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Janelle Monae | Biography, Music, Movies, TV Shows, The ArchAndroid, & Facts (2024)

American singer and actor

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Also known as: Janelle Monáe Robinson

Written by

Will McDonald Will McDonald is a New York City-based writer and performer.

Will McDonald

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Janelle Monáe

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In full:
Janelle Monáe Robinson
Born:
December 1, 1985, Kansas City, Kansas, U.S. (age 38)
Notable Works:
“he Memory Librarian and Other Stories of Dirty Computer”

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Janelle Monáe (born December 1, 1985, Kansas City, Kansas, U.S.) is an American singer and actor best known for the albums The ArchAndroid (2010), The Electric Lady (2013), and Dirty Computer (2018) as well as for roles in the 2016 films Moonlight and Hidden Figures.

Early life and career

Monáe was born Janelle Monáe Robinson to a large extended family of devout Baptists. She was raised in a working-class neighborhood in Kansas City surrounded by some 50 first cousins. Her mother, Janet Robinson, worked as a caterer and a custodian, and her father, Michael Robinson Summers, was a sanitation worker. Throughout Monáe’s childhood, Summers struggled with an addiction to cocaine and was in and out of prison. They had a difficult relationship until he became sober in the mid-2000s. Her mother, meanwhile, separated from Summers before Monáe’s first birthday, and she later remarried and had a daughter, Kimmy.

Monáe’s family has said the musician was born to be a star. She won talent shows by covering Lauryn Hill’s 1998 song “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and participated in high-school theater productions. After graduating, Monáe moved to New York City to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. After a year, however, she dropped out and moved to Atlanta to live with cousins. There Monáe sold homemade CDs of her music on college campuses while working at Office Depot to support herself.

Metropolis

While performing at an open-mic night, Monáe caught the attention of rapper and producer Big Boi of the Atlanta-based hip-hop group Outkast. He arranged for her to appear on the Big Boi-produced compilation album Got Purp? Vol. II (2005) and on Outkast’s 2006 album Idlewild. Big Boi also introduced Monáe to Sean Combs. Monáe released the EP Metropolis: The Chase Suite in 2007 under her own label Wondaland and the following year signed to Combs’s Bad Boy Records, which then rereleased the EP. Metropolis introduced Monáe’s alter ego, Cindi Mayweather, whom she described as an android transported from the 28th century.

The ArchAndroid

In 2010 Monáe released her debut album, The ArchAndroid, which continued the story of Cindi Mayweather in two suites. Reviewers praised the album for its genre-bending music that blended classical orchestrations with a funk and foundation. It was included on multiple lists of the best albums of 2010 and received a Grammy nomination for best contemporary R&B album.

The Electric Lady

The Electric Lady, the follow-up album to The ArchAndroid, was released in 2013. The album provided the fourth and fifth installments in the Cindi Mayweather story. The album featured appearances by Prince, Erykah Badu, and Solange. Reviewers singled out the tracks “Q.U.E.E.N.,” “Givin’ ’Em What They Love,” and the Bo Diddley-inspired piece “Dance Apocalyptic” as testaments to Monáe’s ambitious approach to recording. In a review for The Guardian, music critic Alexis Petridis highlighted the “distinct gay subtext to [the album’s] proceedings.” Petridis continued, “It seems faintly ridiculous typing this, given that it’s 2013 and not 1952, but the very fact that a mainstream R&B artist has released an album open to that interpretation feels an impressively bold move.”

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Dirty Computer

In 2018 Monáe abandoned her Cindi Mayweather alter ego for the album Dirty Computer. She admitted to Rolling Stone that year that early in her career she had been insecure about meeting the ideals of show business and that the persona was a means of protecting herself. She said, “It had to do with the fear of being judged….All I saw was that I was supposed to look a certain way coming into this industry, and I felt like I [didn’t] look like a stereotypical black female artist.” Writing for Vox, Aja Romano wrote that Dirty Computer provided Monáe the opportunity to “fully express her identity as a pansexual black woman within her art.” Romano further praised the album and accompanying film as “one of the more gripping moments in modern science fiction” and called it “jubilant,” “queer,” and “Afrofuturist.” Billboard’s Gab Ginsberg called the album “pure magic” and “one of the most important bodies of work you’ll hear this year.” The album was nominated for the Grammy for album of the year.

The Age of Pleasure

Monáe’s next album The Age of Pleasure (2023) was a further departure from the Cindi Mayweather storyline while still continuing themes of Afrofuturism. Harper’s Bazaar noted that Monáe wrote many of the songs during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when all she wanted to do was “party and dance in the sun with loved ones.” Reviewers noticed a more optimistic tone to the album compared with the dystopian elements of Monáe’s previous albums, The Washington Post describing it as “pool-party music” and Pitchfork writing that “The Age of Pleasure revels in an ecclesiastic enjoyment of indulgence.”

