review: janelle monae feat erykah badu q.u.e.e.n

May 8, 2013

At first glance one might take Janelle Monae’s new track Q.U.E.E.N. as a funky new leading single to her upcoming album “The Electric Lady.” It is that, but the music video is loaded with subtle imagery and intriguing subtext—alluding to historical Black iconography and examining the paradox of museum culture—while playing with the ideas of Afro-Futurism and the past being reignited to usher us into a future with a multitude identities and equality, which, according to Monae, is more than just being added to the equation, but a fully equal, valued member of society.

By Mark Corece

At least two things are happening at once, at all times, the lyrics and the visuals.

The video begins with the very familiar omnipresent voice, a constant motif in Monae’s work—in this case the museum guide—introducing us to the narrative in the song and the video.

“It’s hard to stop rebels that time travel, but we, at the Time Counsel, pride ourselves on doing just that.” Where we then see the two visitors of the living museum, Project Q.U.E.E.N., resurrect Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu and their band of unique musicians and dancers in suits, with an up tempo bass riff (not to mention a vinyl starts spinning too); splattered with Janelle’s simplistic yet provocative Black and White color scheme—although this time we see a change of fit for the suited and booted lady in tux.

The first of the lyrics I can’t believe all of the things they say about me/Walk in the room they throwing shade left to right/they be like oooh she serving face is a direct homage to the lingo and cultural expression of the LGBT community’s ballroom scene where shade and talking about “serving face” is commonplace—the icing on
the cake is Monae’s vogue dance moves indicating she is, in fact, serving plenty o’ face.

Q.U.E.E.N. does a good job of breaking free of the duality of the black and white Janelle wears proudly. Her signature look is a reminder that entertainment is her job and, although it’s under very different circumstances, she is in solidarity with the blue-collar workers who don’t’ have the option to not wear their working class uniforms everyday.

The soul-rock group Deep Cotton boogies in the background juxtaposed with the funky Afro-centric band with white makeup, dipping and shaking. However, the breakdown is one of the highlights of the song with Queen Badu (playing her alter ego Badoula Oblongata) herself marrying liberation with hip shaking grooves, “because the booty don’t lie.”

It’s about freedom. It’s about having fun and it’s about being yourself, unabashedly. We’ve all got a little bit of Q.U.E.E.N. is us so dance and let’s get back to the revolution.