Janelle Monáe looked back on a year of professional and personal milestones while accepting the Trailblazer award at Billboard‘s 13th annual Women in Music ceremony at New York’s Pier 36 on Thursday (Dec. 6).
“Being a trailblazer is about diving into spaces unseen and undiscovered,” Monáe said. “For me, that meant uncovering aspects of who I am in order to make spaces for others.”
The singer’s critically acclaimed third studio album, Dirty Computer, arrived in April. That month, she also came out as queer in a Rolling Stone cover story. While finding a new path “often includes bitter battles with anxiety and depression [and] calls for blind faith and a good therapist,” Monáe said, the opportunity to give back to her community makes it worth it: “I hope that by doing so I’ve created a little more light for someone trying to discover themselves.”
Monáe also recounted a story about how the previous night, a fan told her that Dirty Computer inspired her to come out to her mother and grandmother. “Moments like those, they remind you [that], no matter what’s going on in your life, how bad you’re feeling, by us walking in our truths, it can sometimes give the next person the courage to walk in theirs,” she said.
Rising rapper Tierra Whack presented Monáe with the award. In her introduction, she praised the way Monáe blazes her own trail while inspiring others not to follow, but to find their own paths as well: “In being her own beautiful self, she encourages you, me and all of us to be our beautiful selves too.” (The feeling is mutual: “The way you’re innovating right now is so inspiring me,” Monáe told Whack. “Keep going. Go further than where I’m taking it.”)
Monae is one of several 2018 Women in Music honorees, including Ariana Grande (Woman of the Year), Cyndi Lauper (accepting the Icon award), Kacey Musgraves (the Innovator award), SZA (the Rule Breaker award) and Hayley Kiyoko (the Rising Star award).