By Ray Legendre
R&B firecracker Janelle Monae sang, danced and rapped her way into the hearts of fans Thursday night inside the Best Buy Theater in Times Square. Her greatest moment during the Samsung-sponsored event, however, involved empowering the audience, rather than entertaining them.
As she clutched a black and white scepter in her left hand, Monae delivered a statement advocating love and respect in the lead-up to performing “Cold War” that reminded listeners they held the power to fight the injustice around them.
“As a black woman living in America I stand up for the rights of women, minorities, gays and lesbians, and those discriminated against,” said Monae, dressed in a black and white jacket, white shirt and black pants. She envisioned a new generation of love, in which police treated everyone with equal respect.
Monae’s willingness to use any platform, especially a corporate one, to promote an uplifting, positive message that beautifies and exalts women sets her apart from other pop starlets. She is the total package – entertainment and substance rolled into one.
Monae’s set featured a string of song highlights – the call and response chorus of “Dance Apocalyptic”, her rapping on “Q.U.E.E.N.”, and her covers of James Brown’s “I Feel Good” and The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”. Monae’s electric nine-piece band included guitar, bass, keys, two percussionists, two backup singers and a mini horn section.
Confetti shot into the crowd during “Primetime”, a gesture that normally means the show is near its zenith. In this instance the show was just reaching its peak, with the wonderful one-two punch of “Cold War” and “Tightrope” yet to come.
Monae closed her set with “Come Alive”, a raucous expression of physical joy. During the song’s instrumental breakdown she left the stage to join the gyrating crowd. Even as she frequently amazed Thursday night, Monae always displayed a sense she was one of us. In this moment – and others – she shared her power, her gift, with us mortals, and it was glorious.