Positive Music Tuesdays :: Janelle Monae ft. Erykah Badu - Q.U.E.E.N.
This track does everything that positive music does, and I mean everything. Janelle Monae, accompanied by Erykah Badu, addresses a massive spectrum of social concerns through a womanist lens with characteristic verve and wit, all while slaying the dance floor and framing their own rebellion as an artistic movement. To tell the truth, I’ve shied away from analyzing this track because it’s so full of juicy good stuff that I don’t even know where to begin - so, at the risk of not doing justice to this monumental song, here’s a quick rundown:
The perils of celebrity:
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, “Ooh, she’s serving face.”
And I just tell ‘em, cut me up, and get down
Defying social norms of all kinds, comment on classism:
They call us dirty ‘cause we break all your rules down
And we just came to act a fool, is that all right (Girl, that’s alright)
They be like, “Ooh, let them eat cake.”
But we eat wings and throw them bones on the ground
Living with joy in a world that too often tries to suppress it:
Am I a freak for dancing around? (queen)
Am I a freak for getting down? (queen)
I’m cutting up, don’t cut me down
Yeah I wanna be, wanna be (queen)
Is it peculiar that she twerk in the mirror?
And am I weird to dance alone late at night?
And is it true we’re all insane?
And I just tell ‘em, “No we ain’t,” and get down
Comment on slut-shaming:
And tell me what’s the price of fame?
Am I a sinner with my skirt on the ground?
Critiquing organized religion and self-righteous practitioners of it, possibly also referencing queerness (though I’m not sure if this has been confirmed):
Hey brother can you save my soul from the devil?
Say is it weird to like the way she wear her tights? (but I like it)
And is it rude to wear my shades?
Am I a freak because I love watching Mary? (maybe)
Hey sister am I good enough for your heaven?
Say will your God accept me in my black and white?
Will he approve the way I’m made?
Or should I reprogram the program and get down?
Critique of ongoing racism and classism built into the legal and social fabric of American society:
I asked a question like this
Are we a lost generation of our people?
Add us to equations but they’ll never make us equal.
She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel.
So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal?
They keep us underground working hard for the greedy,
But when it’s time pay they turn around and call us needy.
My crown too heavy like the Queen Nefertiti
Gimme back my pyramid, I’m trying to free Kansas City.
Being proud of oneself and anchoring oneself in identity:
Even if it makes others uncomfortable
I wanna love who I am
Even if it makes others uncomfortable
I will love who I am
And another way of saying that, with persistence and resiliency:
Baby, here comes the freedom song
Too strong we moving on
Baby this melody
Will show you another way
Been tryin’ for far too long
Come home and sing your song
But you gotta testify
Because the booty don’t lie
The final and most important piece: a declaration of action, and a challenge to the listener to participate in the struggle:
March to the streets ‘cause I’m willing and I’m able
Categorize me, I defy every label
And while you’re selling dope, we’re gonna keep selling hope
We rising up now, you gotta deal you gotta cope
Will you be electric sheep?
Electric ladies, will you sleep?
Or will you preach?
This is an incredibly rich text, both lyrically and visually, and it shows how so many of these concerns are interrelated. I hope you’ll take some time to enjoy it and think about it. In particular, that final exhortation - Will you sleep? Or will you preach? - bears careful consideration. Janelle Monae’s vision of a world where people can live joyfully and comfortably cannot come to fruition until we all figure out how to speak out for justice in all the places where it’s needed. Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu have touched on many of those places with this song, so if you need ideas - start here!
Many thanks to paperandcotton for suggesting this song! And if you’ve got a suggestion for positive music you’d like to see featured, head over to the Ask box!
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