March 2023 Digital Cover Experience
March is Women’s History Month, and this year we’re celebrating trailblazing women and non-binary people of color who are breaking boundaries across industries and living life on their own terms. Through her art, Janelle Monáe gives voice to the voiceless and comfort to the afflicted as a queer Black woman from Kansas. After coming out as pansexual in 2018, last April she revealed hrself to be nonbinary. Monáe uses she/her or they/them pronouns but says that her preferred pronoun is “freeassmuthafucka.” In what marks their first EBONY cover story, the award-winning singer-songwriter shares how embracing her nonbinary identity contributed to their personal and creative liberation. We’re also sharing the inspirational stories of other young visionaries in our Women Who Rule Break series—a guide to living life on your own terms from some of today’s leading stars.
To Janelle Monáe, the award-winning singer-songwriter-actress and self-described “freeassmuthafucka,” freedom is a frequency. “It starts with Janelle Monáe giving Janelle Monáe permission to discover something new about themself, to not rest on your laurels of what you’ve done in the past,” the Kansas City native tells me. “Appreciate it, respect it, honor it. But I’m more focused on being present and allowing myself to deconstruct everything I thought about what I could be, what I could do. To really, truly surprise myself. “That’s really what freedom is like. How can I surprise myself?”
“Freedom ain’t free, meaning you still have to deprogram yourself. We’re working in a world where the first response to queerness, or to trans, or to nonbinary is to question its existence or if it’s real.”
For Janelle Monáe’s inaugural EBONY cover shoot, EBONY’s creative team collaborated with the singer-songwriter-actress’ Wondaland Arts Society for a visionary partnership that embodies the trailblazing spirit of the envelope-pushing multihyphenate. The breathtaking visuals position Janelle in a variety of settings that are symbolic of the “freeassmuthafucka” ethos that Janelle lives by. The provocative portraits shot in-studio portray the star in varying modes of expression. Shot at Hubble Studios in Los Angeles, the star rocked a range of bold, body-loving looks with curve hugging silhouettes and strategically placed cut-outs.
Janelle Monáe’s striking collage art for this month’s EBONY digital cover came from the brilliant mind of collage artist Bria Sterling-Wilson. The introspective creative is known for her manipulation of magazine clippings, newspapers and fabric which allow her to recontextualize found materials to examine how African Americans are represented and perceived in society.
Monáe and team discovered Wilson’s work on Instagram. Loving the artist’s ability to create imagery with a slightly retro feel that celebrates the sensuality of women, she reached out to Wilson and EBONY to collaborate on this project. Wilson got right to work, mixing materials and textures to unveil Monáe in a colorful and playful setting.
“My inner voice has to be the loudest voice in the room.”
Janelle Monáe is a true connoisseur of the arts and culture. Throughout her career, she has stepped into various opportunities that have allowed her to flex her capacity to otherworldly creative endeavors. The initiatives that she has attached herself to and amplified have not only served her artistic purposes but are executed with the intent to move communities and culture forward. From her 2022 book, The Memory Librarian: and Other Stories of Dirty Computer to their Wondarland Arts Society Monáe has juggled a range of creative ventures. Over the past decade, they have showcased their acting chops in a variety of different works such as the Oscar award-winning film Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Antebellum, and Harriet. Most recently, her acting and comedic prowess has been on display in Netflix’s Knives Out: A Glass Onion Film, which has been garnering a lot of award season buzz for her standout portrayal.
It’s safe to say that Janelle Monáe has crossed over to fashion icon waters. When they first hit the scene in 2003, they were known for their stylish black and white tuxedo ensembles. The monochromatic uniform was her way of paying homage to her parents—a janitor and truck driver—and other working-class folks; in other words, the humble citizens that keep the world spinning but don’t necessarily get recognized. Lately, though, she’s been exploring her softer side by showing up in sensual robes that have cut-outs in all of the right places as a means of self-expression and showing the world that they are confident in who they are.
March is Women’s History Month, and this year we’re celebrating the gains made by trans and cis women, trans men, and other non-binary identities. Debuting on International Women’s Day, for Monáe’s inaugural EBONY cover shoot, we tapped collage artist Bria Sterling-Wilson to add an additional layer of dimension to the final execution, building whimsical environments around Photo Director Keith Major’s stunning portraits of the visionary multihypehnate. Sterling’s signature mixed media style utilizes magazine clippings, and newspaper to confront the representation of Black folks in popular culture. Learn more about our collaboration with Sterling-Wilson and other female trailblazers. Plus, exclusive Oscars coverage, our series on Rule Breaking Women and more.
Welcome to ‘EBONY Evolution’ a new video series that explores the past, present and future of leading visionaries. Through candid interviews, stars share an in-depth look at love, life, and career journeys through their own voice and perspective. In our first episode March cover star Janelle Monáe describes how embracing their identity contributed to their personal and creative growth. Through an exploration of personal freedom, gender identity, music, and more, the award-winning singer-songwriter-actress tells us about their ever-growing and evolving journey.