Janelle Monae is a busy woman. As Pepsi’s Beats Of The Beautiful Game compilation dropped this week, Monae is already hard at work with her Wondaland collective, ready to churn out a new project. Could it be a fourth album, following her colossal The Electric Lady? Or will she be dropping off more of a collaborative album with her team (rumor has it the “mystery school” has a floating bookshelf and grass grown indoors)? Who knows. And that’s the marvelous thing about Janelle Monae. You’re made to pleasantly expect the unexpected — like her re-imagined version of David Bowie’s “Heroes” for Pepsi’s new project.
The song is given some welcomed new life, and comes armed with a poignant video that details the importance of anti-bullying. It’s something that Monae is incredibly passionate about and hopes to continue working on long after this album has run its course.
We checked in with our favorite ArchAndroid as she discusses her role on Beats Of The Beautiful Game, how her childhood and support system helped shape her, and the importance of being fearless…even in moments of fear.
How did you become involved with Pepsi’s Beats Of The Beautiful Game project?
JM: Pepsi reached out to me to participate, and I was really excited. Of course I said yes. They talked to me about just creating an album that visually captures the vibrant sounds and the stories that unite fans with the game of football. I just thought it would be really really cool for me of course to re-record — or re-imagine — one of my favorite David Bowie songs, “Heroes.” I was like, “Of course! I love it!” Someone [like David Bowie] who has been an individual, but at the same time inspirational to just people and young people in general, empowers people to reach beyond our circumstances. It helped promote the campaign because it crosses all geographical boundaries and just showcases really just an eclectic group of artists from around the world. It just appealed to me, and I loved the integrity of the project.
You’re working on other music too, right? A new album perhaps?
JM: Oh I’m always working. I never stop [laughs]. Well, only when I’m time-traveling somewhere…somewhere cool. But while I’m here I’m definitely continuously working, and just inspired and reading and writing and learning and growing. All of those things that make us humans.
Janelle Monae — ”Heroes”
What’s been inspiring you lately?
JM: With this particular “Heroes” campaign, there is a video that speaks to anti-bullying that was done by the Young Astronauts. As I think about the next generation of young people, I think about how important it is that we continue as artists to use our platform to say something and speak out against hate crimes or bullying that starts in our schools at an early age. I really think that’s important for me to keep that perspective and understanding that these kids have to go to school every single day. It just makes me want to go and dig deeper in the community and figure out other ways I can really help. I get a lot of love as an artist, and I want to reciprocate that. I want to give that back and figure out how we can do more for others. That’s the space that I’m in: more community service and more outreach.
A lot of young creatives who are unique are bullied or shamed into a corner for being individuals and sometimes never reach their creative potential. When you were younger, in realizing your creative potential and uniqueness, how were you able to cultivate that into becoming Janelle Monae?
JM: You know, I don’t really know. I think I had a very supportive system with my parents. They never complained about my unique way of dressing or singing or performing. They never discouraged me. I also didn’t take things too seriously. I love laughing, and I’m just able to laugh at myself. I think if you’re able to do that — if you’re able to look past a lot of things and have a different perspective — things kind of roll off your back. I’ve definitely had moments where I’ve felt picked on, I’ve felt discouraged, I’ve second-guessed some of my ideas. It’s not that I don’t experience fear — we talk about it in my artist collective — I just realize that being fearless has to come first.
Do you see yourself in some young creative people?
JM: Oh yeah, absolutely. When you see someone with potential or you see someone coming from a background where they have limited resources or maybe their parents financially are not stable. You know, when things affect or personal lives, it can affect how we create and if we believe in our dreams and aspirations, we still have to make sure we have enough money to live and to eat. When I see certain people coming up in different environments…you know I grew up in one of the poorest counties in Kansas City, Kansas. I don’t think I would be who I am today if I didn’t have teachers writing me recommendations to attend performing arts school in New York or keeping me in Shakespearean classes or helping me write short stories. I don’t think I would be who I am if I didn’t have those mentors.
How’s Wondaland doing?
JM: Everybody is doing fantastic. We’re just working on new music and new ideas. We’ll have a new project coming out fairly soon. I’m really excited about it. I think that it’s gonna be a game changer. We’ll be giving you more information…when the timing is right. Wondaland is a mystery school. Some things are inexplainable [laughs]. You just have to come experience it.
Does that mean I am invited to Wondaland?
JM: Why not? But it’s up to you to figure out how to get to Wondaland.
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