As I study more about myth and religion, I am starting to understand the art of different artists more. For example, Janelle Monae. The first time I heard Monae was in her video for “Many Moons.” Actually, the first time I saw her was in Big Boi’s “Morris Brown,” but I didn’t know it was her. Back to “Many Moons,” in the song, you can hear saying “voodoo” repeatedly, but I didn’t realize that until recently. Thus, I decided to look more into how Monae uses religion, myth and science fiction together in her work. “Many Moons” is part of Monae’s Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), which preceded The Archandroid: Suites II and III and inspired by the German film of the same name. The albums tell the story of android 57821, Cindi Mayweather, who falls in love with a human, Anthony Greendown, and is punished for it.
To understand what Monae mean by Archandroid, we need to look up the meaning to android. An android is an automation or robot that resembles a human figure. The arch- part references the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s “archetypes,” which are like models or prototypes. Thus, Monae’s character is an archetypal figure, who acts as a messiah figure to save the people of Metropolis. In the article “Janelle Monae: Funky Sensation” from Blues & Soul, she said, “…And what makes The ArchAndroid herself very special is that she represents the MEDIATOR between the have’s and the have not’s, the minority and the majority. So in that way she’s very similar to Neo, the Archangel from ‘The Matrix’. And basically her return will mean freedom for the android community.”
Now, I remember Monae received some criticism because she spoke of androids as becoming the new “other,” but I view it as that she is talking about us. In the past, artists, such as Sun Ra and Parliament Funkadelic, often refered to us as aliens, monsters, freaks, etc. So, as we get more advanced technology, we are becoming more robotic. Monae even mentions the idea of double consciousness, being in the minority and majority. The entire album, although it is futuristic, pulls from the past as well. The video for “Many Moons” almost seems like a reference to a slave auction or capitalist structure where human beings can be bought like machinery. She like the others is using android as a “metaphor” or “mythic figure.”
In another video, “Tightrope,” Monae is a shaman figure. Balancing on the tightrope alludes to the popular Maat god in Egyptian mythology, who ruled over balance and justice. The rope also could tie in with the web that I mentioned in a previous post. In terms of shamanism, the video starts with “Dancing has long been forbidden for its subversive effects on the residents and its tendency to lead to illegal magical practices.” The video suggests modern medical and scientific practices that have often declared certain things as “crazy” or “madness,” including Voodoo and other shamanic religions that include ecstatic dancing. Earlier in my blog I posted that the grim reaper figures were from Sun Ra’s “Space Is the Place” and Maya Deren’s “Meshes of the Afternoon.” Deren was known for her film on Haitian Vodou called “Divine Horseman.” And did I mention that Monae was inspired also by popular mythologist Joseph Campbell.