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“We have to celebrate even the smallest victories”

Janelle Monáe is one of the most vibrant personalities in music, film and TV. She uses these platforms to drive social and gender equality. A conversation about art and the look of progress.

28.06.2021 Text: AUDI AG - Photo: Matthew Jones, Derrel Todd - Film: Alex Feil Reading Time: 5 min

Close-up of Janelle Monáe standing behind the Audi RS e-tron GT
Both tell stories of progress: Janelle Monáe and the new Audi RS e-tron GT.

Audi RS e-tron GT: Power consumption, combined*: 20.2–19.3 kWh/100km (NEDC); 22.5–20.6 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

European model shown. Specifications may vary. Stated specifications not applicable to all markets.

Audi RS e-tron GT: Power consumption, combined*: 20.2–19.3 kWh/100km (NEDC); 22.5–20.6 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

European model shown. Specifications may vary. Stated specifications not applicable to all markets.

You are a such a multi-layered artist that works across so many different mediums, and at the heart of it all is great storytelling – can you tell us about your approach to storytelling?

Since I can remember, I have honored my imagination. I truly believe that our imaginations can change the world. Perceiving the product of someone else’s imagination can shape people's perspectives on life and literally shape the future; the make or break depends on how an artist uses it. Being aware of this fact and truly, wholeheartedly believing that your imagination can inspire a whole nation, the whole world—that is my inspiration behind creating worlds and telling stories of fascination. 

 

At the heart of it is great storytelling. What’s your approach to that?

I don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach, it differs every time. Sometimes, things start with a literal dream in which I have an idea for a song. And when I wake up, I just have to run to my studio and record it. When it comes to fashion, I am often driven by the desire to bring attention to working-class folks like my parents. And as a writer for film and TV, I mostly tend to draw inspiration from real-life stories I pick up along the way. Yet I always try to create worlds filled with real characters and energies.

How do you keep control of your vision throughout the process?

For me, control is centered around making sure that the ideas I have in my heart and in my head see the light of the day in the way I intend them to. I have found it’s essential to have a great team around you, one that respects your process and helps bring your vision to life. Sometimes, there are different things I may need to do or get, things that not everyone might understand right away. But thankfully my team really trusts that I am doing things in a particular way because it is necessary.

 

Do you consider your personal style to be an extension of your art?

Style is super important to me. I rely on it all the time because I think fashion can come and go, trends can come and go. To me, it’s a way of thinking, a way to honor where my life is at that moment in time. Generally, I think my style is pretty timeless and minimalist. I kind of cringe at moments when I am not in black and white or gray—which is just a blend of black and white.

Small victories are progress.

Janelle Monáe

Let’s talk about the current projects that are important to you.

Right now, I am juggling a few projects that I’m obsessed with and that I want to continue to develop. I have a music label, Wondaland Records, where we are signing and partnering with new artists to help amplify their music, dreams, visions and imaginations. I also have a TV and film company, Wondaland Pictures, where we are developing a few TV shows and films. I wish I could speak more about those but, unfortunately, I can’t right now. Overall, I’m just really excited that we continue to bring in more radical and rebellious storytellers who have unique perspectives and who are looking to push the culture forward. And there is “Fem the Future”, of course.

 

Can you share more about “Fem the Future”?

“Fem the Future” is another organization I founded and one that I am very passionate about. There are disproportionately fewer women—and specifically Black women—in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), in audio engineering, in the music world and in TV and film. “Fem the Future” wants to change that. It is centered around making sure that young girls and young women have all the tools necessary to be their best and to have jobs in which they are thriving.

Janelle Monáe standing in an apartment with a view
Room with a view for an artist with a vision: Someone else’s imagination can shape people’s perspectives on life and literally shape the future.

How can each one of us drive progress in the world?

By doing your part. By knowing that you are here for a specific and unique purpose. And that even just walking in your purpose, walking in your authenticity might inspire the people around you. You never know who might work toward becoming the best version of themselves just because they watched you. I think it’s super important to remember that, as humans, we literally depend on each other for survival. And the more we honor that and keep that at the center, the more progress will be made. To me, progress always looks different. Sometimes, it might be just saying to yourself: Today, I choose to be productive. You know, I think we have to celebrate the smallest victories. Small victories are progress. 

 

What piece of advice would you give to young people who are trying to find their own way in the world?

I honestly never feel qualified to give that kind of advice because I think, ultimately, everybody’s lives are different. As much as we are alike, there are so many small things that make us different. That’s why I don’t think there are any one-size-fits-all inspirational quotes for me to give. What I do think, though, is that people should try and honor their authenticity. Allow yourself to live, allow yourself to make mistakes, allow yourself to evolve and change your mind about old behaviors that may not serve you right anymore. And even more importantly: Stay present. I think there is happiness in truly being present. Whenever you’re worrying about the future or are stuck in the past, I don’t think you get the joy you deserve. 

Style is a way to honor where my life is at that moment in time.

Janelle Monáe

The Audi RS e-tron GT in front of the Los Angeles skyline.

Experience the Audi RS e-tron GT in your country

The all-electric Audi RS e-tron GT heralds a new era for Audi. Learn more about the powerful performance of this trend-setting supercar.

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Audi RS e-tron GT: Power consumption, combined*: 20.2–19.3 kWh/100km (NEDC); 22.5–20.6 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

European model shown. Specifications may vary. Stated specifications not applicable to all markets.

Audi RS e-tron GT: Power consumption, combined*: 20.2–19.3 kWh/100km (NEDC); 22.5–20.6 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

European model shown. Specifications may vary. Stated specifications not applicable to all markets.

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