Monday, October 26, 2015

Illuminations 10.26.15

Today I’m going to talk to you about a little big thing called The ArchAndroid, Janelle Monae’s first studio album. 

Released in 2010, it’s the follow-up to her 2007 debut EP Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), and contains the second and third suites of the Metropolis series.
You may be asking yourself “What is the Metropolis series?”
Fret not, my dear. Sit tight and let me giddily explain.
The Metropolis series is a string of Afro-futurist, sci-fi concept albums that, for some reason, are not mentioned on Wikipedia’s “Concept Album” page, or "Emotion Pictures" concerning a (fictional, duh) android named Cindi Mayweather. She is a revolutionary messiah from the future sent back in time to free the oppressed android citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that abuses time travel to suppress freedom. The vast majority of music from Monae’s series tells Cindi Mayweather’s story, from her forbidden love with a full human, to the order of her disassembly (robot murder...) and her subsequent life on the run from authorities.The ArchAndroid is the pinnacle of this storytelling!!!

I say this because, at 18 songs and 69 minutes long, it is an absolute masterpiece of aural cinema that moves a listener through Cindi Mayweather's struggle for freedom and love through multiple musical stylings. Janelle Monae speaks through this fantastical story to bigger truths in society - the androids are an oppressed minority group mass produced for service, exploited and disregarded as very low class citizens. Cindi's struggle to love who she wants, be who she truly is, and gain freedom with a fight is fictional, but the sentiment, the concepts are very real.
I would love to delve deeper and muse about the lyrics of each song, how it relates to real life and what Ms.Monae is saying, but you'd be sitting here reading for approximately 22 hours.
I don't want to do that to you.
So instead, I'll present the first two and last songs of the album to show just how damn cinematic/theatrical and allegorical this album is.

Yes, it's 5 minutes long. But it's two songs...(switch at 2:30) your best attention to the second song's lyrics.

The ArchAndroid begins with an Overture to the second suite of this saga, and you can't tell me it wasn't beautiful. You just can't, I'm sorry. It's the perfect opening, and listening to it gives me such a feel for the drama of the album. "Suite II Overture" allows me to see the opening scene of a play with my EARS. Gorgeous! They even clap at the end, it's so gorgeous!
Then, Monae's rap in the second song gets so many beautiful lyrics in, her bars floating with the rhythm of the neo soul instrumental to explain the dystopian state of Metropolis. "Dance or Die" goes straight into the plot, showing the state of a desolate, mass-produced, exploited Android population and their place in society, while reaching for a higher criticism of real life society. Each verse contains meaning that is applicable to Mayweather's world and ours, and the song as a whole highlights the oppression the black community, and more broadly, the "second-class" citizens all over the world face.
The transition from European, classical music stylings to the neo soul rap thatis characteristically rooted in African musical styles signifies the difference between the oppressors and the oppressed - the Androids are certainly not in the crowd clapping at the end of the Overture but they are the subject of "Dance or Die".
This theme is evident throughout: there is a mix of genres on the album, most of which are derived from African American musical traditions, but the overtures - the transitional spaces between suites is dominated by European style. Humans, the oppressors, are represented by this music, save for Anthony Greendown. He is the human that loves Cindi Mayweather, and is represented through European folk music in the love song "57821" (Cindi's android registration number) sung from his perspective as he saves her from imprisonment so she can save her people. Music that is/has often been considered "common" is used to elevate the stories of those who wish for freedom, aiming to empower both the characters in this arc AND the people who fight for freedom in the real world through empowering the folk.
This use of classical music and terminology is representative of the societal structure imposed on the oppressed Androids of Metroplis. The album moves through two suites and contains two overtures, but the vast majority of the music on the album has little to do with the Classical traditions referenced.

BTW, can you tell how excited I am?
I mean seriously, I'm holding BACK. I could write an essay about these two songs alone, so I'm going to move on to speaking on the ways in which the last song on the song utilizes European classical music with African musicality to best convey a turning point in Cindi Mayweather's journey....

I'm sorry, I know it's 8 minutes long and you hate me. Also, some of the lyrics are in Spanish ya go.

Man, I've been bumping this album for 5 yrs and I'm still amazed by this song. It's a three movement piece that details Cindi Mayweather's departure from her beloved human partner, Anthony Greendown, before she moves on in her journey for Android freedom.
Again, you CANNOT tell me this isn't beautiful in any way. To me it is an epic that, when I close my eyes, I can envision my own theatrical representation of this song. From beginning to end, I can see the first movement played out on a stage; I can imagine the scene switches to the second and third movement, the desperation and love between Cindi and Anthony.
This love between Anthony Greendown and Cindi Mayweather, and their separation is represented by a mix of classical and characteristically African music. It is the only song on the album with such a mix - it outwardly utilizes "movements" of the European classic musical tradition, employs that classical musicality beside jazzy bass and Afro-Latin music and eventually creates this distinctly hybrid sound of violins and congas and bass.
"BaBopByeYa" signifies the journey Cindi must leave Anthony for in the perfect way - she is the oppressed messiah that must go and free her people, deconstruct the hierarchy of Metropolis and create an equalized society.
It's the perfect ending to an album that could easily double as a soundtrack (or psuedo soundtrack?) to (the first half - I mean, they can't leave us hanging like that...) of a musical, leaving the listener to wonder what will happen to Cindi on her quest.

Will she evade all the Droid Control and the Wolfmasters that hunt her?
Will she save the citizens of Metropolis?
Will she ever be able to gain freedom, and be able to love Sir Greendown once more?

Find out some time in the future because Janelle Monae's most recent album, The Electric Lady (2013) is actually the PREQUEL to The ArchAndroid.


- Renee

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