Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe’s Activism in Music and Beyond


Dec. 5 2023, Published 7:42 p.m. ET

Janelle Monáe has been a trailblazer throughout her musical career, bringing Afrofuturism sound to the forefront of pop music. She uses her art form, which infuses and uses science-fiction narratives to highlight and criticize societal ills ranging from racism, sexism, and homophobia.

The “Dirty Computer” singer uses her voice as an artist and her musical projects to explore issues we face in modern-day America. She is particularly fond of using imagined future dystopias as an illustration tool in her projects.

Aside from music, she is an actor and has accrued an increasing number of acting credits.

Using Her Voice in Activism

It seems Monáe’s creative juices are always flowing. From releasing critically acclaimed albums and playing movie roles in commercially and critically acclaimed films such as Hidden Figures and Moonlight, to world tours where she performs to her throngs of fans, she always has her plate full.

It thus makes sense for her to incorporate activism, something she is passionate about, into everything she does. And she does.

Speaking with the Harvard Business Review, she noted that she uses her voice to speak out against things that might be cancerous to the United States. “When the rights of those I love that come from my community are being trampled on, I feel a responsibility to use my platform to say something,” she said.

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However, she does more than talk about the issues close to her heart. Monáe noted that she’s partnering with people working to make a change on the ground, whether it is to “get folks registered to vote, helping lower-income folks, and lobbying for women’s reproductive rights, protection for LGBTQIA+ communities, and racial justice.”

Activism through Her Musical Projects

Her oeuvre is heavily embedded in activism. Her EP, “Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase),” revolved around the fictional android character Cindi Mayweather, set in 2719, who falls in love with a human. Playing Cindi, Monáe fights against a dystopian future that has suppressed love and freedom.

She continued with the dystopian future theme in her first album, "The ArchAndroid."

In 2015, Monáe and her artists under the Wondaland Arts Society released a protest song, “Hell You Talmbout” that spoke out against police brutality.

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She has also collaborated on projects that have an activism theme. In 2021, she released a 15-minute protest anthem, “Say Her Name,” with 15 other Black activists. The song came about after she partnered with the African American Policy Forum. It sought to reach out to and honor families that suffered “the tragedy of stolen lives and the indignity and trauma that follows” after losing loved ones to police brutality.

Speaking about the project, she told People that she aimed to “bring more awareness to what has not been covered and to also allow their families an opportunity to be able to hear people sharing their stories about their daughters as the human beings they were and as the daughters they were.”

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Choosing to Play Characters That Tap into Activism

Monáe has played roles that tap into her activist nature. In the movie Antebellum, she played the role of Veronica Henley, a role she said reminded her of black women who’ve fought for the voiceless.

“Everything about her is a threat,” Monáe described Veronica to Fast Company. “She’s a threat to white supremacy. She’s a threat to the patriarchy.”

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