Janelle Monae Chats Inclusion and Her Upcoming 'Free As F--k' Grammy Performance at Fem the Future Brunch

Janelle Monae
Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Janelle Monae at the Janelle Monae x Instagram Fem the Future Brunch on Feb. 8, 2019, in Los Angeles, California.

The vibrant, multifaceted power of sisterhood was the overriding theme at Fem the Future’s brunch celebrating the female nominees of the 61st annual Grammy Awards (Feb. 8). 2019 nominee Janelle Monáe and Instagram hosted the event at West Hollywood's Ysabel restaurant, and they were joined by a contingent of fellow Grammy nominees that included Linda Perry, Brandi Carlisle, Chloe x Halle, Tierra Whack and Sofi Tukker.

“They say that every time a group of talented, smart, kickass women and allies come together for positive, tangible change, an angel gets her wings,” said Monáe, who founded Fem the Future four years ago while recording her Grammy-nominated album Dirty Computer. “I don’t know if it’s true or not. But what I do know is when we get together, we move closer to a more inclusive future. This isn’t a trend, this isn’t a fleeting moment but a critical time in our history where the only way out is going forward.”

Noting to roaring applause beforehand that “we are the two women running music at Instagram,” Lauren Seawood was joined by fellow music partnerships colleague Fadia Kader in welcoming the diverse gathering of women inside Ysabel. The venue’s teeming courtyard included Motown president Ethiopia Habtemariam, Columbia Records co-head of urban music Phylicia Fant, CAA agent Caroline Yim and artists Melanie Fiona, Esperanza, Ari Lennox, Sabrina Claudio and Goapele.


Nithya Raman, executive director of Time’s Up Entertainment, shared that more than 150 women are nominees for this year's Grammys. She also revealed that Time’s Up is launching Time’s Up X 2, a campaign dedicated to doubling the number of women across the industry and in positions of power. Toward that end, attendees were asked to represent Time’s Up at the Grammys tomorrow evening (Feb. 9) by wearing one of the ribbons, bracelets and pins being made available following the brunch. “Our collective mission is to make sure that every woman in every industry has a safe, fair and dignified place to work,” said Raman.

At one point during Monáe’s comments, the artist didn’t miss a beat when a glass shattered on the floor at the back of the courtyard. “While we can acknowledge and celebrate the progress that’s been made since this time last year,” she said, “we still have a long, long way to go … and [to the sound of breaking glass] that glass ceiling has to be broken.”

During a chat with Billboard prior to her uplifting remarks, Monáe spoke about the importance of “breaking the cycle” and literally skydiving into the “fearless” person she is.

Why was it important organize this brunch?

It’s important that women are celebrated by other women. We need to feel that support from each other. When we come into this industry, when we go to award shows, there’s this feeling of competition in the air. That we have to compete. And that’s not true. I wanted to break that cycle. I wanted to verbally express my love and appreciation for everything these women are doing. We all work hard; we all have teams that work hard on our behalf. We’re out on the front lines all the time with our music, our art, our image and our messaging -- and it can be a lot. I relax more when I know that I’m supported by my fellow sisters.

What will it mean to win your first Grammy at this momentous time in history?

To be recognized for work that’s truthful, honest and also not just about me, but about a community of marginalized voices, makes me feel like I’ve already won. The representation was important. It’s a beautiful thing to have your peers in the music community and those voting see something in you that they feel matters. That’s really it for me. I went skydiving yesterday so I’m like on a whole other stratosphere. There’s no other feeling like it: 14,000 feet [up in the air], legs dangling from the side of the plane and you jump. That’s what this is all about: jumping and walking into the fearless person I know that I am. I didn’t get here by myself. I got here because of other fearless women.

Care to reveal any hints about your performance on Sunday?

No, but it’s going to be free as f--k.

2019 Grammy Awards