By Courtney E. Smith
Janelle Monaé’s new video for the track “Electric Lady” makes an impression by doing something unexpected: it entirely ditches her style.
Monaé has, up to this point, branded herself singularly and with repetition with a notable hairstyle, gender non-specific clothes and a repeating color pattern of black and white while allowing the occasional splash of red or pink.
She’s also painted herself as something of a latter-day Ziggy Stardust sort of character: dressed in the androgynous Bowie clothes of the late ’70s and early ’80s but swathed in the mentality of his alien days. She brushes that aside as well to immerse herself into a new character. She is now a sorority girl.
She’s cast herself in the alternate universe Zeta Phi Beta, here named the Electro Phi Betas, and spends the whole video dancing at one house party. If that sounds dull, you’re forgetting who Monaé’s ability to entertain. But if she’s not enough, she’s also got guest roles for T.I., Estelle, Esperanza Spalding, T-Boz, Monica, Kimbra, Joi, choreographer Fatima Robinson and her own mom whose monologue opens the video.
The real star of the video is the choreography. The number of dances performed here are staggering; the fact that it’s got a persistent cast of a couple of dozen people only makes it more impressive. Robinson has them doing everything from step routines to the electric slide. That constant movement is what makes the visual here compelling and the choice of having one location and one outfit gives it the room to shine that it demands.
Monaé’s album, The Electric Lady, is out now.