Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Janelle Monáe ft. Erykah Badu – Q.U.E.E.N.

Twerk it!


Brad Shoup: This is why it’s called the Mothership.

Will Adams: With all the finesse of a single hyped via GIF, “Q.U.E.E.N.” gives nods to shade, serving face and twerking all over a cluttered synthfunk groove. There are also references to Marie Antoinette, “What’s Going On” and a theatre metaphor. The more signifiers get piled on, the less they stick. When the song collapses into its thin smooth jazz outro, it’s a relief.

Jonathan Bogart: I can’t say I was ever fully convinced by Janelle Monáe’s Broadway-sci-fi-R&B before, but this runs to a whole nother level, possibly because the game has been raised several notches by a crowd of theater-geek, anime-raised women slipping cannily back and forth between hip-hop and R&B since she last cut a public rug. She still sounds as much like Reno Sweeney as like Neneh Cherry, but her composing chops have grown, and she earns the Marvin and Latifah comparisons she cockily invites. Erykah’s hook-slinging is less distinctive than similar spots for André 3000, but Janelle’s whirlwinding around her stands up to that comparison too.

Alfred Soto: Until she sings/recites a string of rhetorical questions, the song sticks close to her tried and true, with Monáe extracting from her teeth a sing-song melody to accompany the synth. Then Badu, riding a good bass line and accompanied by trumpets, shows her another way — a better way. No, I don’t think Monáe understands. Yet.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: It is pretty hard to realize that Janelle Monáe is not all about constructs: so much of her career to this point has been driven by all-in character play, from her music’s science-fiction narratives to her kinetic live show. Even when she appears as a Cover Girl model or jumps on a song with Fun., it feels like a transmission from her Metropolis. “Q.U.E.E.N.” surprises because it claims to come from our planet in the year 2013, bypassing the familiar sci-fi narratives for a dispatch from Planet Earth. These moments aren’t always Monáe ’s strong suit: she rhymes “selling dope” with “selling hope” and confusingly talks about throwing chicken wings, placeholder lyrics from someone used to illustrating the fantastical. She has inhabited her Cindy Mayweather persona for so long that explicit references to everyday struggles, twerking and Badu mentioning her government name take a moment to accept. The music of “Q.U.E.E.N.” reflects this, eschewing the kinetic immediacy of previous campaign openers “Tightrope” and “Many Moons” for rolling funk and string-led detours: in other words, it’s a grower. Time will tell if the upcoming Electric Lady LP will be another disc continuing the Afrofuturist prog-pop Metropolis narrative, but “Q.U.E.E.N.” offers new and interesting artistic routes for Monáe to potentially follow.

Patrick St. Michel: This doesn’t really take off until the back end. The first half is enjoyable and boasts some good lines, but seems like it would be a bit too easy-going if it weren’t for that neon noodle of a synth line in the background. But then comes that Erykah Badu segue, and next Monáe decides everyone out there “doesn’t understand what she’s trying to say” so she turns to a more forceful delivery. She raps directly over a string sample that conceals all sorts of pain, and she holds nothing back.

Crystal Leww: As lovely and groovin’ as the whole song is, the only thing that really matters are the lines “Is it peculiar that she twerk in the mirror? / And am I weird to dance alone late at night?” They are is a perfect microcosm of what Janelle Monáe: a little wacky and totally aware of what’s hip and happening but she just doesn’t care.

David Lee: It’s premature to declare this an anthem, but that’s the reputation it will garner. And deservedly so. Here, rhetorical questions function as a political statement, an exercise in agency (“we” control the narrative, not “you”), and a delicious expression of self-esteem: “Is it peculiar that she twerk in the mirror?” “Hey sister, am I good enough for your heaven?/Will your god accept me in my black and white?” “Am I a freak for getting down?” “They be like ‘ooh, let them eat cake’/but we eat wings and throw them bones on the ground.” In other words, these ladies don’t have time for your side eye. Janelle described this as a byproduct of conversations between her and Badu, which makes sense given that this song, like other great anthems, is all about illuminating universal desires and concerns through a prism of fine, personal detail – those questions sure hit specific notes. What’s more, the production anchoring this lyrical assertiveness spans genres that have inspired and continue to inspire generations grappling to find their respective voices, from jazz to Motown, from funk to rap. The result? One hell of a jam.

Anthony Easton: The Afrocentric critique of capitalism attached to second or third generation adaptations of Ballroom culture would seem less than concurrent, but the history is well known, and the work shown is obvious. Ballroom culture — like the film Paris Is Burning — allowed for poor queers of colour to parody and burlesque bourgeoisie, straight culture. It became absorbed and mediated at first by camp followers like Madonna, and later by paler men, and finally by the discourse of reality  television — ironically, some reality television, especially RuPaul’s Drag Race exists as a way to return the Ballroom culture to its African American roots, but perhaps without much concentration as class shifting.  This track explicitly positions itself as a reaction to a reaction to a reaction. It may not be intended for me, and so I feel like a bit of a tourist loving it, but like most hipster fags I’ve spent a lot of time with Paris is Burning, and this functions as a useful sequel. 

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3 Responses to “Janelle Monáe ft. Erykah Badu – Q.U.E.E.N.”

  1. I heard this on R&B radio Monday night. The first half still sounded listless as hell.

  2. Didn’t understand the internet hype of her album, and I’m equally confused as to why I should give this song more than 1 listen. She’s always seemed so stylistically contrived to cover up for the lack of actual unusual creativity that she clearly sees herself as having.

    There’s nothing on this song that hasn’t been recorded a million times before. Even the title is asinine.