Five Minutes with Janelle Monáe

After an energetic show at Alumni Weekend, the songstress spent time backstage talking to GW Today.

September 28, 2015
Taking after her most recent album, The Electric Lady, Janelle Monáe jolted fans into a frenzy at George Washington University’s Alumni Weekend.
The petite powerhouse took the stage at the Charles E. Smith Center Saturday night and belted out her catchiest hits, like “PrimeTime” and “Yoga.” She paired each note with intense choreography that showed off her endless pep and spontaneity. At one point, Ms. Monáe even grabbed her microphone and ran directly into the crowd to dance alongside throngs of excited Colonials.
The six-time Grammy nominee has riled up the masses with her eclectic mix of funk, soul and R&B. But she uses her voice for more than entertainment: Last month, she released “Hell You Talmbout,” an anthem for activists against police brutality. 
George Washington Today caught up with the singer just minutes after she finished her rollicking set on campus. She sat backstage, perfectly composed despite having performed for an hour straight, and talked about her live show, how she unwinds and how students can speak out on issues that matter. 
Q: You just ended your set at GW’s Alumni Weekend. How was it? What was the reaction from the crowd?
A: It was incredible. When I perform, each experience is different, and this one was definitely one to remember. The audience came with love and so did we— when those things are combined on opposite ends of the room, it’s magic. 
The whole set felt amazing from beginning to end. When we go out, we want to give without expectation and just uplift people. That’s my calling. People want to party and have a good time, and so do I. We’re working day and night, and this is a time where we all had the opportunity to release and enjoy the experience.
Q: How do you prepare before a big performance?
A: It varies. This is my favorite season of the year—fall. It makes me react to things differently. So it depends on the season, the time in my life, what I’m reading, and what I’m into. But one thing we always do is give thanks before each performance. We pray and give thanks, because this is definitely a blessing to be able to entertain and have people come and stand in line and show up for you—it’s not to be taken for granted. We could lose our voices tomorrow. We could lose our abilities. It’s not within our control. 
Q: Your band seems very close.
A: Yeah, we’re family. We come here, and there’s no drama. It’s all love.
Q: How about when you unwind? What do you do once the show is over?
A: Sometimes I drink port wine. That’s been my new fall obsession. But it always depends. If I’m working on my album, I’m headed back to the studio, I’m headed back to my hotel room, I’m listening to music, I’m writing and coming up with video concepts. I’m running the[Wondaland] record label right now, so I’m helping the careers of others. But that’s the fun thing about it: You never know what’s going to happen each day. It’s always fun, always eventful. It’s always problem solving and being the problem.
Q: You've spoken out against police brutality with the song “Hell You Talmbout.” How do you plan on continuing to raise awareness? 
A: Whenever I speak, I speak as a human being. Whenever I’m in the streets, marching with organizers, I come not as an artist or a celebrity. It was important that we created a song and a vessel and tool for those who are constantly out there on the ground, writing to Congress, trying to get laws passed. There are families who have not even gotten autopsies from their kids who were murdered by police. 
What I’m speaking out against, and what we’re speaking out against as a movement, is the abuse of power. We need to look at each other not as “she’s black” or “she’s white,” but as human beings, and we need to take care of each other. I just think some people feel responsibility, and some people don’t. For us, we did. And we’ll try our best to give the times a song they can release to, and that’s therapeutic for those going through grief and losing their loved ones.
Q: Music seems like a helpful way to achieve that. 
A: Yeah, it’s a universal language. It brings people together. That’s the beautiful thing—I’ve been seeing so many diverse groups from the transgender community, you name it, from everywhere, coming together and supporting the song, and doing their own versions. That’s what I want, for people to say the names of the people who are gone so that we’ll never forget them and we’ll remember their stories. 
Q: What message do you have for student activists?
A: The first thing is to start within your community.  It doesn’t always have to be, ‘Go to the White House.’ Start within your community and make noise within your own community.