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Though it has long been the purview of electro head geeks to wonder if we really are in the Matrix, sci-fi is now quickly gaining momentum in unexpected places. Case in point: Janelle Monáe’s latest opus, The ArchAndroid, a soul-infused pop masterpiece that tells the dystopian story of a world overrun with androids. The album marks both the second and third installments of a four-part concept series that takes serious lyrical cues from science fiction milestones such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the novels of Philip K. Dick and Octavia Butler.

The tale of technology running amuck and robots gaining consciousness might sound like a familiar one, but there’s one area where Monáe flips the script. Her story is told from the androids’ perspective, and whereas most future world scenarios posit Blade Runner replicates undermining what it means to be human, in Monáe’s fantasy, the humans are the bad guys.

“The android represents the Other,” Janelle told Naked Eye. “I too have felt like the Other, and I think we all have felt like the minority at some point in our lives. When we do live in a world with androids – and I think we will – there will come a time when the android’s brain will surpass that of our own human intelligence. We won’t be able to differentiate between the two, and there is the question of whether we will fear the android, and whether or not we will treat the android inhumanely. The android is associated with a clone-like image, but that doesn’t mean that the android doesn’t have feelings. Who are we to say that somebody should be treated less than somebody else?”

An android-filled world might be the last thing you’d expect to be preoccupying a successful pop singer who has recently worked with Sean Combs, Big Boi, Saul Williams and Of Montreal. In fact, Monáe’s soft spot for human 2.0 intelligence comes from her own working-class childhood in Kansas City, Kansas.

“I think that The ArchAndroid connects to individuals who feel oppressed and depressed and feel like they are just a number. Those are the people I speak to. The working-class people like my mother who was a janitor and my father who drove trash trucks, and my stepfather who was just like my father, who works at the post office. These people go through everyday-life obstacles and try to turn nothing into something and feel like they don’t have a voice. Those are the people that I am talking about, and I want to give a voice to them, even if that category one day includes androids as well. I think that it’s important that we unite them.   

“There’s a quote from Fritz Lang that says the mediator between the mind and the hand is the heart. And I consider myself to be the heart and the music that I create to be part of that heart.”

Words by:  EVAN MILLAR
Photography by: