There are no shoes allowed in Wondaland. There is grass, however, and candlelight and there were free drinks and candy in Wondaland's lobby, so no one seems to mind. Plus, Janelle Monae is here, standing barefoot in the grass.
Wondaland, for now, is inside Luminous Sound in Richardson, where everyone from Pat Green to Lil Wayne to Erykah Badu has worked. This is stop five on a two-plus week tour of small spaces around the country, where Monae will preview her new album, The Electric Lady for audiences of mostly industry types. But it isn't like most album previews. Most of those don't feature strips of grass laid on the studio floor.
"She is insistent on people having a unique experience with her music," says Wondaland Arts Society Program Director George 2.0. He's employed to be supportive, obviously, but there's no trace of a sales pitch in his voice or expression when he says, "It's just going to feel so good when people hear this album."
Monae will be back on November 9 to deliver this music with a band and a stage at the House of Blues. When it comes out on September 10, Target is going to help her deliver it to fans who shop there -- for their efforts the store will have an exclusive edition with bonus tracks featuring Big Boi and Cee-Lo.
Patronage has returned. Corporations are involved in music at every level now, and often the results are mutually beneficial. Janelle Monae does not shy away from those relationships, nor does she dwell on them. We're here to talk about the album, anyway.
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The album is Suites IV and V. Suite I was Metropolis, the EP Monae recorded before she signed with Bad Boy Records. Suites II and III were the full-length The ArchAndroid, which turned her from an intriguing singer with some great dance moves into a pop artist of singular and uncompromising vision, a doo-wop alien seeing several evolutions into the future.
Standing in the Luminous Sound studios, she tells us the genesis of the new album. She conceived The Electric Lady from paintings she was doing on tour. They were vibrant. She painted them in the shades of fire. Her therapist in Atlanta told her to identify this woman she was painting. She did so in songs she wrote while standing on grass, and from that we have Suites IV and V. Corroboration of her new vision comes in the form of collaborations with the most compelling dinner party guest list in R&B: Miguel, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, Solange and Prince.
Monae finishes the backstory and plays a few songs from the album. Her guests are encouraged to leave their seats and dance in the grass, which they nearly all do. She removes her jacket and dances with them. She sings her final, smoldering verse from lead single "Q.U.E.E.N" into a microphone alongside the track. She plays the singles and a few more.
I'd tell you what they sound like, but honestly I think you're better off finding your own unique experience, whether it's that show in November, YouTube clips right now or your car stereo in the parking lot of Target in a couple weeks. I will say this: George is right. It feels good.