Janelle Monáe

One would have to be living in the proverbial cave to not see or hear Janelle Monáe. Since her debut full-length The ArchAndroid dropped May 18, her stylish persona has been splashed across the Internet, and covered by the Associated Press, Rolling Stone and everything in between.

But what is lacking is attention to her live performance. The high-concept ArchAndroid – involving Monáe’s alter-ego “Cindi Mayweather” becoming a messianic figure for a race of androids in the future city of Metropolis – has been the focus of the attention. Meanwhile, she’s been kicking ass all over the stage for more than a year, and has dates lined up into November.

“I’ve been a performing artist for eight years now,” Monáe told Pollstar, and that’s not including theatre arts from middle school on up. “I was in plays – ‘The Wiz,’ ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ – you name it.”

Photo: John Davisson

But that makes her sound dry and scientific. When it comes to Monáe, it’s about art, and she made clear that her years of performing live, her background as a playwright and her matriculation at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy is one thing. Performance is another.

“I felt like there was something special in me that was given to me as a superpower, if you will. It wasn’t taught. It was placed in me and I just had to recognize that and understand how to unleash it and use it for the right things.”

Monáe, a Kansas native, was originally set on a Broadway career. But after she left the Academy, she found her way to Atlanta and a boarding house that she shared with five women. She met OutKast’s Big Boi and was featured on two songs in the group’s Idlewild.

Meanwhile, Monáe founded a think tank-slash-management team-slash-artist collective called the Wondaland Arts Society that plays a role in her career decisions. Wondaland was part of a partnership formed with Sean Combs’ Bad Boy Records and Atlantic when Monáe released her Grammy-nominated EP Metropolis: The Chase Suite in 2008.

“I’m copied on all e-mails but I do have individuals that I can trust,” she said. “We’ve always made internal decisions before we discuss it with anyone. And I allow discussion and for people to voice their decisions but I’m my own manager, if you will. I make my own decisions on what I want to do.”

Her agent, Paradigm’s Marty Diamond, confirmed that this is a well-run outfit. And he’s been having a lot of fun booking her. Because the music operates on such a conceptual level, it can be presented to divergent audiences. Monáe has performed with Erykah Badu, Of Montreal, MGMT, No Doubt and Raphael Saadiq, among others. They aren’t exactly cookie-cutter booking assignments.

“There are a lot of young artists, her peers, where it’s, ‘We need a hit record and then we’ll tour’ or, ‘Get me a support slot.’ Here, the interest comes to her because she’s magnetic.”

Noting she’s “you and me on steroids” and likening her to Prince and Tina Turner, Diamond said that while Monáe is in support slots through October, there is preparation for headlining gigs as soon as winter.

“The record business is a funny thing,” Diamond said. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve been invited to a record label to talk about the planning of the project. But with the Atlantic team, we were in the room, talking about what we are going to do and how we’re going to approach it.

“There are day-to-day updates and they’re always great. It’s, ‘Hey, there’s a new TV show on board, there’s a new magazine cover.’ Every day there’s a new, bright star on the horizon.”

Meanwhile, Monáe says she’s keeping as connected to her fans as she possibly can. She talked to Pollstar a day after doing a meet-and-greet with Badu.

“I love talking to my supporters because I know it started with them,” she said. “I am where I am because of word-of-mouth. They are the people, and I make music for the people. I grew up in a working-class family and I always want to make music that frees them, motivates them and inspires them.

“People who are dealing with being suppressed and oppressed and depressed – it’s for them I wear my uniform. It’s paying homage to them. It’s turned into a fashion – I’ve been in Vogue three or four times even though I’ve been wearing the same two colors for the past four years,” she continued.

Photo: Scott Legato / RockStarProPhotography.com

“But the music I created for the people, and I always want to stay connected to them. I’m feeding them and they’re growing as a result of listening to the music that we create.”