While other artists have used the concept album as a momentary stylistic or artistic break, almost all of Janelle Monae‘s discography is made up of her Metropolis series. Over a decade’s worth of music has been dedicated to the narrative of Cindi Mayweather, Monae’s android alter-ego from the year 2719.
Spanning across three albums and five suites, the series follows Mayweather as she does what no android is allowed to do: fall in love with a human. From here, Monae utilises the Metropolis to tell a story of rebellion and the fight for liberation.
The dystopian setting is best introduced in the opening to Metropolis: The Chase Suite on ‘March of the Wolfmasters’, where an anonymous voice announces that Cindi Mayweather has fallen in love with a human named Anthony Greendown and must now be disassembled. The announcement then calls for “bounty hunters” to chase Mayweather down with “chainsaws and electro-daggers”. In this world, the freedom to love is criminalised.
This outlawing of love and identity is what the Metropolis series focuses on – Monae blurs the lines between reality and fantasy by drawing parallels between our world and her fictional setting.
While Metropolis may appear to be a dystopia, Monae excellently conveys her powers of creating hope to display how simple acts like dancing, singing, and loving can become acts of rebellion against power and tyranny. In ‘Many Moons’, she encourages the androids to “revolutionize your lives and find a way out” of the oppressive system that they are kept in. This continues on ‘Cold War’, one of Monae’s most emotive songs on The ArchAndroid, where ideas of war are combined with love, and listeners are urged to fight for what they believe in.
The music video for ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ features Monae and her fellow rebels frozen in time in a museum, who are then freed by other rebels armed only with a record. This continues the narrative of the Metropolis series where loving yourself unapologetically is linked to revolution. The song’s thesis seems to be summarized in the line “even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am”.
Monae’s world building skills have been fine-tuned to create immersive images and experiences for her audience. On Electric Lady, interludes from a fictional radio station within Metropolis are used as skits to draw further similarities between our world and Cindi Mayweather’s. Androids uplift each other by celebrating their identity on air, while prejudiced humans phone in to criticise love between androids and humans, and violent androids express their anger (which is quickly refuted by the DJ). The theme of otherness is furthered in these often-comical interludes, as we see how the divide between groups is furthered by preconceived ideas and anger. In response to this, Monae sings ‘Dance Apocalyptic’ from the perspective of Cindi Mayweather, to thank her followers for “dancing till the end” in response to hatred.
Ultimately, Metropolis is an Afrofuturistic celebratory experience that revels in the spirit of rebellion. While Monae’s storytelling may be hard to follow at times, the series continues to be an excellent display of her hard work and leaves a strong message – one of love, dancing, and hope for the future.
Watch the video for ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ here, available via Atlantic Records: