ELLE Canada sits down with indie artist Janelle Monáe to talk about confidence, feminism and ambition.
I'm expecting Monáe to be starry-eyed while recalling this climb to fame. But that just shows how little I know about her so far.
"You have to protect your heart and your spirit so you're not tainted by money, greed, power, arrogance.... I don't get off on those things," she says flatly.
She doesn't really party at clubs anymore. In fact, she seems disinterested in the trappings of the pop-star world - she's too preoccupied with her responsibilities. "I have responsibilities to make sure I'm setting an example," she says at one turn.
"I have a responsibility to my community," she says at the next. "I have a responsibility to tell the universe a story in an unforgettable way," she says again. The ArchAndroid certainly told a mesmerizing story.
Inspired by far-out theorists like Ray Kurzweil, Monáe used sci-fi imagery as a metaphor for the African-American experience and created a trippy, captivating musical message of "coming together and creating something that represents imagination and acceptance."
I find myself thinking of Lena Dunham's oft-quoted line in Girls: "I think I might be the voice of my generation." What made that statement so powerful - and so hilarious - was Dunham's stoned, sheepish delivery.
So I'm picturing Dunham in her jammies because Monáe is saying much the same thing - in as different a way as possible. She's crisp as she delivers her thoughts like perfectly paced prose. "I'm always thinking about how I want to speak to people," she says.
"I really want to open doors for all those starting to have their voice.... I want to speak to my cousins who are still in Kansas and feel like they don't have anyone; I want to speak to the young lady who is trying to understand who she is and how she's going to follow her dreams living in a disadvantaged environment."
Maybe that's why she talks about her new role as a CoverGirl spokesperson with the lofty idealism of a political candidate. "I felt very honoured," she says.
"I want to present a different perspective of what it means to be a strong woman, and I just hope to be an inspiration to the next generation of girls, to help them define what makes them unique and what makes them special."
That sounds incredibly daunting, I blurt out. Monáe just smiles like a Cheshire cat. "I have no problem with it; I think it's necessary," she explains. "I have to be a role model. I think there are certain people - and I think that I am one of those people - who naturally have leadership qualities."
It seems that Monáe thinks of herself as a modern Pied Piper, using her music to stir young girls. When we talk about The Electric Lady, the album she's nearly finished recording, set to drop later this year, Monáe isn't interested in discussing her musical references. (Though, off the record, her fellow Wondaland artist Nate Wonder eagerly describes what he says will be a brilliant follow-up to her first full-length album.)
Learn what Monáe believes about being a public figure on the next page...