We Heart: Janelle Monáe’s #BlackLivesMatter Activism

Last Friday, singer Janelle Monáe appeared on the Today show to perform as part of its summer concert series. After finishing her song “Tightrope,” she began to give an impassioned speech to the still-cheering crowd:

Yes Lord! God Bless America! God Bless all who have lost lives to police brutality! We want white America to know that we stand tall today! We want Black America to know that we stand tall today! We will not be silenced!

And, as the band continued to play behind her, NBC’s cameras quickly panned down to the audience and cut to commercial break. Many attacked the network for what they said was censorship, but NBC reps have since said that the cut was unintentional. Although Monáe has not spoken about her Today show performance, she’s been a determined and committed #BlackLivesMatter activist.

The day before her Today show performance, for instance, Wondaland Records—the label she recently started—released “Hell You Talmbout,” a drum-heavy track filled with the impassioned voices of Monáe and other artists, including “Classic Man” singer Jidenna, Deep Cotton, St. Beauty, George 2.0 and Roman GianArthur. In turn, each artist chants the names of Black folks killed by police, urging listeners to #SayHisName or #SayHerName. On Instagram, Monáe wrote:

This song is a vessel.
It carries the unbearable anguish of millions.
We recorded it to channel the pain, fear, and trauma
caused by the ongoing slaughter of our brothers and sisters.
We recorded it to challenge the indifference, disregard,
and negligence of all who remain quiet about this issue.
Silence is our enemy. Sound is our weapon.
They say a question lives forever until it gets the answer it deserves… Won’t you say their names?

Monáe has also been actively joining and promoting protests throughout her tour this month. Since her “Eephus” tour, which is composed of eight secret concerts, began last Wednesday, she and other Wondaland artists have led Black Lives Matter protests in each of the cities they’ve stopped in, including Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. The tour’s next stop is August 21 in Los Angeles.

And if these events weren’t reason enough to love Monáe, her interviews from years prior show a commitment to social justice. She talks about inspiring young girls and the importance of being a female artist, as well as how she sees herself “as an architect and a builder—someone who’s trying to build and cultivate a movement, someone who’s trying to push forward revolution and new politics and ideas.” Monáe’s 2013 album, The Electric Lady, was praised for its Black feminism. One analysis of Monáe’s 2013 single “Q.U.E.E.N.,” (which contains lines such as, “Well I’m gonna keep leading like a young Harriet Tubman”) came to the conclusion that “her Q.U.E.E.Ndom is built on beautiful resistance to capitalist-driven sexual politics, misogyny, homophobia and sexism.”

Fight on, queen.

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Photo courtesy of Janelle Monáe’s Twitter


Emma Niles is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz and an editorial intern at Ms. Follow Emma on Twitter @emmalorinda.