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Monday, July 26, 2010

Janelle Monáe's Falling Hair Braid Brings the Superhuman Star Down to Earth

Posted By on Mon, Jul 26, 2010 at 2:54 PM

  • Joseph Schell

Janelle Monáe's live show is such a scripted, immaculate production that the presence of anything unexpected, however slight, stands out. She enters the stage in the same black cloak, dresses underneath in the same black pants and white tuxedo shirt, and whips her hair up into the same vertical 'do for every set -- and it seems, every public appearance. But yesterday at the All Shook Down Festival in North Beach, one detail of her signature look went awry, and it colored her performance for the better.

Monáe emerged onstage as usual, in a black cloak with two other dancers, and shimmied with her back to the crowd for much of the first number, "Faster." But when she finally turned to face the thousands gathered on Green Street and ripped her hood back, Monáe flew into such ferocious dance moves that a sole black braid fell from her now-famous hairdo, and dangled there, bisecting the elegant oval of her face, through several songs.

Monáe plays a robot from the future on her ambitious concept album, The ArchAndroid, and she betrayed not a single look of surprise or irritation after the piece of hair fell in her face yesterday. Only when she fastened the braid back up top during a brief pause did it become clear that she hadn't meant for it to fall. Later, during the energetic climax of her 70-minute set, the piece of her thick black hair fell again, and that time she didn't have a chance to fix it.

  • Joseph Schell
Many artists' live shows thrive on the unpredictable, but Monáe's seems to succeed, like those of other carefully constructed pop stars, by being as premeditated as possible. (Yesterday's set was nearly identical to her performance opening for Erykah Badu in Oakland last month, but you won't hear this critic complain about seeing it again.)

Monáe's talents can make her seem remote at times, no matter how much genuine emotion her music packs. But the falling braid humanized her, making her seem closer to the adoring North Beach audience. Several people I spoke with commented on her thick lock, calling it "cute" and "sexy." We may savor the superhuman performances and otherwordly aesthetics of pop stars like Monáe, but the occasional foible can sometimes add to their mystique as well.

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Ian S. Port


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