We will create and destroy ten art movements in ten years.
That’s what’s being typed in the new video for Janelle Monáe‘s brilliant single “Q.U.E.E.N.”, with Erykah Badu. And if anyone’s going to do it, it’s Monáe and her cohorts at Wondaland. I’ve loved Monáe since Will Johnsen hipped me to her Metropolis EP, and I bought Arch-Android the day it came out, and I can’t wait for the new album The Electric Lady. And with her releasing this single a little over a month ago, the wait has gotten much harder — it might be the best thing she’s done to date.
I know that’s a big claim — I mean, have you heard, say, “Cold War“? — but I’m pretty sure I can stand by it. The video, too, does nothing but boost the brilliance of the already incredible song on its own. The visual style is gorgeous and reminds me a lot of William Klein — I’m not sure if Who Are You Polly Maggoo? was an influence on Monáe and her director Alan Ferguson, but I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s so very stylish and, well, eye-catching. It compels you to watch. I don’t know if it’s really possible to look away when it’s running, in fact.
Style is not all that there is, though — of course not. Monáe uses “Q.U.E.E.N.” as a call to action — it’s a very political song. Not only does it call out the inequality of the races (with the android conceit being the central metaphor of her work so far) but also hate thrown at the LGBT community too (lines like “Am I a freak because I love watching Mary/Hey sister am I good enough for your heaven?/Say will your God accept me in my black and white?/Will he approve the way I’m made?” could be interpreted that way).
“Q.U.E.E.N.” also posits not only Monáe as a leader (“My crown too heavy like the Queen Nefertiti“, “Well I’mma keep leading like a young Harriet Tubman“) — but a leader rather than the leader. The most important part of the song is the end — shown by how it ends so abruptly as if asking if you got the point. Will you work for change, justice and freedom, or will you let the status quo reign. Or, as she puts it much more poetic than I do: “Will you be electric sheep?/Electric ladies, will you sleep? Or will you preach?”
I vote for preach.