Album Cuts: Janelle Monáe - Look into My Eyes & Ghetto Woman | 007 and the struggle of the Black woman

A cassette tape of Janelle Monáe’s second studio album ‘The Electric Lady’ lying on a surface, with the words ‘ALBUM CUTS’ superimposed onto the image on the top right-hand side.

September 6th, 2023 marked 10th anniversary of Janelle Monae’s second studio album, The Electric Lady. An album in Janelle’s discography that I feel gets a lil’ forgotten about, being sandwiched in between the opus that was The ArchAndroid and the album when Janelle came out.

So I wanted to talk a bit about a couple of songs from this album that I played and still play the absolute shit out of.

Look into My Eyes
One of my favourite songs on The ArchAndroid was “Sir Greendown”. So I was stoked that Janelle revisited this sound and vibe school sound for The Electric Lady.

“Look into My Eyes” is Janelle’s second application to helm a James Bond theme. The first being “BabopbyeYa” from The ArchAndroid. Barbara Broccoli needs to pick up the phone.

The 007 franchise had distanced itself somewhat from Bond themes of this style for a minute, and it’s understandable as to why. As the franchise moved through the decades, naturally the sound of the Bond themes did the same. Only in retrospect do we now look at some of the earlier Bond themes as signature sounds of the franchise. But it doesn’t mean it couldn’t steer back, especially given Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” for Spectre and Billie Eilish’s “No Time to Die” for the film of the same name having classic Bond sounds which herald back to the 60s. After all, all that’s old is new again. And we’re at a time of throwbacks. Although I doubt a Bond theme from Janelle now would follow this style.

“Look into My Eyes” is so beautifully hypnotic and mysterious. There’s both a calm and unease about the song which just draws me in. And then there is Janelle’s performance. The way she sings the song is so theatrical and outward, yet so intimate. It’s no wonder she went into acting. It’d be great to see her in a musical.

Ghetto Woman
The first time I heard this song I was so taken aback at how much it sounded like a Stevie Wonder song. I mean, shit. It pretty much IS a Stevie Wonder song. And I adore it for that.

It’d be easy to berate “Ghetto Woman” and cast it off as a rip-off of a Stevie Wonder song. But I actually like how unashamed Janelle is about the whole thing and that she commits to it; because she more than likely intended for people to hear “Ghetto Woman” and say ‘This is as a Stevie Wonder song’. The same way that she probably intended for people to hear “Locked Inside“ and say ‘This is a Michael Jackson song from Off the Wall’. The same way she probably intended for people to hear “Make Me Feel” and say ‘This is a Prince song’. And yet even so, she manages to give just enough of herself that the songs still feels like hers. And Janelle not being a cis male also gives her takes a cool twist in the energy she brings to them.

The sound of “Ghetto Woman” alone did it for me. But then there are also the lyrics. The message of “Ghetto Woman” is ever relevant, and it’s something which I identify with.

I grew up in a working class family which was very matriarchal in every generation. My grandparents were immigrants and my grandmothers worked just as their husbands did, in order to support their families, in addition to being homemakers. Being a stay at home housewife was a luxury for some, but not one which was afforded to them. But even if my grandmothers could have quit their jobs and been ‘typical’ housewives, I don’t think either of them would have. They enjoyed the independence of working their own jobs and realising every facet of who they were outside of just being a mother and a wife. But now being older, knowing men ain’t shit and seeing how women always end up screwed over when the relationship falls apart after years of them not working and having to rely on the income of a man - my grandmothers being the smart and forward thinking women they are, probably didn’t want to set themselves up to end up in that type of a situation. 

For my grandmothers to be working good, stable, career jobs at a time when Black women were seldom given opportunities, I can only imagine the racist and sexist shit they had to deal with. And without even realising it, they were being role models for their daughters and the generations of girls which followed. But they were also role models to me. I’m fortunate enough to have many great memories of my grandmothers. But the one that always sticks and is most prominent is how hard they worked and the pride they took in all that they did, even during moments of unhappiness and in the wake of sacrifice. There were so many times they could have given up, and for good reason, yet they never did.

So, I’m a huge fan of “Ghetto Woman” being a love letter to work class Black women who forge their own paths. Something which is also close to Janelle’s heart, as she was also raised in a working class family, which also influenced her choice of clothing early on in her career - the black and white suits being like a work uniform. And the subject matter of the song being one about social inequality, the shit Black people have to put up and how our achievements are disregarded is also very Stevie. It was something he touched on multiple times in songs with the likes of “Living for the City”, “Village Ghetto Land”, “Black Man” (which “Ghetto Woman” sounds a bit like), “Cash in Your Face” and “It’s Wrong (Apartheid)”.

It’s a shame “Ghetto Woman” wasn’t made a single.