When I originally made a note of Janelle Monaé as a potential recommendation I see that I wrote: “Janelle Monaé: take your pick”. I’m going to go with the first track I heard: Tightrope.
When I first stumbled across the video I had that whole “Who the hell is this?! And why have I not heard of them?” I was struck right away by the sense that this is an artist who has got the whole thing together: a great tune, a distinctive sound (or rather, a distinctive take on a familiar sound), lyrics that are actually saying something, a striking visual image and a coherent video that sticks in the memory.
Now I’m coming back to it though, I realise that actually… okay, there’s a whole science fiction sub-plot that’s going on which I missed the first time around, but just looking at the song itself: it’s not really doing anything that hasn’t been done before. Which may sound like a bad thing but it actually isn’t — this track is doing something incredibly difficult. It’s doing a number of things that have been done many many many times before… badly. That retro sound, that retro visual style, that feel-good atmosphere… even the overt referencing of James Brown… I’ve seen so many artists try to do it and just end up being forgettable, because you’re kind of competing against the giants of 20th Century music. How can you possibly stand out on your own?
The way you do it is with impeccable taste. You have to get all the little details right. And in order to do that, perhaps, you have to be seriously enjoying yourself, and that’s something else that I think comes across in this track. It just has, like most of my favourite art, a joy in being alive.
Current Favourite Thing:
In the video? The expression on her face when her and her friends walk into the basement. In the song? The fact that she ends it by singing the praises of the ukulele.