“I have an agenda in this world,” says Janelle Monáe. The proud pompadour-sporting singer is sharing her secret plot during a mid-afternoon phone call. Two nights before, I had just witnessed the Lilliputian stunner take over New York City’s Pier 84 as she performed a mini-concert to a select throng of celebrities and VIPs rejoicing in the release of her latest project: the critically hailed double album The Electric Lady, her second full-length record. As we speak, the jet-setting beauty is in Paris promoting her new baby, and her excitement is palpable. In between directions to a manicurist (don’t let the tuxedos fool you: She is an admitted “girly girl”), who is apparently trying to rip away the gel from Monáe’s delicate nails, she tells me more about these mysterious machinations of hers.
“It is my goal to mislead you into believing one thing,” she continues with her best sense of irony. When talking with Janelle Monáe, I must warn you, metaphorical winks come in such rapid-fire succession that only later do you realize that you are struck. And not from a shocking crimson drip, à la Walter White; it’s more of a delayed Big O “aha” moment. “There has to be some misinformation out there about Janelle Monáe,” she teases.
And if the singer has indeed been the source of it all, then she’s got a hell of a side hustle as a PR girl—the plethora of prattle swimming around the intensely private singer could fill Wendy Williams’ juicy “Hot Topics” segment for days. Rumors mainly question her sexual orientation. Almost from the moment she popped on the national scene, her adopted “uniform” of the masculine, but always luxuriantly tailored, tuxedo and the absence of sex-driven lyrics have prompted lesbian whispers. Electric’s first single, “Q.U.E.E.N.,” hasn’t quieted them either, as some fans and the simply curious have honed in on the lyric, “Am I a freak ’cause I love watching Mary?” Naturally the blogosphere erupted with speculation that she had finally stepped out of the closet. Adding more fuel to the fire are the words to “Giving ’Em What They Love,” another song from the album: “Hey, sister, am I good enough for your heaven?” sings Monáe, who writes all of her music. Her response to the scuttlebutt is just as murky. “I only date androids,” she deadpans. But when pressed to elaborate, she quips: “Was that even me that day? Who knows? I have clones, and they all come out and fight. Maybe that’s why I wear this tuxedo. There may be an ancient Chinese man fighting this rich African queen to get shine,” she says. Then adds, “I think it is so boring to be figured out in one conversation.” Well-dressed clones? Figuring out Janelle Monáe quickly isn’t likely. There are better odds on Kanye West and Taylor Swift becoming BFFs.
Monáe was born in Kansas City, Kan. Her parents divorced when she was a young girl, largely due to her father’s drug addiction and his frequent jailhouse stints. She began performing in high school musical productions, and her dreams soon grew too voluminous for the town. As all good girls with talent from small towns do upon coming of age: She made her way to New York (attending the American Musical and Dramatic Academy), joining the gaggle of hopefuls rushing around the theater district on any given day, hoping that the next audition would land them on the Great White Way, with their name filling a marquee.