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Review: Janelle Monae Creates The Most Memorable Moment of SXSW 2011

Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae at SXSW 2011

The morning started with a bit of bad news. Cee Lo Green and Lupe Fiasco had both cancelled on SXSW at the last minute. In line to headline the Atlantic Records showcase on Thursday night, it was a definite downer for a lot of festival attendees. To our delight, the artists chosen to replace the pair were B.o.B. and Janelle Monae.

While B.o.B. has become a household name over the past year, most of the world was introduced to Monae during her incredible performance with Bruno Mars and the aformentioned B.o.B. at the Grammy Awards just a few months ago. In that performance, we saw a glimpse into a performer that owned the stage, even while being on it with more accomplished artists to that point. Her live show is no different.

Setup as a true stage production, the performance is complete with costume changes, set change overs and lighting fit for Phantom of the Opera. Opening with “Dance or Die” the lead track from her critically acclaimed album The ArchAndroid there was an energy in the room unlike anything I had felt before at SXSW. From there it was a furious pace of dance friendly songs including her second single “Cold War,” the song she had performed on national television during the Grammys.

Something that stood out during the showcase was the audiences commitment to her performance. From her incredible facial expressions to the overal melodies carried out by her large band, it’s a show that you want to watch, you want to participate in and you want to be brilliant. Taking over a crowd at SXSW is no easy feat. Generally filled with critics, executives and other artists, crowds at the festival are interested in watching the show, not clapping or dancing along. This couldn’t have been farther from the truth for Monae.

This was never more evident than during her final song, and first single “Tightrope.” As the song neared its end, she and the band showed their flexibility, getting all the way down on the stage and encouraging the audience to do the same. To my shock, almost the entire crowd played along and went crazy as they hit the final chorus and ended the show.

As quick as it had started, one of the best showcases of SXSW 2011 ended and the crowd was extremely satisfied. Although some huge 2010 artists, Lupe Fiasco and Cee Lo Green had cancelled, people in attendance were able to gaze into R&B’s future and see a true future pop star.

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