LOS ANGELES (AP) — If you believe Janelle Monae’s hyper-sexual expression is a front, think again.
These days, Monae is unapologetically living her truth in a bold manner while trying to avoid negativity. The star, once known for sporting custom-made suits, has shed that attire (at least for now) to nearly bare all, like on the cover of her latest studio album, “The Age of Pleasure,” where she’s seen swimming topless in a pool. It’s her first release since 2018’s “Dirty Computer,” which was nominated for album of the year at the Grammys.
In recent months, Monae hasn’t been afraid of risque looks and nudity. She revealed herself during an event celebrating the release of her single “Lipstick Lover” and again onstage at an Essence Music Festival set — which drew some social media criticism including from singer India Arie and rapper Uncle Luke. She also attended the 2023 Met Gala in a barely-there outfit.
For Monae, this is her time to be free.
Monae spoke recently with The Associated Press about her supportive mother, side- stepping criticism and teasing her upcoming North American tour, which kicks off Aug. 30 in Seattle. Other tour stops include New York and Nashville and she’ll wrap in Los Angeles in mid-October.
AP: Since you haven’t toured since 2019, was your recent Essence Festival performance a tune up for your upcoming tour?
MONAE: Yeah, we’re testing out the songs. You’re getting them in your body. Right now, we don’t have a lot of muscle memory with the new songs. We haven’t toured them. I know if you come into the show, you’ll love the songs. But hearing them live is a different experience, especially when you’re putting them with songs from previous work. We’re basically just putting a show together based on what we feel is good. Sometimes you just don’t know until you get on stage.
AP: What do you want people to take away from your show?
MONAE: Tap into your free (expletive) energy. That’s rooted in self-love, not arrogance. Tap into that space and then take care of each other. That’s what I hope. With the shows that I do, and when I look out, it’s an experience. It’s like our own church. You want to take care of each other.
Even if your freedom doesn’t look like that person’s freedom, you understand that we’re fighting against something much bigger than us. We’re systemically fighting against something much bigger than us, so we got to band together, we got to stick together. We have to make sure that we’re showing up for each other. If we have privilege in certain areas, making sure that we’re lending a hand, lending a voice, amplifying a message.
AP: How has it been to walk in your truth while facing criticism about your racy performances from people like Arie and Uncle Luke?
MONAE: That has absolutely nothing to do with me. I love everybody. I’m in the age of pleasure.
AP: When did you feel comfortable with living life the way you want without caring about others’ opinions?
MONAE: It’s not like I don’t care what people think. I care what some people think. I don’t care what everybody thinks. That’s the same when it comes to music. When you make a new song, I can’t go soliciting everybody’s opinions about the song. By the time I get back to the second pass of it, it’s all over the place. Everybody’s going to have an opinion. For me, it’s like, whose voice do I trust? Who do I know that loves me, cares about me, whose taste do I like, who actually is evolved enough to even understand what it is that I’m doing? Who understands nuance?
You shouldn’t care what anybody has to say. You just care what the right people have to say and everything else is muted.
AP: Who are those right people for you?
MONAE: Family. Close friends.
AP: In your journey, your mother has been a huge supporter. Whenever you have fallen under certain criticisms, how has she helped you navigate the critics?
MONAE: My mom is like ride or die. I have to tell her like “Mom, you don’t need to defend me. You don’t need to defend my life or my decisions.” For her, I’m her baby. Like any mama bear, you might get punched in the eye if you say something. You might. But I’ve calmed her down over the years. For the most part, we mostly respond to love. It’s a lot of people that love where I am and who I am and what I’m doing, and they feel really empowered and inspired by it, and that makes my mom proud, and it makes me happy.
AP: How do you avoid the naysayers?
MONAE: I’m too busy living life to be distracted. The positive things are always amazing too, but I also don’t go fishing for that. One of the things about being in the age of pleasure is being present and making sure that I’m dipping in on social media, saying what I need to say, showing love, saying “thank you,” putting up my art and leaving, going to go create more things and make more memories and more experiences.
I’m in the middle of putting together a tour for North America. We haven’t been on tour since 2019. For me, I have a lot of things that keep me busy. I’m practicing guitar. I’m having the best sex of my life. I’m happy. Even in the middle of all that’s going on in this world, I’m finding time to steal joy and to center joy and to stay surrounded by the people that bring me joy and that I can bring joy too.
AP: How did “Age of Pleasure” define where you are in life?
MONAE: I wanted to create a soundtrack to our lifestyle. I think this album like all my albums reflect exactly where I am at that time. Each album will let you know where I was in my evolution process, what things I had to unlearn, what things I learned. I love that. I love that you can always look at an artist working, sort of see what they were on at that time.