Exclusive: Janelle Monae on Hair, Superpowers, and Redefining "Sexy"

It’s hard to say what’s more unique about R&B singer Janelle Monae: her look, her sound, or her attitude. After just a few minutes with the songstress, it soon becomes clear we don’t have to choose; Monae is the epitome of “fresh” in all three aspects, and the beauty and music industries are better because of it. As one of the ambassadors of CoverGirl’s #GirlsCan movement, where the brand donates $1 from specially marked mascaras to female-centric charities, Monae had lots to say about overcoming obstacles (both in life and the beauty department). Keep scrolling to read our interview!


Can you tell us more about your role with the #GirlsCan movement?

Monae: I’m one of the ambassadors for CoverGirl’s #GirlsCan movement. This campaign is really about encouraging women and girls to tap into their superpowers—those little things that make them unique. I’m so happy to be working with the brand; I really believe it’s empowering women. I hope it can really show girls, young girls, that everything is possible. It can help young women overcome boundaries.


It sounds like a great cause. You bring up obstacles. Can you share some of the biggest obstacles you faced when it came to your career? How did you overcome them?

Monae: I think that most of the time, we are our own enemy, and that we are pretty much the gatekeepers that keep us from reaching our goals. It all comes down to what we think of ourselves, really. I had to change the way I thought about myself. I came from Kansas City, a small town. I didn’t have the resources, you know? I had to work twice as hard, help my parents with the bills. Whether it was taking myself to school, living in a boarding house with six other girls, or anything else, I just made sure I was my own motivation. Even when I didn’t believe in myself, I had to motivate myself. I had to remind myself that I do have a vision, I do have a dream, I do have a plan.

Once I found my music and found that young girls were listening to it and it was empowering them, I couldn’t give up. I was my own obstacle most of the time, honestly. I had to make sure I didn’t fall into that “I don’t look like that, so I’m not going to succeed” mindset. But look at me now! I’m a CoverGirl, and I never had to change who I am to become one.  


That is truly inspiring. You mention the whole “I don’t look a certain way” mindset. Can you talk more about how you overcame these beauty-specific obstacles?

Monae: We should be in control of our image, of our body, of our wardrobe. We should look for new ways to redefine being sexy. Showing skin, or not showing skin—one doesn’t make you better than the other. I wanted to come in and I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done. I think I proved my point. I’ve done it all by being comfortable in my own skin and being in my own skin.

You have to remember—a can’t can be turned into a can. Women should want to break through, no matter where you come from. I didn’t come here in the typical route. I’m proud I made a career out of doing what I love without compromising who I am.


It’s really pretty amazing. You’ve definitely established a signature look for yourself, as well as sound. How would you describe it?

Monae: I would say B.O.S.S. Being African-American and CEO of a company and putting together a team, I just think “B.O.S.S.” When I step on stage, I want people to think that, and think, “Hey, who is that girl and where did she come from?!” Even though I’m from a small town, I want people to know I have something to say. I’m not going to dim my lights. And I want everyone to know that no matter where you come from, you can break through and rearrange the world around you.


Can you remember how you first started using makeup? What was the first product you ever used?

Monae: CoverGirl, and I’m not just saying that! My mom, whenever I was going to prom, would give me eye shadow and lip gloss and stuff. That was my first introduction to CoverGirl. I looked at Tyra Banks as a young Black girl as one of the faces of the brand, and thought, “If it works for her, it must work for me!”


We can’t let you leave without asking you about your hair. What’s the secret to the signature Monae pompadour?

Monae: I can’t give you the secret to the Monae, but you can follow it on Instagram. Yes, my hair has its own Instagram page. If you follow it, there’ll be good advice on how to style natural hair.


Do you have any advice you’d want to leave for your fans with natural hair?

Monae: Definitely love your hair. I might be biased, because I love my natural hair. You can straighten it if you want, you can curl it… there are so many opportunities to explore and play with different shapes and textures. It’s in your DNA. You’ll feel more confident being your natural self!


Keep scrolling to see the Limited Edition #GirlsCan CoverGirl Mascaras!

CoverGirl LashBlast Mascara $10

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