“In order to lead effectively, you must start with YOU first. Find your balance. Find your center. Tighten that core and WERK. #Yoga” -Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae released a new track called “Yoga” featuring Jidenna and on the club-sounding track, we meet a new Janelle. This girl has shed her robot metal, slid on skin-tight yoga pants and is bending over…doing yoga of course. Honestly, I’ve played it about 15 times and each time, I find something new to like. And each time, I twerk.
The tongue-in-cheek lyrics and teetering-on-ratchet melody are a departure from Monae’s typical electric and empowering sound. With a new EP on the way, Wondaland Presents THE EEPHUS, Janelle is out to get our attention. And I never thought that she would have to do it in this way.
“Baby bend over, let your booty do that yoga,” sounds like meaningless lyrics about a girl doing yoga moves right? Wrong! These words are obviously her playground as she hopscotches between her innocent and high pitched voice and sexy lyrics. Are we witnessing Monae’s growth into the confidence of sex-positive womanhood? Or are we watching Janelle Monae sell out?
In “Yoga,” Monae urges women to be their own private dancer, which is what I love most about the track. Far too often, women are seen as booty-shaking objects and even though Monae wants us to shake what our mommas gave us, she’s asking that we do it for ourselves, not for a man and not for attention. Even when she’s getting ratchet, there’s a message.
“You cannot police me so get off my areola. Get off my areola!” Monae sings. Sounds a lot like Janelle’s asking for people to back the beep up! And we just might need to so that we can see just how much she’s about to change her entire image to sell some records. But this is my job, so…
Monae’s music, while an acquired taste, is always conscious, honest and uplifting. I’ve never listened to any of her music, from “Oh Maker” to “Electric Lady” and thought that it was sexy, but I’ve always loved the lyrical depth and symphonic melodies she offers. The lyrics from “Yoga,” are not only sexy, but they’re fun and completely unexpected.
Janelle Monae hit the music scene in 2005 when she got the chance to be featured on several Outkast tracks. She then caught the ear of music mogul, Sean Diddy Combs and he sat on the uniformed songstress for five years. When ArchAndroid, her debut album dropped, we acquainted ourselves with a young woman who stood in her own power, rocked her natural hair in beautiful bouffants and said no to sexuality as she demanded to always outfit herself in black and white suit and tie looks.
Monae told Marie Claire about her look, “My mom and dad wore uniforms, whether they were janitors or post-office employees. They worked hard to make sure we had clothes on our backs and food in our mouths. I never, ever want to forget them, so I always wear my uniform—a jacket and pants in black-and-white—to pay homage to them and to remind myself I have work to do.”
And it’s that work that Monae takes very seriously. Her image, whether created by her or the record label powers that be, kept her fully clothed. And her lyrics always boasted the latest power girl anthem without once urging women to compromise themselves for proverbial sexiness. While some of our favorite singers go on about “grinding up on him,” or asking rude boys if they can “get it up,” Monae sang, “So much hurt/On this earth/But you loved me/And I really dared to love you too.” She created a responsibility around being an artist with morals and message. She practically denounced sexuality, opting for more of a strong feminist platform without the sex. She’d prefer to lean on her principals rather than her pretty and for that, I give Janelle Monae plenty of praise.
And while many music fans didn’t put Monae on the same pedestal with Beyoncé, she was definitely regarded as a queen–she even wrote a song about it. That pedestal that Beyoncé is on comes at a price. Her brand of sexy is completely overt, but multifaceted as she’s a mother, but still makes time to “get on her knees” for her husband. Nothing at all is wrong with that. And nothing at all is wrong with Monae suggesting that women “bend over” and do yoga, but there is something wrong with completely changing what your message is for record sales and radio plays.
Let’s be honest, Janelle Monae may be uber talented, but she’s also not the most well-received artist. Her debut album, The ArchAndroid sold 21,000 copies within the first week, hitting the billboard charts at number 17. These are merely numbers, but it proves that the general listening public all but ignored Janelle’s first offering. We know sex sells. Monae never wanted to sell sex, which is why she hasn’t sold many records. So now, it looks like she’s turned in her uniform for midriff-bearing tops and yoga pants, poised to bend over.
Monae tells Marie Claire, “I want people to aspire to be electric ladies. I want to continue to tell universal stories in unforgettable ways—stories that can enrich our lives and lift us when we’re down and bring us wings when we’re weak. I’m inspired to write music for those who need it most—the oppressed who feel like they’re living check to check and will never get out of the system. I write to uplift the underdogs.”
When Janelle Monae announced her new single, she took to Instagram, in a head stand, which the message, “In order to lead effectively, you must start with YOU first. Find your balance. Find your center. Tighten that core and WERK #Yoga.” Well that explains the greater message behind the new song. Maybe she’s finding her balance between role model and body rolling. Janelle Monae is opening up a new lane–combining her quirky and empowering ways with a radio-friendly (read: a dumbed-down) sound. Will this change her powerful messages to women or will it continue to empower us to be everything we want, including sexy?
I will certainly be watching as more music from her next album finds its way to the internet, but until then, I will wonder: Does Janelle Monae have to compromise her morals to reach a certain level of success?
I want to know what you think. Sound off in the comments.