A Gauntlet Has Been Thrown!

Every now and then, I take a few precious minutes out of my extremely busy schedule as a Professional Humourless Feminist to listen to what I believe the kids refer to as ‘popular music’ or ‘pop music’ for short. I believe that this is part of what is known as ‘pop culture,’ something which less serious feminists seem to take extremely seriously, wasting their time on ‘critiques’ when there are Serious Things Going on.

Several months ago, my fellow Professional Humourless Feminist Annaham introduced me to a musical artist named Janelle Monae. I was reluctant at first to eject the compact disc of the World’s Greatest Military Marches that I usually loop on repeat, but I decided to give it a whirl.

As I listened, I felt a strange, uncomfortable, and distinctly unfamiliar sensation. I looked down to realise that my foot appeared to be making a strange twitching motion. I was powerless to control the peculiar feelings that swept over me, and I suddenly found myself pulled out of my chair as though by magnetism and careening around the living room. Explaining this alarming reaction to Annaham later, she explained that what had happened is known as a ‘Spontaneous Dance Party.’

I was initially so fearful of this turn of events that I threw the musical disc into the darkest corner of my desk drawers, but I found myself oddly compelled, and played it again one day to see if the Spontaneous Dance Party would recur. This was done in the interests of scientific inquiry, to determine whether or not the Dance Party was correlated with, or perhaps even caused by, this ‘pop music.’

After several weeks of controlled testing, I can confirm that this appears to be the case. I have submitted a writeup of my findings to the New England Journal of Medicine and am currently eagerly awaiting a response.

I bring this up, not with the intention of sharing my frivolous side activities that clearly distract me from Very Serious Feminist Things, but because I cannot allow my fellow guest blogger Sarah’s embarrassingly effuse praise of the musical artist Robyn to stand without comment.

While the musical artist Robyn may be awesome, and some experimentation has suggested that exposure to her musical compositions may also result in a Spontaneous Dance Party, she is not as fantastically amazing as Janelle Monae. Before you accuse me of resorting to unscientific terminology, I would like to point out that fantastical amazingness is in fact something that can be measured in a laboratory, while awesomeness is not, no matter what Sarah may claim in her feeble attempts to deny the almost off-the-charts fantastical amazingness of Janelle Monae.

I will concede, in the interests of civil debate, that Robyn’s music is indeed ‘catchy’ and that Robyn herself is, in fact, adorably badass.

But you cannot compete with the Janelle. This is a woman with fearsome powers of amazingness. She is unafraid to play with genres and she is unafraid to release an ambitious concept album in a world of catchy singles. The ArchAndroid is a superb album, and most critics seem to agree. It’s highly danceable, and contains layers of embedded commentary on society and on music itself. You can enjoy the tracks on their own, but you can also appreciate them as part of an overarching narrative along with Metropolis: The Chase Suite.

Is Robyn reinventing musical genres, winning rave reviews from critics, daring to create futuristic science fiction narratives spanning multiple albums while also referencing Metropolis, and sporting a pompadour that causes me to lie awake at night, boiling with envy? I think not.

If you need further proof of Janelle Monae’s fantastical amazingness, I submit the musical video for ‘Tightrope’ for your consideration. This is a song that is smooth and funky, but it does not stop there! Oh no! The amazingness of Janelle Monae cannot be contained to music alone. The video has some truly fantastic dancing, for those who are interested in that sort of thing, but there is also a fascinating embedded narrative about institutionalisation, creativity, normality, and the internal self.

(Skip video description and lyrics.)

Video Description: A black title card reads: ‘The Palace of the Dogs Asylum: Dancing has long been forbidden for its subversive effects on the residents and its tendency to lead to illegal magical practices.’

Two people in tuxedos are seen sitting against a white tiled wall. One is reading a book and the other is playing with a small ball, which eventually drifts up and floats in the air. The reader turns to see it and looks surprised.

Cut to an ominous-looking institution with a sign in front reading: ‘The Palace of the Dogs.’ Bright yellow text reading: ‘Monae and Left Foot: Tight Rope’ overlays the image as bouncy music plays.

Cut to a scene of a nurse pushing a cart full of medications. The scene starts with her feet, in sensible white shoes, and slowly pans up. She is moving down a hallway. As she proceeds, a woman (Janelle Monae) in a tuxedo without a jacket, with her hair in an elaborate sculpted pompadour, peers out the door of her room and then ducks back in. As she closes the door, we cut to her in her room, leaning against the door, and she starts singing.

The video cuts back and forth between the nurse moving down the hall, Monae singing and dancing in front of a mirror, and two ominous figures with mirrors for faces draped in black cloaks, seen from a distance. She eventually puts her jacket on and moves out of her room, softshoeing down the hallway, and other people, also in tuxedos, join her. They storm into a cafeteria, where a band is playing, led by Big Boi, wearing a peacoat, a scarf, and a snappy hat. Monae jumps up onto a table and starts dancing, while people dance all around her.

As everyone dances, the nurse is seen peering around the corner with an angry expression. The scene cuts to the nurse gesticulating at the black-robed figures, who start to glide down the hallways and into the cafeteria. Monae dances right out of the wall, leaving an imprint of her clothes against the bricks, and ends up in a misty forest in what appears to be afternoon light, where she is pursued by the gliding black figures. Leaves cling to their cloaks. Evading them, she walks through a concrete wall, leaving another impression of her clothes behind, and she winds up in the hall again, where she is now escorted by the robed figures. The video cuts back and forth between scenes of her walking down the hall and the scene in the cafeteria, where music still plays and people still dance.

