Janelle Monae plans to make a memorable first impression for her Atlantic City debut. This singular R&B singer-songwriter, who’s known for her all-tuxedo wardrobe, funky riffs and focus on life’s bigger questions, plans something “fresh” and “new” for her performance 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
However, Monae doesn’t want to disclose details other than to share that androids — naturally — would figure mightily in the stage show.
For the uninitiated, Monae has long been fascinated with androids, which provide the theme for her 2013 album “Electric Lady” (Bad Boy), and previous releases.
The androids serve as a vehicle through which Monae, whose work is influenced by futurist Ray Kurzweil and director Spike Jonze (“Her”), can explore societal issues, such as the marginalization of people of color, the poor and other oppressed minorities.
“I think it’s a parallel to the other,” Monae says of her interest in androids. Being a woman, being African-American, I definitely have experienced in my short life that the world has not embraced the things that make other people unique.”
Rather than get preachy, Monae is using the story of her android alter-ego Cindi Mayweather to get out her message on “Electric Lady.”
“People hear it all the time, from Dr. (Martin Luther) King in the civil rights era, from (author) Alice Walker ... there are so many people speaking about it,” she says. “I wanted to try a different way of communication to people. I wanted them imagine an android –– how do we treat androids?
“It’s about people who are here right now, but more people are coming. How are we going to prepare? We don’t even have enough room for the people who are already here.”
Monae, who was featured on Fun’s recent hit single “We Are Young,” called in an enviable list of guest stars of her own for “Electric Lady,” including Prince, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, Solange and Miguel.
Their participation wasn’t so much premeditated as “organic,” with the music emerging from her interactions with them, according to Monae.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’m working on an album,’ and they were so excited,” she says.
In the case of Prince, Monae got to know him over a two-year period that included a visit to his Paisley Park Studios in Minneapolis, before recording “Givin Em What They Love.”
“The song we wrote is a reflection of the conversation and dialogue,” she says. “It was recorded underwater — Prince has this new way of recording, and I wanted to try it. I got a chance to produce him, which was incredible. He’s such an amazing producer and artist.
At the risk of seeming immodest, “Electric Lady” is Monae’s “favorite” album of last year.
“If I found somebody who got Prince to be on my album, that would be my favorite album — that alone, mixed with the message and the musicianship,” she says. “I’m being honest. I wondered about this: Can I say this is my favorite album?”
The Kansas City, Kan., native wants audiences to come judge for themselves.
“Come to the show — you’re going to see androids and people from 13 years old to 50 years old to 100 years old,” she says. “I’ve seen people in wheelchairs come to my concerts. It’s such a big honor to see people come from far and wide for the message that is my music.”
Similarly, Monae, who was recently named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list of influential people in the arts and other fields, is hopeful her music — and message — will continue to resonate with people.
“The things I’ve been blessed with — a smile, a song, a new hairstyle, a new tuxedo — it brings them joy, to have them feel better about life. That’s why they come to the Janelle Monae experience. It’s about camaraderie and community — how can I shape the world, so that the next generation can be inspired. That’s doing my music is about.”
Janelle Monae’s sunny day
In a sign that R&B singer-songwriter Janelle Monae has really made it, she recently got to do a guest spot on the classic PBS series “Sesame Street,” appearing with Oscar the Grouch and other childhood icons.
“It was one of the most fun shows I’ve done to date,” she says. “‘Sesame Street’ opened my imagination. If I hadn’t watched a lot of ‘Sesame Street,’ I don’t think I’d be as smart as I am right now.”
Monae also came away from the experience with a newfound appreciation for the dedication and commitment of the folks behind the muppets.
“I loved the people who worked on the set — they were so happy, they were so excited, and they had been there for 20 or 30 years,” she says. “They were letting me know, if you do something you love, you will never work a day in your life.”