anelle Monáe’s voice flows like a sound bath calibrated to induce hypnosis. “You’re in my imagination,” she says.
I have just asked where she is geographically. I had to, because she’s using a digital background that sets her floating above the Golden Gate Bridge, hovering near the slope of one of its spindly tentacles, surrounded by water on all sides. But Monáe takes my question and knocks it on its side. It’s not about where she is—it’s about where she’s decided to take me.
It’s a mid-April day. Monáe and I are, of course, talking to each other over Zoom, the video-chat platform that became indispensable when the coronavirus began its rampage. On top of being an eight-time Grammy nominee who can sing, rap, dance, and play piano and guitar—as well as act—with tremendous ease, Monáe is built for an era in which technology facilitates humanity. She is a disciple of the classic 1927 sci-fi movie Metropolis. She spent years crafting concept albums about apocalyptic robots and black, queer, Afro-futuristic revolution, often performing as her android alter ego, Cindi Mayweather. Alongside frequent collaborators Chuck Lightning and Nate Wonder, she’s also the cofounder of an arts collective called the Wondaland Arts Society, whose manifesto includes lofty lines about how songs are like spaceships, books are like stars, and music is a weapon of the future.