The Courage to be Different

Janelle Monae

When I reflect on some of the posts of the past months, I think about the people who influenced what I wrote and why. Usually the conversations with people in my very close circle of influence are the fuel for my thought process. I have a few friends who are not musicians, but enjoy listening to music of various genres who help me to pause and listen to music without a critical ear. Then there are my friends who are musicians that keep me alert on the technical side of performance and songwriting. However, there are times when my wife inspires a particular post. She offers a very biased, opinionated point of view that possibly reflects the thoughts and beliefs of many regular readers of Weekly Music Commentary. As I consider what I want to say each week in the commentary, overall I think about those who will read and what might entertain and force them to adopt opinions about particular entertainers.  Within verbal conversation, I sometimes find expressing balanced opinions a little frustrating. In print, I have an opportunity to organize my thoughts better and research to offer contextual evidence. This week is an example of a conversation with my wife coming to life in print, in the commentary. Several weeks ago, my wife mentioned how she admired singer Janelle Monae for her stance on her choice of wardrobe.

Of course, she made some negative comparisons to other artists, who I choose not to mention, but overall she admired Ms. Monae’s courage to be different. An artist, and in this case a musical artist, is “different” from the masses of people who are not artists. Any artist you meet will have unique views on life, politics, love and other subjects. Those of us in the audience are normally attentive listeners as they describe their beliefs, while we search to understand them. I knew my wife was referring to something more. A difference among those already labeled different if you would.

The one thing that seems to separate artists into two groups: commercial success. Within the music industry, success blazes a trail that seems to be the only path for subsequent artists. If what one or two are doing musically is appealing to a critical mass of music buyers, then that is what the decision makers will promote, without any thought of individuality. As I speak with music fans today, some are unhappy with the current state of the music industry for lack of originality. Some say that all popular music and artists look and sound the same. Not all. Janelle Monae is unique, and she wears it prominently like her trademark tuxedo.

Notice what Janelle said about her attire in an interview with Honey Magazine, “I bathe in it, I swim in it, and I could be buried in it. A tux is such a standard uniform, it is so classy and it’s a lifestyle I enjoy. The tux keeps me balanced. I look at myself as a canvas. I don’t want to cloud myself with too many colors or I’ll go crazy. It’s an experiment I’m doing. I think I want to be in the Guinness Book of World Records.” She is doubtlessly very different, but fans of Janelle Monae are more than willing to accept her individual stance.  My wife appreciates the image she portrays to young women with her choice of clothing, and image and artistic freedom are very important to Janelle Monae.  Notice what she stated in another recent interview, “I feel like I have a responsibility to my community and other young girls to help redefine what it looks like to be a woman. I don’t believe in men’s wear or women’s wear, I just like what I like. And I think we should just be respected for being an individual…. I’ve been in Vogue, now, and different publications, which is cool, because I think that it just shows a different perspective of how women can dress.”

Does it really take courage to be different from other artists today? Yes! Some feel that taking the popular route is the only way to find commercial success. Janelle Monae is proving that idea wrong. Perhaps more artists will follow Janelle Monae and choose individuality as the new path. What do you think?

10 thoughts on “The Courage to be Different

  1. I think whether it is music, art or writing, being true to yourself and allowing that to shine is what sets you apart. It is what longevity is about. Why do you think so many fade out of the spotlight so quickly.
    I love that she is someone for kids to look up to. Proving what you like, is what you like and you don't have to live this life like a sheep and follow the herd. Dare to be different. Dare to be yourself.

  2. I love, love, love Janelle Monae. I really think that she is one of the more underrated artists of her time. She is a visionary, something that seems to be a lost art in popular music today. It's nice to see someone who not afraid to be themselves on or off the camera

  3. Music, art and fashion are so intimately tied to each other that it strikes me as amazing that Janelle's style choices would seem like anything but sensible. Not sensible as in boring, but smart and what you should expect from someone who is creative. Why would an artist want to look like, sound like or be just like another artist…where is the "art" in that? Despite that, I do think it takes courage, but that's not about the artists, that's about the commercialization aspects of the music industry. Like any industry, if something works well, people want to reproduce that success. What's funny is that the thing they are trying to reproduce is uniqueness. 🙂

  4. I think individuality has always been important to any artist who wants their career to last beyond the public hype stage. If you're a singer who really cares about making good music and making your opinion heard, once you get a following you'll probably continue to keep those people on your side as long as you stay true to yourself.

    As far as Janelle is concerned, I think it says a lot that she's got a Cover Girl spokeswoman contract and she was also recently on the cover of Essence, a mag that it appears really difficult to get when you're a new face. Clearly staying true to herself is working out for her!

  5. It is nice to see some people take a different path. And I even find that as a listener it is also hard to be outside the norm. My friends and loved ones rarely understand my music taste as it is ranked outside the popular. But somewhere we all find a crowd that agrees with us, whether its fans or friends. Good work Ms Monae!!

  6. Although Ms. Monae probably does not bathe in her tuxedo, perhaps she does so metaphorically. I agree with your wife and admire Ms. Monae's courage in adapting an image that gives a healthy message to women and young girls, and making it her own.

  7. Daring to be different can bring us a whole new venue to enjoy. It doesn't come without risk that's for sure but if you are successful it can lead to spectacular results. Just look at the the BG's, The Beetles and so many others who blazed to trail to what many musical artists are now calling mainstream music. Janelle may just b on to something. She does have a beautiful voice. 🙂

  8. Good for her. I believe that music can make a change in our society starting with the artists. So many people, young and old, look up to musicians and feed off of their energy, talent, and culture. Somebody needs to set a different standard.

  9. yeah! janelle monae is the best artist of the last few years at least! the archandroid is a masterpiece and the one record i always mention when people tell me they don't like new music! i was having a conversation the other day about breaking rules and the importance of being different and the fact that the labels (and film studios) are so nervous about losing money that in an attempt to please everyone they end up robbing the art of any individual spark it had in the first place. this does not even make sense as just to name 2 examples of gorundbreaking celebrated artists: the beatles and led zeppelin took constant risks – the former quitting live and changing sound completely after a handful of immensely successful tours and records while the latter did not even release singles and both did not have a album title on 2 of their most popular records (not their debuts). people are not turned on by the way records and gigs are presented these days – it's all to clinical and the way we have made our stars so human has had a similar effect on making musicians less fantastical and larger than life – reality shows have also made it so anyone gets famous not just super talented people and the pop world has become more credible than it deserves. back in the day pop music was not to be taken too seriously. there are real artists (and importantly, musicians) for that kind of thing! it's fantastic that janelle is, if not competing with beyonce, miley cyrus or nikki minaj, at least providing an alternative for people who like real music to be commercially viable or successful! your wife has good taste! props! :-)x

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