When it came to picking song of the year that I both enjoyed and felt that I could write about, I was torn between two songs from vastly different acts: “She Will” by the stark all-girl post-punkers Savages, or “Q.U.E.E.N” by funky android woman Janelle Monáe. Savages are dark and serious, while Janelle just wants to kick up a groove. Savages are intimidating with their all black clothes and glowering stares but Janelle seems intimidating only because she’s probably way cooler and definitely a better dancer than you.
However, both songs are similar in their messages of empowerment and bucking societal regulations. “She Will” attacks puritanical restrictions of female sexuality and “Q.U.E.E.N” attacks restrictions of anyone who feels ostracized by mainstream society.
Even in the world of celebrity, where the outlandish is often the norm, Janelle Monáe stands out in her striking black-and-white tuxedo, attacking the notion that there should be separate clothes and styles for men and women. That, coupled with her pompadour hairstyle, challenges gender and sexual orientation presentation, a mentality reflected in the line from “Q.U.E.E.N,” “Categorize me, I defy every label!” In addition, much of her album The Electric Lady addresses the double bind oppression of being both African American and a woman, cleverly using her “android” theme to address real world oppression in sci-fi setting.
“Q.U.E.E.N” is the groovy five minute centerpiece of an album that focuses on battling any form of oppression or ridicule. The title alone calls up the image of a strong, powerful woman, and Janelle has said in interviews it is also an acronym, “ ‘Q’ represents the queer community, the ‘U’ for the untouchables, the ‘E’ for emigrants, the second ‘E’ for the excommunicated and the ‘N’ for those labeled as negroid.” The message of the song is summed up most succinctly in the lines “Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.”
With a grooving bassline, Prince-esque synths and Janelle’s seriously-why-is-she-not-topping-the-charts R&B voice it’s impossible to do anything but get down, as evidenced in Erykah Badu’s feature verse, which ends with the line “the booty don’t lie.” And in case you still haven’t gotten the message, Janelle ends the track with a fierce rap, calling for action: “We rising up now, you gotta deal you gotta cope/ Will you be electric sheep? Electric ladies, will you sleep?/ Or will you preach?”
It should be a modern dance floor classic, one that promotes empowerment and defining yourself based on your own definitions rather than how others want to define you- and one that just has a killer groove. Twerk in the mirror, dance alone late at night, don’t worry what people think about you, gurrl!
– Brett Bennett
Here are other songs I liked in 2013 in no real particular order:
Kanye West – Blood on the Leaves and New Slaves
Foxygen – On Blue Mountain
Tegan and Sara – Closer
James Blake – Retrograde
Boards of Canada – Cold Earth
Girls Names – Hypnotic Regression
Suede – Barriers
Justin Timberlake – Pusher Love Girl
Daft Punk – Get Lucky
Caveman – In the City