Acting career

In between recording albums, Monáe built an acting career. Her first on-screen film role was in Moonlight (2016), which won best picture at the 2017 Academy Awards. She also appeared in the film Hidden Figures (2016), playing Mary Jackson, who in 1958 became the first African American female engineer to work at NASA. Other film credits include Harriet (2019), a biopic about Harriet Tubman, a leading abolitionist who helped dozens of enslaved people escape to freedom in the North along the route of the Underground Railroad; the horror film Antebellum (2020); and Glass Onion (2022), the sequel to the Daniel Craig-led murder mystery Knives Out (2019). She also starred in the second season (2020) of the Amazon anthology series Homecoming.

Wondaland

In addition to creating music and acting, Monáe founded the Atlanta-based record imprint Wondaland, which she announced in 2015 had entered a joint venture with Epic Records. Artists signed to the imprint include Jidenna, Roman GianArthur, St. Beauty, and Deep Cotton—the last being a group formed by longtime Monáe collaborators Nate Wonder and Chuck Lightning. The label expanded to include a film division in 2018, announcing a deal with Universal Pictures to develop content championing underrepresented voices.

Identity and The Memory Librarian and Other Stories of Dirty Computer

Monáe confirmed rumors in 2018 that she is queer and stated that she identifies as pansexual. She further elaborated on her identity in a 2022 episode of Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk, saying that she is nonbinary and uses “she/they” pronouns. She channeled her experiences as a queer Black woman into not only her music but also her literary debut, the short-story collection The Memory Librarian and Other Stories of Dirty Computer (2022).

Will McDonald The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Janelle Monae | Biography, Music, Movies, TV Shows, The ArchAndroid, & Facts (2024)

FAQs

What is the story of the Archandroid Janelle Monáe? ›

In this album, Monáe introduces her alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather, an android who falls in love with human Anthony Greendown. Mayweather's act of love subjects her to “immediate disassembly” and forces her to run from the droid control marshals hunting her down.

What are some fun facts about Janelle Monáe? ›

Fast Facts
  • Performed in musicals growing-up and was a singer at her Baptist church.
  • Joined Kansas City's Coterie Theater Young Playwrights' Round Table at age 12.
  • Left college after one year and moved to Atlanta; released her self-produced demo, The Audition, in 2003.
  • Discovered by Outkast's Big Boi at an open mic night.

Is Janelle Monáe a singer or actress? ›

Janelle Monáe Robinson (/dʒəˈnɛl moʊˈneɪ/ jə-NEL moh-NAY; born December 1, 1985) is an American singer, songwriter, rapper and actress. She has received ten Grammy Award nominations, and is the recipient of a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Children's and Family Emmy Award.

When did Janelle Monáe release her first song? ›

Janelle Monáe's first song “I Won't Let Go (Vocal Version)” released on January 1, 2003.

Why is Janelle Monae important? ›

Not only is Monáe acclaimed for her music and acting roles, she is also recognized for her unwavering activism for social justice and the LGBTQIA+ community.

What is the story of Cindi Mayweather? ›

It follows a fictional tale of android Cindi Mayweather who is mass-produced in the year 2719 for a market filled with severe social stratification. Mayweather falls in love with a human, and is sentenced to disassembly.

Why did Janelle Monáe only wear black and white? ›

She describes her black and white looks as her "uniform", harking back to the beginning of her career when she could not afford new outfits for every show. Speaking of her sartorial journey, she told Variety in 2020: "Once I got to high school, that's when I started to have my own money, because I started working ...

What race is Janelle Monáe? ›

After graduating from high school, she received a scholarship to study musical theater at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City where she was the only black woman in her class. After leaving the academy, Monae moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she worked at Office Depot.

Is Janelle Monáe related to? ›

Marsai Martin and Janelle Monáe! Turns out actress/producer Martin and actress and singer Monae are cousins.

Who inspired Janelle Monáe? ›

Monae dreamed of becoming a singer and actor since her childhood, citing Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz as one of her earliest influences. From a very young age, Monáe distinguished herself as a highly artistic and intelligent child.

Was Janelle Monáe on The Voice? ›

Janelle Monae is facing major backlash from middle America after she performed her new single “Make Me Feel” on NBC's The Voice Tuesday night (May 1).

Who represents Janelle Monáe? ›

Exclusive Booking Agency for Janelle Monáe - Wasserman Music.

Has Janelle Monáe been nominated for an Oscar? ›

How many siblings does Janelle Monáe have? ›

Janelle Monáe Robinson was born here on December 1st, 1985, to a mom who worked as a janitor and a dad who was in the middle of a 21-year battle with crack addiction. Her parents separated when Monáe was less than a year old, and her mother later married the father of Janelle's younger sister, Kimmy.

Is Janelle Monáe an activist? ›

By Christophe Conte.

Who is Janelle Monáe cousin? ›

Here black celebs you probably didn't know were related, many of whom I didn't even know were related. Marseille Martin and Janelle Monet are actually cousins. Gabrielle Union and Saweetie are also cousins. Um, this one was a little bit shocking, but Rupaul and Cory Booker also cousins.

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