'I’m Exercising My Freedom': Janelle Monae Talks Liberation in InStyle's Badass Women Issue

Image: Pamela Hanson (InStyle Magazine)

What does a free black woman look like? After the coming out party that was Dirty Computer, she might look like Janelle Monáe, who liberated herself and countless fans with not only a stellar album in 2018, but the admission that she considers herself pansexual. And as the cover star of the 2019 edition of InStyle magazine’s annual August Badass Women issue, Monáe is feeling free to talk about almost anything.

“I’ve always wanted to redefine what a cool young black woman looks like in the music industry,” she says in the issue, which hits stands on July 19. I was never interested in fitting into a system that wasn’t built for me or with me in mind. I’m interested in burning that shit down and building something new.”

Photo: Pamela Hanson (InStyle Magazine)

As part of a generation more comfortable with redefining gender, sexuality and identity than perhaps any other in history, the artist formerly known as the “ArchAndroid” is right on time to challenge stereotypes and respectability politics.

“I don’t want your attention. I’m exercising my freedom,” she tells InStyle.

“‘I have to talk about my sexuality. I have to talk about my blackness. I have to talk about my womanness,” she later adds, recalling coming out to her mother—and in her music. “‘I have to talk about these things. This is who I am as a person.’”


And as if the video for last year’s “Pynk” wasn’t evidence enough that black women’s pleasure is a priority to Monáe, she confirms as much to InStyle, saying, “I knew I wanted women, especially black women, to be shown experiencing joy and celebrating each other.”

And according to Monáe, pleasure should be at the top of our lists, too, as she lists “masturbation” as one of her most pleasurable pursuits—though with a purpose that had this writer nodding in enthusiastic assent (okay, she had me at “masturbation”).


“I have been in situations where as a young girl you have compromised your morals and your values and you feel used,” Monáe tells InStyle. “And I’m like, ‘If my mother had let me have a vibrator at a young age to be in touch with my body more, I could have saved myself from so many poor decisions.’ You know what I’m saying?”

Photo: Pamela Hanson (InStyle Magazine)

We do—and agree wholeheartedly. It’s all about owning our power, from the inside out. And speaking of power, shoutout to InStyle for featuring a black woman on its Badass issue for the second year in a row. Last year’s cover star Serena Williams has her badass on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar this month—literally. Bottom line? This August is shaping up to be the type of representation we love to see.

“If I walk in [a room] and I’m the only black woman in a room of white folks and they are making decisions, there is a power dynamic there where I feel like I may have to assert myself more, or I may be a little uncomfortable,” Monáe says. “That used to intimidate me, but now when I walk in, I realize that I am an important piece of the puzzle. My ideas matter. What I have to create has the potential to shape the world, to change the narrative, to be more inclusive.”


The Glow Up tip: InStyle’s Badass issue, featuring Janelle Monáe, hits newsstands July 19. You can preview the rest of the Badass 50 below.

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About the author

Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.