Why Janelle Monae & Erykah Badu’s “Q.U.E.E.N” is Helping Destroy the Gender Binary


“Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am”, chants Monae on her new single, “Q.U.E.E.N” with the infamous and captivating Badu. With a video that portrays the powerful duo as space rebels frozen in time by some kind of government officials in order to stop their mission of overall empowerment, they are set free when the first funky note in the song hits.

From there, the song becomes even more of a groove anthem until Janelle cuts into the song’s end to give a insightful rap. What’s important about “Q.U.E.E.N” is that it is possibly Monae’s most obvious yet effective protest song yet; from candid lyrics about her identity as a black woman to further exploration in sexuality (“Is it weird to like the way she wears her tights?” she coos) and gender.

The song becomes a movement of empowerment for anyone who simply feels and adheres to the song’s overall message spoken at the end – “Categorize me, I defy every label”.

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“Is it peculiar that she twerk in the mirror? And I weird to dance alone late at night?” – J.M.

The song has plenty of undertones soaked in gay ball culture, as Monae makes references to ‘throwing shade’ and ‘serving face’, and even making a term like “Queen” a universal badge of empowerment for all to wear proudly. Some of the most captivating moments come with lines like, “Am I a freak because I love watching Mary? Hey sister, am I good enough for your Heaven? Say, will your God accept me in my black and whites?”.

Throughout the song and even video, the singer breaks the traditional sense of gender expression and orientation  bouncing between the perceived ideas of ‘gay’ and ‘straight’, or ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ – and, to a further extent  ‘man’ and ‘woman’. Janelle has been credited with making the music industry a bit more queer with her gender expression that defies the typical binaries of masculinity and femininity  empowering herself through her clothing.

In the video alone, she transitions from a hyper-masculine war outfit to an extremely 60’s mod number, finding her place somewhat in-between in an outfit that blends feminine material with masculine shapes, getting down in a pair of silver heels.

What makes a term like queer powerful is its aim to deconstruct the societal ideas in-place about gender and sexuality. By placing one blanket term over it all, it strips away the vulnerability and isolation associated to certain terms. It also desensitizes us to the binaries of straight/gay, male/female, and even cisgender/transgender – to be blunt, it’s all really just queer.

By continuing to dress between gender-related expressions often seen as solely male or solely female, Monae is helping expose people to a certain train of thought that most people simply do not hold a gender identity that can be labeled as just wholly male or wholly female.

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“Been trying to fight for too long, come home and sing your song / But you gotta testify cause the booty don’t lie” – E.B.

I asked a question like this: “Are we a lost generation of our people?” / Add us to equations, but they’ll never make us equal / She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel / So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal? / They keep us underground working hard for the greedy / But when it’s time pay, they turn around and call us needy / My crown too heavy like the Queen Nefertiti / Gimme back my pyramid, I’m trying to free Kansas City

We hear you, Janelle, and we’re ready to get down until it kills us. “Q.U.E.E.N” by Monae and Badu is out now, with Monae’s sophomore album, The Electric Lady, expected sometime in 2013.

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