Janelle Monae: ‘I’ve been experiencing a lot of trauma around seeing black bodies murdered’

Janelle Monáe joins Zane Lowe on Apple Music to discuss her brand new song “Turntables”, finding creativity, getting involved with American politician Stacey Abrams, the importance of transparency from artists in this moment, what she’s listening to in the moment to stay inspired and more.

Janelle Monáe Tells Apple Music About Her New Song “Turntables”…

I, like a lot of people just as humans, especially being black in America, I’ve been experiencing a lot of trauma around seeing black bodies murdered, like humans murdered. I struggle with talking about it because it is like a wound that we’re reopening. We’ve been screaming Black Lives Matter. We’ve been understanding where our ancestors came from and the fact that I’m here not because I asked to be here, but because my ancestors were stolen and we were forced to be here. So there’s a connection between the past the present and what could be the future if we continue. And I say, as humans continue to let black people suffer. And so I’ve been emotionally debilitated, but I got an opportunity to get back into the studio to talk about or to create lyrics that [doesn’t] keep us reminded of that trauma, but keep us moving forward and remind us that things are changing.

We are changing things. The tables are turning. The rooster has come home to roost. So this song is capturing direction. And when you think about a record, when you think about a record spinning, when you think about the revolutions per minute, it’s all connected. And that is what this song means. This song doesn’t mean that I’m the leader, that I’m here to tell you what to do, how to fix things. I’m simply watching, examining and wanting to highlight all of the people who are on the front lines, fighting for our democracy, fighting against racial inequalities, fighting against white supremacy, fighting against systemic racism and systemic oppression. So this song is to keep us motivated. This song is to lift up and keep us galvanized when we’re fatigued. And this song is really for the people.

Janelle Monáe Tells Apple Music About Finding Creativity To Contribute a Song To The New Documentary ‘All In: The Fight For Democracy” After Receiving a Call From Stacey Abrams…

You know, I wasn’t, especially when we got an in the pandemic we had to like social distance, I wasn’t in the creative space at all. I wasn’t in the studio. I wasn’t writing music. And I got a call from Stacey Abrams because I live in Atlanta, Georgia, and I was around, I was there when Brian Kemps stole the election from Stacey Abrams. And I told her if she ever needed me for anything to not hesitate to call. She’s the real deal. This is somebody who has, since a little girl, she’s always known that she wanted to be governor. She’s always known that she wanted to be in public service. And so she reached out, she and our team and the directors, the All In documentary reached out to me and asked me if I had time to do a song for her documentary.

And I said, man, I don’t know, man, because I’m not a politician. And for me being upset, being angry, you know, I’m going to tell the truth. I’m not thinking about political correctness and I’m not saying that she is, but I know that there’s a difference between artists speaking and politicians speaking. Sometimes they may have to word it differently than myself. So I said, okay, I’m going to try. I’m going to try. I’m going to go in the studio. I was very moved by the documentary. I fell in love with Stacey Abrams, even more. I wanted her to be President – and she’s going to run later – but after I watched it, I went into the studio and I work with Nate “Rocket” Wonder, one of my producers that I’ve worked with for a really long time.

And I wrote this song, like I was hearing it for the first time and this is what I need to get reignited. This is what I needed to get fire underneath my feet and to keep fighting. And so I said, I’m gonna write this like I was writing for myself and like I was writing it for all of the, who are on the frontline, boots on the ground. What would I want them to listen to before they went out to go march? Before they went out to go fight on behalf of black lives and on behalf of women in marginalized communities? And so I said, if they asked me to change a lyric, though, I’m not going to be able to give it to them. That’ll be just what it was. Maybe I’ll use it for a project or maybe I just won’t. And I sent it over and they loved it. They didn’t ask me to change a lyric. They didn’t ask me to change a word in it. And, and I was really thankful for that. So I have to give, thanks to Stacey Abrams and I have to give thanks to the directors of the documentary for getting me to find the energy and the strength mentally to go back into the studio.

Janelle Monáe Tells Apple Music About Rooting Creativity in Reality…

I say creating for me is rooted in reality, like I’m able to take things around me, or experiences. I’m used to using that muscle of having a sense of normalcy and nothing is normal about what’s going on right now, from this pandemic, when you think about Black folks, not only are we fighting against police brutality, fighting to stay alive, but we’re also fighting against COVID-19. It disproportionately affects black people. And my parents, I grew up to essential working parents. I’ve talked about this and I’m sure, I probably mentioned this in one of our interviews, but my mom was a janitor. My dad, my stepdad, who was just like my father, works at the post office. He refuses to quit. He loves helping the community in this country. My father, my biological father, was a trash man. So, I grew up to essential workers and every day, when you think about black folks and minorities, it’s our family, it’s our loved ones going out and risking their lives and their health. And so there’s just nothing normal about feeling like you’re fighting against two, three, four monsters every single day and I just had a hard time connecting back to something that gave me joy, that gave me solace, because I don’t have a sense of normalcy right now. I’m not touring. It’s like I’m on the road, and things started getting canceled and it’s happening for everybody. So, I think that I always applaud artists who can find that strength to go back and create a false sense of normalcy to give what they need.

Janelle Monáe Tells Apple Music About The Importance of Transparency From Artists in This Moment…

No this ain’t the season, in my opinion, for artists to dilute their feelings. Transparency can take you on the road to empathy and better understanding of one another, and that’s what I’m realizing. There’s power in saying, “I don’t have it together”, or “This is how I’m feeling in this moment”, there’s a connection that you will make that you won’t even know you’ve made, but there’s more power in that than to be politically correct.

Janelle Monáe Tells Apple Music What She’s Been Listening To To Stay Inspired…

I had to fall back in love with it. I had to fall back in love with current songs, past songs that I had listened to. I was listening to a lot of Earth, Wind and Fire. I actually went through that latest Childish Gambino album as well and was listening to some of the sounds there. I was listening to a lot of… There’s this artist named Sneaks. She came out with a new record, like last year that I’ve been listening to while painting, but just not even listening to my own stuff, but finding power in other artists’ music.

September 9, 2020
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