Little Janelle Monáe is the indie sphere's favored R&B princess--sure, she's on Diddy's record label and collabs with Big Boi, but she also pals around with Kevin Barnes and of Montreal, experiments with jazz and funk in clever ways that Rihanna never will, and runs around in vampire capes and writes weird songs about space and aliens in ways that fans of Bowie can't help but appreciate.
But it appears that Monáe is looking to expand her audience--that fact was especially clear when she performed at the Grammys last weekend with top-40 favorites Bruno Mars and B.o.B. (She sang her dynamic "Cold War," stage-dove, and put in far and away the most exciting performance of the three). Gunning for the mainstream is a natural move for Monáe--she's a diva, and everyone should know it. But co-headlining a tour with Mars--as was announced earlier this week--seems like an unnecessary step for her.
Mars, like Monáe, goes for an old-school but updated Motown vibe--tuxes, fedora, crooning, whatnot. He's got a talent for songwriting (you can thank him for Cee-Lo Green's "Fuck You!"), but for the most part he's cheesy as hell. Of his two biggest hits, one is an unnecessarily violent detailing of how he would get shot in the brain, lacerate his hand with a sharp blade, get beaten to a black-and-blue pulp, get run over by a speeding train, and incinerate his body in order to win a girl's approval. You really like this girl. We get it. As for that other song he has, I don't really need to be told to stay "just the way I am" by a convicted coke addict.
But all this is beside the point--whether it's Mars or whoever else, Janelle Monáe doesn't need a co-headliner. That fact was blaringly obvious during her last tour--last fall's co-headliner with of Montreal. Of Montreal is a legendarily electric live act, but Monáe completely blew them out of the water. Think of every quality necessary for a compelling stage performance. Monáe's got it all:
Co-headliner? Monáe is well past the point of being a "co-" anything. Since Mars is the flashier name, he'll probably go last. But Monáe doesn't need to be warming up for anyone else. She wrote one of the unanimously best albums of 2010 and is one of the most compelling live performers of our time--she's a headliner and deserves to have all eyes on her alone.
Until then, the Janelle Monáe/Bruno Mars "Hooligans in Wondaland" tour will hit Seattle's WaMu Theater on June 2--which also happens to be a certain clubs editor's birthday. I'll probably spend it in worshipful awe of Janelle before ducking out to avoid being drowned in Mars' excessive sap.