Janelle Monáe Talks Being a Queer Icon and Backlash on Her New Sexy Style: 'You Cannot Project Onto Artists'

The singer graces the cover of 'Rolling Stone's Pride issue, and addresses the public's response to her embracing her queer identity.

Janelle Monáe, the non-binary, pansexual, futuristic superstar, is opening up about the softer, more sensual and indulgent shift she's taken in life that fans are getting a taste of with her new album, The Age of Pleasure.

In an intimate interview for Rolling Stone's Pride issue, the musician and Glass Onion star delves into her new era of liberation, and how the COVID-19 pandemic kicked off her new way to celebrate her autonomy and massive success.

The 37-year-old explains to the outlet that she has "reoriented her world around pleasure" from a desire to quiet her mind and remain present. "I want things to feel so true to my life," she explains. "I used to consider myself a futurist. I know what that means, to obsess about the next thing. A present tourist is what I'm calling myself right now. I'm actively focusing on being present."

Monáe, who publicly shared her pansexuality for the first time in 2018 and came out as nonbinary in 2022, shared how she began making Age of Pleasure, after filming Glass Onion in Greece and Serbia through the summer of 2021. She would test her music at Everyday People parties thrown at Wondaland West, which inspired her when they began in 2020. While her earlier music built a fictional Afrofuturist dreamscape, Age of Pleasure leans into the worlds that Black people reside in presently.

"I think being an artist gets lonely. Most people don't understand what's going on in my brain," Monáe says. "Community has been so helpful to me; it's beautiful that I have a title called The Age of Pleasure because it actually re-centers me. It's not about an album anymore. I've changed my whole f**king lifestyle." 

"It was inspired by all of my friends, my community of folks who are from South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, the Caribbean, Atlanta, L.A., Chicago," she adds. "Seeing all of us together in our Blackness, in the love that we had in our eyes for each other. People from the continent fuck around with trap from Atlanta. You know what I'm saying? I love how the diaspora -- we talk to each other."

The new direction is also reflected in the gradual change in Monáe's signature style, which has garnered much debate and backlash on social media. The singer, who entered the scene in a slew of dapper tuxedos that became her "look," has previously explained that her former wardrobe was never a statement on how others should dress; she even used to distribute the "Ten Droid Commandments," which encouraged her fans to be individuals.

"Some people, who have their own agendas and are respectability politicians may have been misled into believing that I was covering up to be an example of how to be proper," she said during an appearance on The Breakfast Club in 2018. "I didn't like that. I never took that as a compliment."

Speaking to Rolling Stone, she reiterates the sentiment, adding, "Even when I was really, really wearing only suits, I was either in a suit or you would find me at my own parties naked. It was no in-between." 

Although Monáe notes that tuxedos aren't innately antithetical to softness, she shares that she prefers to think of ways of being in terms of elements rather than the dichotomy of masculinity and femininity. "I'm working in my soft, flowing-water energy right now," she says. "I never felt like I wanted people to see me soft," she says. "Growing up in Kansas City, my mom would always be like, 'If they hit you, you hit them back...' But I think that there's so much power in water." 

"I'm much happier when my titties are out and I can run around free," she adds.

As her music and her style boldly proclaim her shift in perspective, her public has responded by branding her a queer icon and "an emblem of queer advocacy" similar to her late mentor, Prince. 

And while Monáe embraces her fans and has dedicated her career to championing marginalized identities, she also emphasizes her freedom to be a person and not just a symbol, which includes her right to privacy. 

"I have a policy and agreement with myself -- that is a part of my life that I want to keep private. I can talk about my identity, I can talk about my sexuality. I can talk about all things Janelle Monáe without having to go into detail. It's not necessary," she explains, adding that she believes that people should learn not to "project onto artists."

"You have to understand that experiences will be had and people will change and evolve and not be the person you look up to," she says. "As much as you love and care about me, I'm on my own journey that has nothing to do with music, has nothing to do with art."

She adds that there was a moment when she felt pressure "to live up to expectations of what I feel like a majority of people would want me to do. But that time isn't now."