Janelle Monae: Let It Hang, Let It Bounce, Take a Risk

So, Janelle Monae knocked everyone’s eyes and ears out this week releasing two songs from her upcoming 3rd album “Dirty Computer.”

“Django Jane” is an unapologetic female empowerment jam where she knocks mansplaining and tells the world, there’s no point in denying the power of melanin or femininity considering how well both have been performing at the box office – and everywhere else.

“Make Me Feel” is an open ode to lesbian relationships, or maybe a celebration of loving who you like? I’m not quite sure, but the video is definitely female positive. What struck me about it was – well – the boobs. Janelle lets hers hang braless and bounce when she’s dancing, and that’s not something you see very often without a free the nipple campaign following close after to quell the troll parade.

I was talking about the videos in company, and an eavesdropper chimed in that Monae is trying too hard, that she’s capitalizing on the current sentiment to get her music out. I was like, and? What’s wrong with that? It’s not like Monae hasn’t always been a bit controversial, a performer unafraid to be different or speak truths that have not been homogenized and sanitized for public consumption.

To me both songs are quintessentially her. I see nothing manufactured or disingenuous. But then again, I also believe it’s an artist’s job to comment on the issues of the day. To offer an audience their perspective on the state of the world as they live in it.

I think it’s also the artist’s job to be seen, to be heard. Clever ones market appropriately. Like, let me drop these hits a week after Black Panther utterly smashes the box office. What better time to take advantage of warm public sentiment toward black folk in all their colorful glory?

But about the titties. Her breasts struck me as notable because we currently exist in a time when women are claiming a considerable amount of public power. It’s the time of #TimesUp, #MeToo, high profile firings and roastings and career endings for those who have preyed on women. I won’t name them; at this point we all know who they are – whether they’ve been publicly outed – yet – or not.

When I saw the video for “Make Me Feel” I just thought, wow. For Monae to let her breasts do what they want without encumbrance means something. It probably means a lot of somethings, but it certainly means she’s conquered her fear of public opinion and is comfortable enough or insistent enough to do just as she likes with her art and with her body. It can be life changing when a woman – when anyone actually – embraces fear and then chooses to push on anyway.

Monae confirmed that in a recent interview with Apple Music’s Zane Low. She talked about her habit of self-editing and deliberating making a choice to be honest vs. mysterious with this new music. She said she hoped this song in particular would capture the spirit of fun and freedom that comes along with embracing who you are. That her excitement about life, what it means to be living right now and approaching how you live and approach art fearlessly, would shine through.

She said she also hopes the music makes connections for people, that it sparks more discussions and celebrates those who are often uncelebrated. She also admitted that she is scared about the public’s reaction.

“I’m going to be 100 percent honest…I’m actually terrified,” she told Lowe. “It’s such an honest body of work and I don’t know how people are going to react to it, Zane. I really, I don’t know. Just the thought of it is kind of freaking me out a little bit, but I feel like it’s something that I need to do. It’s something that I always knew I needed to do and it’s going to happen.”

I get it. Whether you’re an artist or a man or woman working a regular job, at some point you’ll have to make a choice about whether or not to put yourself forward. You’ll have to decide whether or not to take a risk or to play it safe.

I advocate educated risk taking, but it’s still a risk, and while you hope ardently for the rewards, there are very real downsides that you may have to deal with as well. But I think sometimes we can play it too safe. Playing it safe can become a habit, and that may hide other types of fear: fear of change, fear of what people will think, fear of failing, being criticized, of endangering your comfortable job or life.

There are three things I consistently battle that stand in the way of me taking calculated risks, and I’m going to share them because I know I’m not the only one who suffers from these. Hopefully, by calling them out we can all take much needed steps forward to overcome them.

Perfectionism: This one is getting easier for me to get over. I think aging and maturity help. See, by now I truly know that perfection does not exist, and that constantly seeking it out can stop you from actually living, from doing, and certainly from accomplishing. Sometimes it’s not about making sure every little detail is just right. It’s about getting it – whatever it is – out there. Just do it. Then let the chips fall where they may. Something may go wrong, but these days I figure it’s better for that to happen than for nothing to happen.

Being lazy: I don’t actually think I’m lazy. I think this is a form of procrastination. Like, I’m psyching myself out, finding every little thing to do instead of what I need to because I fear putting myself out there. Again, there’s no magic formula to cure this kind of malaise. You just have to do whatever it is to the best of your ability, and then keep doing it consistently. One of two things will happen. You’ll either get better and start to enjoy yourself, or you’ll discover you want to do something else instead. Either way, you’re moving forward, and forward is the best direction to go.

Waiting: “Oh, well, this person said they’re going to help me.” But they didn’t. They got caught up in their own stuff, and they keep pushing you off. But instead of finding another way, you keep waiting, and nothing gets done.

You can’t always rely on others to help you do what you need to do. You have to keep things moving. Whether that means finding someone else or learning how to do whatever it is yourself. Make a plan. Take baby steps if you have to but step.

Time waits for no man, and it’s a valuable commodity. Once spent you can never get it back. Make sure you’re not wasting yours waiting for someone because you’re too scared to make alternate plans, and you want to hide your fear behind another person.

Taking a risk can be extremely scary. But sometimes when you do great things happen. As I wrote this Monae was trending #1 on YouTube. That’s not a bad outcome for someone who was scared shitless over the public’s possible reaction to her music.

“Dirty Computer” will be out April 27th.

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