Janelle Monae 28th February Manchester Academy 1
If someone was to tell you that P Diddy’s newest signing was a Rihannaesque behemoth of hi-NRG R&B you’d not be markedly surprised, would you? No. I’m happy to say that Janelle Monae represents and exudes a certain kind of beauty and authenticity that Rihanna could only hope for. The slow burning success of her high-concept debut album The Archandroid has not been down to big marketing ploys and heavy airplay, rather she’s rocking it old skool and letting the music speak for itself. Well, alongside the idea that Janelle is Cindy Mayweather, an android from the future who fell in love with a human and has come back in time to escape certain death. Like I said, high-concept.
Arriving on stage with full backing band, trademark afro-quiff and tuxedo with the addition of a cape, Janelle fizzes into Dance or Die – a hip hop workout, then Faster – a lost girl group style classic and Locked Inside – a torch song as much about freedom as it is about love. All this without stopping, showcasing her stamina and diverse style. Originally I touted Janelle as ‘the sci-fi Beyonce’ to those who’d not experienced her sheer exuberance and joyousness but I’m not sure if I’d be selling her short. Her voice is both fragile and commanding, rapping as comfortably as she sings Michael Jackson’s Smile, a tearjerker and a showstopper with a single strummed guitar as accompaniment. Not to say that her band is sparse, they are of Outkast proportions and have so much energy you can tell this is no vanity project, they’re all involved and enjoying it, possibly more than me.
The centrifugal force of Cold War’s metallic paean to self esteem and Tightrope’s taut and jittery awareness of how difficult it is to retain your integrity while balancing between art and popular music kick the audiences into a mild frenzy (remember, this is a Monday night). She is devastatingly catchy but intelligent with music that allows each song to stand on its own but also to work as part of a complicated story about love and prejudice. We need women in the world like this right now and if Janelle Monae continues to strike these chords she’ll be at the forefront; well orchestrated, powerful and commanding.
Go to Janelle Monae’s YouTube page