Essential track: Janelle Monae’s BET Awards performance of ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’

Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae performs onstage at the BET Awards at the Nokia Theatre on Sunday.
(Frank Micelotta/Invision/Associated Press)
Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic

Amid the long, meandering BET Awards telecast on Sunday night were a number of fantastic performances. The Charlie Wilson celebration, richly deserved, was not only a perfectly executed tribute but a stellar display in its own right. How could it not be? Wilson teamed with Justin Timberlake, Pharell Williams and Snoop Dogg to roll through classic funk jams from throughout Wilson’s career with the Gap Band and as a solo artist.

There were some fails, though, most notably Mariah Carey’s seemingly lip-synched take on her hot new single with Miguel, “Beautiful.” Her decision to mimic not only diminished her talent but made her seem cowardly among the many others who sang live. If nothing else, she succeeded in proving it’s worse to fake a gig than it is to miss a note.

Compared with the show’s fantastic finale, by Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu, the difference was shocking. Monae, given the closing spot despite not yet having a breakout single or top-selling album, took full advantage, enlisting her Wondaland Arts crew and Badu to do her new single, “Q.U.E.E.N.,” a heavy duty funk jam released in April worthy of Wilson’s former band.

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The BET performance offered evidence that Monae’s been working on her rapping since her debut album, “The ArchAndroid,” in 2010, and while she hasn’t got nearly the flow of Nicki Minaj (few do), her mid-song verses suggested an artist successfully expanding her repertoire.

And though their fashion styles differ, she and Badu are kindred spirits, keenly aware of their music’s history and willing to follow their muses regardless of the pop chart trends. Watch them do just that below.




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Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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