Sometimes the best way to tell an inspirational story is to revamp a classic for a younger generation.
Janelle Monae took on David Bowie’s “Heroes” for Pepsi's new “Beats the Beautiful Game” album. Comprised of original and cover songs from Monae, Kelly Rowland, Santigold and Rita Ora, among others, the 11-track album celebrates a love of soccer. With "Heroes," and a short film by artist collective Young Astronauts, the futuristic funk singer reworks the Bowie hit about lovers as an upbeat synth-anthem of courage.
HuffPost Entertainment caught up with Monae between shows in New York to discuss why she chose "Heroes," her favorite part about performing and "game-changing" new music:
What led you to cover Bowie’s “Heroes” for this album?
It was a collaborative effort between Pepsi and me. As we were going through songs, his name came up, of course -- I love him. I think he has done some exceptional work and he has inspired not just me, but many people with this song. I thought it would be the perfect song. I really do love the fact that it tied into a big project that has a lot of really eclectic artists on it. The lyrics to “Heroes” also represent the anti-bullying campaign. The Young Astronauts production company made this video that’s just so empowering that speaks out against it. I hope young people are really inspired by it and hear that message and are able to carry it with them as they go to school, and throughout their lives.
[Ed. note: Pepsi's "Beats of the Beautiful Game" is in no way affiliated with an anti-bullying campaign, this according to a representative for the company.]
The production of the song is so different from the original. How did you decide on this new sound?
I worked with my production team, Wondaland Productions. We already loved the original, of course, but it was just like, if we were in our dreams, how would the song sound? We wanted to experiment, but we loved the original a lot. We didn’t want to take the integrity away from the original.
The video reminded me of a lot of the movies “Harriet the Spy” and “The Little Rascals.” Did those inspire it at all?
Oh yeah. Alyssa Pankiw was the director behind it and her vision was just spot-on. It just had a very raw innocent appeal to it. I love honesty and it felt really honest to how we interact, our childlike spirits and what our instincts tell us to do when we feel up against the wall.
You also incorporate yourself into the video as the comic book hero. Are there any comic book characters that inspired you as a child?
Well, right now I deal with a lot of fiction in my work. From “The ArchAndroid” to “The Electric Lady” to Cindi Mayweather, who is an android, she is considered “the other.” I use her a lot in my work and try to use her as a beacon of hope and a beacon of light, one who brings people together. She’s creating that purpose, and really bringing people together through art. I use her and you can see all of her images throughout my work and the city of Metropolis. We have a graphic novel as well. So, yes, I am still inspired by superheroes.
You also shot the music video in Rio de Janeiro. What was that experience like?
It was incredible. I love Rio. I love Brazil, and I’ve performed over there quite a few times. Just to be able to capture the essence of Rio was so fun. There were a lot of amazing people we worked with. Just the culture and their love for music and art, all of that was great to be in the middle of. I was playing the guitar, that’s how I started my career really, just me and a guitar all around Georgia performing for anybody who wanted to listen. It was very organic for me to be with my guitar and just singing all dreamy-eyed.
You have a busy summer ahead, performing at about 15 festivals. What’s your favorite part of playing a festival?
There’s a lot, but just the entire experience of showing up and people are just ready to have a good time. They want to be moved, they want an experience they can always remember and share with their family and friends and loved ones. I just feel so honored to be integrated into so many strangers’ lives or people who are just not discovering me, people who may have already been supporters. Just them wanting to be a part of my life and me wanting to be a part of theirs is special to me. Music is such a universal language and for them to want to hear the way I speak and make a moment together it just magical.
Are you working on any new music now?
I’m always working on music. I have music to be released when the time is right. I’m working with a collective of incredible artists and we’ll be releasing something very soon. It’s such a big concept and big ideas. I think it’s going to be a game-changer.