Tomboy, outrage
Street fight, bloody war
Instigators, third floor
Promiscuous child, broken dream
STD, quarentine
Heroin user, coke head
Final chapter, death bed
Plastic sweat, metal skin
Metallic tears, mannequin
Carefree, night club
Closet drunk, bathtub
White house, Jim Crow
Dirty lies, my regards

Closing Lullaby:
And when the world just treats you wrong
just come with me and I’ll take you home
No need to pack a bag
Who put your life in the danger zone?
You running dropping like a rolling stone
No need to pack a bag
You just can’t stop your hurt from hanging on
The old man dies and then a baby’s born
Chan, chan, chan, change your life
And when the world just treats you wrong
just come with me and i’ll take you home
Shan, shan shan shan-gri la
Na na na na na na na na na na na.

4 responses to “Janelle Monáe and Science Fiction: Metropolis, Freedom, and the Other

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  1. I totally agree with you and love her! These cds are masterpieces and she’s a hot new talent on the scene. One I’m very interested in. I’m so glad you wrote about her. There’s just not enough buzz about this woman.

  2. Janelle is the total package….

  3. Your blog is pretty cool to me and your subject matter is very relevant. I was browsing around and came across something you might find interesting. I was guilty of 3 of them with my sites. “99% of site managers are guilty of these 5 errors”. http://is.gd/tLGOTx You will be suprised how easy they are to fix.

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