Coachella kicked off again on Friday with one of our favorite shapeshifters, Janelle Monae, in a headlining spot. In the past decade, the multitalented artist has been, at turns, the ArchAndroid, an Electric Lady, a no longer-Hidden Figure, and, most recently, a brilliant and Dirty Computer.
“The beauty of art is that it reveals itself over time, even to the artists who create it,” Monae tells fellow gamechanger Lizzo in Them. magazine. The two 2019 Coachella performers teamed up for the first-ever cover story of Condé Nast’s LGBTQIA+-focused imprint, which debuted on Friday with Lizzo in the interviewer’s seat (written by Whembley Sewell). Like us, Lizzo wondered about the incredible journey that has given to the world the ever-evolving gift of Janelle Monae.
“With ArchAndroid, I knew what I wanted the content to be, and I used the tools that I knew how to use at that time to create it,” Monae explained. “In my projects, I always challenge myself to grow and learn my voice and how to stretch beyond what I can comfortably do. ... So as I grow and as I’m taking in information and growing at this exponential rate, I try my best to create music and albums that support that, that allow me to completely be all of me.
“With Dirty Computer, I made a bigger declaration to myself — that I’m not putting out an album if I can’t be all of me. You’re gonna take the blackness, you’re gonna take the fact that I love science fiction. You’re gonna take the fact that I am a free ass motherfucker. You’re gonna take that all in and because that is what you’re gonna get.”
Of course, Dirty Computer also became a coming out party of sorts for Monae, whom, after weathering years of speculation about her sexuality, confirmed her queerness in the most creative ways possible. As she’s peeled back the layers on her enigmatic image, Monae has become both an inspiration and advocate for black, female, and queer people everywhere (among others). But as she revealed in response to Lizzo’s query about “the state of queer acceptance in 2019,” we still have a very long way to go.
To be young, queer, and black in America means that you can be misunderstood. You can be hated. It also means that you can be celebrated and loved. And I think there’s a lot at stake when you’re living out loud in that way. One thing I’ve realized even more was that when you walk in your truth, you can inspire and encourage people to walk in theirs. ...
I think the entertainment industry has not caught up. We’re making some waves, but we can do better. And again, it’s about normalizing and telling more stories, and inviting more LGBTQIA+ folks into the conversation on the front end, and giving us a seat at the table early on. Because we can’t afford to see things in a binary way. That’s not how the world works.
As Monae pointed out (and the CDC confirms), suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24; LGBTQIA+ youth contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of their heterosexual counterparts, if not more (h/t the Trevor Project). That, coupled with our current political climate—including rollbacks on LGBTQIA+ protections and rights, like Friday’s revival of the transgender military ban —was reportedly part of Monae’s impetus for releasing Dirty Computer in the moment and manner she did. But while her coming out was met with largely rave reviews, what advice would she give to others struggling with living the truth of their identities?
“Don’t allow yourself to feel any pressure other than the pressure you put on you,” she tells Lizzo. “And I think there’s so much power in not labeling yourself. That said, there’s also power in saying ‘This is how I identify,’ and having community with the folks you identify with. Everyone is on a journey of self-discovery, and those of us who may not understand others’ journeys should be more empathetic and tolerant and supportive. A big thing for me is just being patient with myself, and not allowing myself to make decisions based in fear, or a fear of people not understanding me. And it’s hard. You go through experiences where you feel fearful, and you end up being depressed, or having anxiety, and not taking care of you. But that fear should not get in the way of how you love or who you love.”
And while coming out was a major milestone, it was only the beginning of a new era for Monae.
“For me, sexuality and sexual identity and fluidity is a journey. It’s not a destination,” she said. “I’ve discovered so much about myself over the years as I’ve evolved and grown and spent time with myself and loved ones. That’s the exciting thing — always finding out new things about who you are. And that’s what I love about life. It takes us on journeys that not even we ourselves sometimes are prepared for.”
The Glow Up tip: Janelle Monae will be back on the Coachella stage next Friday, April 19, and Lizzo will appear on Sundays April 14 and 21. You can read Monae’s full story for Them. here.