As she walks, a man in an impeccable suit and top hat walks by and tips his hat to her. She goes back into her room while people continue to dance in the hall. The camera closes in on a table covered in papers and a piece of equipment which looks like a typewriter. She types a few keys, and then touches the papers, which turn out to be blueprints marked with ‘The Palace of the Dogs.’ She sits down on her bed, rests her chin on her hand, and looks into the camera. The music fades and the scene cuts to black.

Lyrics: Woahhhh
Another day
I take your pain away

Some people talk about ya
Like they know all about ya
When you get down they doubt ya
And when you dip it on the scene
Yeah they talkin’ bout it
Cause they can’t dip on the scene
Whatcha talk about it
t-t-t-talkin’ bout it
When you get elevated,
They love it or they hate it
You dance up on them haters
Keep getting funky on the scene
Why they jumpin’ round ya
They trying to take all your dreams
But you can’t allow it

Cause baby whether you’re high or low
Whether you’re high or low
You gotta tip on the tightrope
(tip, tip on it)
t-t-t-tip on the tightrope
(tip, tip on it)

Baby, baby, baby

Whether you’re high or low
(high or low)
Baby whether you’re high or low
(high or low)
You got to tip on the tightrope
(tip, tip on it)
Now let me see you do the tightrope
(tip, tip on it)
And I’m still tippin’ on it

See I’m not walkin’ on it
Or tryin to run around it
This ain’t no acrobatics
You either follow or you lead, yeah

I’m talkin’ bout you,
I’ll keep on blaming the machine, yeah
I’m talkin’ bout it,
t-t-t-talkin’ bout it
I can’t complain about it
I gotta keep my balance
And just keep dancin on it
We gettin funky on the scene

Yeah you know about it,
Like a star on the screen
Watch me tip all on it

Then baby whether I’m high or low
(high or low)
Baby whether you’re high or low
(high or low)
You gotta tip on the tightrope
(tip, tip on it)
Yeah, tip on the tightrope
(tip, tip on it)

Baby, baby, baby

Whether you’re high or low
(high or low)
Baby whether you’re high or low
(high or low)
tip on the tightrope
(tip, tip on it)
Baby let me see you tight rope
(tip, tip on it)
And I’m still tippin’ on it

Big Boi
You gotta keep your balance
Or you fall into the gap
It’s a challenge but I manage
Cause I’m cautious with the strap
No damage to your cameras damn I thought that
Can I passy (???)
Why you don’t want no friction
like the back of a matchbook
That I pass as I will forward you (??)
And your MacBook
Clothes shows will shut you down (??)
before we go-go backwards
Act up, and whether we high or low
We gonna get back-up
Like the dow jones and nasdaq
Sorta like a thong in an ass crack,
Come on

I tip on alligators and little rattle snakers
But I’m another flavor
Something like a terminator
Ain’t no equivocating
I fight for what I believe
Why you talkin’ bout it
s-s-she’s talkin’ bout it
Some callin me a sinner
Some callin me a winner
I’m callin you to dinner
And you know exactly what I mean,

Yeah I’m talkin bout you
You can rock or you can leave
Watch me tip without you

N-N-Now whether I’m high or low
(high or low)
Whether I’m high or low
(high or low)
I’m gonna tip on the tightrope
(tip, tip on it)
MMMMMM
(tip, tip on it)

Baby, baby, baby
Whether I’m high or low
(high or low)
High or low
(high or low)
I got to tip on the tightrope
(tip, tip on it)
Now baby tip on the tightrope

You can’t get too high
(you can’t get too high)
I said you can’t get too low
(we can’t get too low)
Cause you get too high
(you can’t get too high)
No you’ll surely be low
(no, you’ll surely be low)
1, 2, 3, Ho!

Yeah, yeah
Now shut up, yeah
Yeah, Now put some voodoo on it
Ladies and Gentlemen the funky is on section in the tribalist
Yeah, OH
We call that classy brass

Ohhhhhhh
OH!

Do you mind?
If I play the ukulele
Just like a little lady
Do you mind?
If I play the ukulele
Just like a little lady
As I play the ukulele
If I play my ukulele
Just like a little lady

Resume

I was initially greatly disturbed when I confirmed that Janelle Monae’s fantastical amazingness measures higher than Robyn’s. How could I choose between these two fantastic musical artists? It was even more dismaying when abby jean kept introducing me to more fantastical musical artists of the female persuasion. I spent several days in the lab in a state of desperation, attempting to measure and quantify the amazingness, and my mass amazingness spectrometer actually overheated and exploded at one point.

While waiting for the service technician to come and replace the burned out elements, I settled myself in a deep funk on the porch and stared moodily at the trees, berating myself for listening to music instead of engaging in Serious Business, until the UPS man came by with a box filled with yet more popular music to listen to. I quailed in despair, a reaction which I gather is abnormal for people receiving packages from the UPS man, and he took a moment to enquire after my situation.

I tearfully explained the problem, gesturing at the open door of the lab, from which tendrils of smoke were still wisping, and he settled himself seriously on the porch beside me.

‘Did you know,’ he said, ‘that it is possible for more than one woman musical artist to be fantastically amazing at the same time, and that you are not required to choose between them? In fact, their coexistence increases the amount of amazingness in the world!’

I did not.

‘Furthermore,’ he continued, ‘sometimes fantastically amazing musical artists collaborate together to produce music so astoundingly superb that birds fall out of the trees in a faint when they hear it.’

‘They do?’ I said.

‘Indeed they do,’ he replied.

Sighing with relief, I canceled the service call to the spectrometer people and returned to my usual Humourless Feminist Activities, with a rotating playlist of superb female artists playing in the background. While the Spontaneous Dance Parties sometimes strike at inconvenient times, I have found myself occasionally struck by the subtext of the music I am listening to.

Perhaps those less serious feminists have something in this ‘popular culture’ thing after all.


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