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Music with Natalie: Janelle Monáe & “Turntables”

By Natalie Daniels

Janelle Monáe calls for a revolution in her latest single “Turntables.” The song leads the soundtrack for Amazon’s original documentary All In: The Fight for Democracy, a film that highlights voter suppression and the current activism taking to place to fight back.

The song uses a march-like beat to represent the march of revolutions taking place around the country. Monáe incorporates musical inspiration from the late Prince by adding a groovy guitar riff that carries the song along. She switches from rap to singing with a chorus behind her repeating the words “TURN”.

“Turntables” begins with the lyrics “the table bout to turn.” As the song goes on, Monáe raps about “liberation, elevation, and education” and how she has “a new dream” and is “kicking out the old regime.” She relates the song to protests happening around the country to combat, in her own words, “racial inequalities, white supremacy, systemic racism, and systemic oppression.” During this tense political climate and time of social unrest, Monáe gives a voice to the people fighting in the revolution. She sings that change is already among us.

Monáe also released a music video along with the single. She calls it an “Emotion Picture” a play on words for the typical phrase “a motion picture.” The futuristic video starts with her walking on a beach at nighttime, dressed in an old war tan trenchcoat, holding a briefcase. The scene cuts between a young girl playing virtual reality, illustrating that the girl is watching Monáe through her VR googles. As Monáe sets down the briefcase, she goes through her jacket and pulls out a vinyl, concluding that the briefcase is a turntable. A man’s voice speaks over these scenes saying “I can’t be a pessimist. To be a pessimist means you agree with human life. I propose to be an optimist. I pose to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.”

The song begins as Monáe stands with her back facing the camera looking towards the American flag. She appears in the young girl’s home from before, singing straight to the camera, as the girl’s family eats their breakfast. This scene interchangeably cuts with scenes of protest, old and current. The video shows black power through all different eras of America, specifically the civil rights era of the 50s and 60s along with now. The video focuses on a black woman who represents one of the biggest leading voices in the revolution.

This anthem adds to a list of protest songs throughout the ages, demanding democracy. Her most recent album from 2018, Dirty Computer, tells her story of being a black queer woman in America. It highlights the racism, homophobia, and sexism queer people and people of color currently face.

“Turntables” is an extension of Dirty Computer with the Black Lives Matter movement, protesting against police brutality and racially motivated violence. While Black Lives Matter has been around since 2013, the death of George Floyd in May reignited the movement on social media and the streets.

I have been a big fan of Janelle Monáe since Dirty Computer and I continue to be blown away by her talent. She is someone who continues to create art she believes in wholeheartedly-art both in her music and videos.

In an interview with Zane Lowe, she says “This song doesn’t mean that I’m the leader. I am simply watching, examining, and wanting to highlight all of the people who are on the front lines fighting. This song is to keep us motivated.”

With election day coming up on November 3rd, this song not only speaks for change in our system now but also for generations to come.

Natalie Daniels is an editorial intern for Dreamlette. She is a journalism major at Emerson College with a love of storytelling. Her favorite topics include entertainment, fashion, lifestyle, social issues, and music.


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