It’s not even the most perfect pop song Janelle Monáe has made, but it’s still one of the fiercest out there.
In Janelle’s Metropolis suite (possibly the best set of concept albums ever made), queerness, blackness and robotness are wrapped around each other and permeate every work in a fiery web of resistance and empathy. Those letters stand for Queer community, Untouchables, Emigrants, Excommunicated and ‘for those labelled as Negroid‘. An intentional anthem for the marginalised, we have this insatiable bassline wrapped around a conversation about queerness and judgement that sets me on fire every time.
Simultaneously inclusive and confrontational, Janelle rides this particular tightrope presenting questions about societal unacceptability that throw them into relief and act as calls to unity, a cry of solidarity. Yes, it’s okay to dance late at night, twerk in the mirror and throw bones on the ground. The questions are reconstructed as defiance, rejecting assumed answers and declaring solid independence.
Am I a freak for dancing around?
Am I a freak for getting down?
I’m cutting up, don’t cut me down
Yeah I wanna be, wanna be QUEEN
She does that subtle thing of never quite making it clear what she’s talking about, whilst building bonds with those in the know. The sly references to queerness, blackness and other marginalised identities could be missed by someone just seeing a song about taking to the dancefloor with a bit of extra sass, but here the dance is political, rejecting religious resistance.
The whole thing almost sounds borderline footloose, until the song tilts. Erykah Badu takes us to one side, promises a melody that can show us another way, and then Janelle brings down the fire.
Janelle’s rap at the end of this track is one of those utterly excoriating calls to arms that deserve to change the world.
Are we a lost generation of our people?
Add us to equations but they’ll never make us equal
She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel
So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal?
An explicit case is made, dancing might bring us together, but we need to take that unity to the streets, with solidarity and purpose, we need to mark our difference, celebrate it, and set the world on fire.
When Janelle says she doesn’t think they understand what she’s trying to say, and then burns the world with her words (in a voice so distinctly different I always thought it was Badu), it’s just incredible.
And it’s matched in the music. Everything has toned down to a quietness, and then as Janelle’s fire catches, the music opens up into this world spanning mass of strings. The textural shift from this voice and violin is legitimately one of the most perfect storms in all of music. This section of this song literally takes my breath away. I feel more alive when I listen to it, even though occasionally it fills me with all the urgent emotion of a panic attack. It pulls down on my insides and fills me with hope and, yes, fire.
Great pop can burn with a light bright and hot, and this does. It’s bright enough to bring us together, and hot enough to melt shackles. A song about fighting for freedom, resisting the world, and making it change.
Will you be electric sheep? Electric ladies, will you sleep?
Or will you preach?
Janelle’s dark future dystopia is no worse than the world today. That’s what she’s singing about. It’s real, it’s here, and we need to fight the fuck out of it.
Music and sci-fi can both be escapist, but they can also wake us up.
And this song is the funkiest, most furious alarm call you will find.