Will Janelle Monae's Sci-Fi Concept Album Plug In To Radio?

09/13/2013
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(Radio.com) This week sees the release of The Electric Lady, the much-anticipated second album from Janelle Monae. The album continues the storyline of Cindi Mayweather, an android living in a futuristic Metropolis who rails against society to become a leading figure for the minority android community.

The album operates out of the science fiction concept Monαe established early on, beginning with 2007′s Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) EP and continuing into The ArchAndroid, the Kansas City native's 2010 GRAMMY-nominated debut full-length. That artistic brushstroke could be why Monαe won't hit the pop charts anytime soon — certainly not with The Electric Lady. Top 40 just ain't ready for sci-fi.

The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady exist in a fictional future — or perhaps another dimension altogether. That's not to say there aren't personal lyrics in Monαe's music, but it's tougher to decipher, less obvious, shrouded in the veil of science fiction.

But sci-fi hasn't exactly found a home on pop radio. Sure, Major Tom is a character oft-featured on the radio — or was — while Elton John, Pink Floyd, Styx and more have inserted a little otherworldly love onto the pop charts. Bowie practically made his name with being otherworldly. Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" was a coup for sci-fi on radio that still gets airplay today, with its dystopian schoolyard. Yeah, there were some occasional triumphs — but they were few and far between.

More recently? Daft Punk struck a chord with Random Access Memories, but the album is less conceptual and more a celebration of music's past. Lyrically, the songs are still highly relatable, with "Get Lucky" serving as an ode perseverance in any field, sexual or otherwise.

When science fiction does find its way onto the charts, it's generally in a rock format and with bands that have been around for years — which is to say, classic rock. George Clinton's Parliament and Funkadelic bands — both Monαe contemporaries — nailed down some definite sci-fi influences, be it on album or onstage, but both acts are still definitely in a classic format that don't come around here no more.

That's not to say Monαe's music is rife with sci-fi imagery; in terms of many individual songs, it's not. But while certain tracks can certainly exist outside the album medium, it's tougher to relate a concept to pop radio when it wasn't necessarily written for it. Even her amazing and not really adventurous lyrically speaking "Tightrope" was lukewarm with radio, and not even a guest spot from Big Boi could push it onto the airwaves. more.

Radio.com is an official news provider for antiMusic.com.
Copyright Radio.com/CBS Local - Excerpted here with permission.

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