Men Don’t Look Up to Women
You read the title and the sub-header, which means you already know the tenor of this piece, which means you likely already agree with me, or disagree with me, so I’ll keep it brief.
I play pretty fast and loose with the definition of “hero,” I define a hero as “anyone doing very public things I wish I could do, who also seems overwhelmingly net-positive for humanity.” Despite the stunning cacophony of trash people dominating the news cycles of 2019, I still have many. If I was assembling a personal Mt. Rushmore, I’d etch Einstein, Mandela, Frankl and Sartre in stone. Maybe that list feels weird to you. It should — it’s not yours.
Yet, among the living, one name constantly burbles up when I think hero: Janelle Monae. (She’s popped up here before.) Now, you’re probably wondering, “John, she’s just an artist. Why?” Dear lord, have you no room for joy left in your life? Artists make some of the best heroes: they move us in ways scientists, politicians, economists and philanthropists often can’t, or won’t. Visually. Sonically. Verbally. Spiritually. Monae takes me there.
The Alice of Wondaland dropped three stone-cold classic albums (Metropolis, The ArchAndroid, The Electric Lady) as a contiguous sci-fi R&B rock opera about a time-traveling robot trying to find love and liberate an oppressed populace, based aesthetically and thematically on a 1920’s German Art-Deco silent film. She did all that, and then made one of my three favorite records of this century, the relentlessly spellbinding Dirty Computer.
(D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and Solange’s A Seat at the Table are the other two of that triptych. For completion’s sake: Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., To Pimp a Butterfly and Good Kid, m.A.A.d City occupy spots Nos.4, 5 and 6, respectively, only because I know someone in the comments will ask about the landmark Pulitzer winner. We’ll talk more about him in a second, and I apologize for the digression — I still harbor dreams of becoming a music journalist. Medium Staff, may I pitch you on a music pub while we’re in publication proliferation mode?)
Monae’s also acted spectacularly in Academy Award-certified films, including two that released within weeks of each other — Hidden Figures and Moonlight. She’s riotously funny and reflective in…