How can we tell our stories in new multimedia landscapes? How do we experience tales both old and new? Do we read them? Hear them? See them? Play them? A little bit of each?
Right now a dynamic example of this ever-evolving mediascape can be examined through the multi-faceted work of Janelle Monáe and her newest release, The Electric Lady, along with its tendrils of storytelling through twitter, tumblr, jpegs, and, of course, music, whether streamed, downloaded, or on disc. In the course of her earlier works, she developed the persona of Cindi Mayweather, an android from the future and “cybersoul superstar.” Currently, through a network of texts and videos and paintings, she and her Wondaland Arts Society collaborators have furthered this story directly through user-directed social media. Like most recording artists today, her music videos are available through YouTube – such as Q.U.E.E.N and Dance Apocalyptic – while she and her collaborators have gone several steps further by crafting mysterious, provocative short movies that build on the picture-snapping, web-surfing construct-a-story habits of 21st century media natives.
These pieces – Ministry of the Droids, the very funny Atomic Bowtie, and quirkily suspenseful Q.U.E.E.N Chaser – can provide for interesting discussion of new modes of storytelling that walk lines between advertising, communal message sharing, and visual poetry. They are also full of savvy moviemaking lessons, and all three are great to consult and critique for students working on material in the sci-fi genre, particularly promos or montage sequences. The clips are also posted on a single tumblr page for The Electric Lady that also includes texts about the paintings by Sam Spratt for the album, all of which continue to advance the narrative and themes associated with the Cindi Mayweather persona.
In the meantime, Monáe is also a songwriter and singer, and her media persona is further developed through performances that exist in the nexus of the Internet, such as the two show-stoppers she has delivered on the Late Show with David Letterman: first Tightrope, then Dance Apocalyptic. If the short films and albums mentioned earlier might compel the viewer to explore links with the work of director Fritz Lang (and particularly Metropolis) and photographer and filmmaker William Klein (and Qui êtes-vous, Polly Magoo?), then in these performances Monáe’s lineage to James Brown and Prince should be quite clear, as Letterman echoed when he called her “the hardest working woman in show business.”