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Janelle Monae serves 'iPod mentality'

By Alan Duke, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Monae: "I don't live around categories and labels"
  • DJ: Singer's eclectic style fits 2010's "iPod mentality"
  • Debut album has "pop music moments"
  • Monae gets Rolling Stone, ASCAP, Teen Choice honors

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Janelle Monae is a singing and dancing time-traveler who has arrived.

Monae soared as a top trending topic on Twitter last week after she performed Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" at BET Awards.

The songwriters' group ASCAP gave her its Vanguard Award for helping to "shape the future of American music" and she was nominated for a Teen Choice award last week.

Rolling Stone picked Monae as its "artist of the week," calling her "a diva with a little something for everyone."

"She's very contemporary, R&B, I suppose," said Jason Bentley, program director of Los Angeles radio station KCRW. "It's progressive, it's theatrical. It really defies categories."

A Janelle Monae concert ranges across decades and styles, including the ballad "Smile," penned by Charlie Chaplin for a 1936 movie, a Beatles' hit from 1964, and futuristic songs from her debut album "ArchAndroid."

Bentley, who said Monae "doesn't fit neatly in a box," talked to her for his show "Morning Becomes Eclectic."

"I don't live around categories and labels and my music is to bring people together, to unite us, not cater to a red state or a blue state, but to create a purple state," Monae said.

But labels -- as in record companies -- traditionally depend on labels -- as in categories -- to market music to specific audiences.

"I'm hopeful it's not her undoing in that she's so eclectic," Bentley said. "She's all over the place, I'm hoping that doesn't challenge people too much where they can't figure it out, because I don't think she's going to dumb it down for people, that's she's going to just keep being an individual that a creative spirit embracing all kinds of styles. I just hope people can get into it."

The arrival of Monae's hard-to-label approach may be what makes her more successful "because people consume music in different ways now," he said.

The "iPod mentality" has people listening to "all different kinds of genres," making now the time for Monae, who has "a timeless appeal, a timeless quality to her voice," Bentley said.

"People's tastes aren't limited," he said. "I think that she's contemporary in that way, and that she's reflecting all different kinds of sounds and it just feels right now, she feels like a very 2010 artist."

There are "pop music moments" on Monae's album, Bentley said, including the first single release "Tightrope," which features Big Boi, half of the famed hip-hop duo OutKast.

"I am hoping her magnetism, her star quality, and her creativity will really push her forward and people won't be looking for the more sensational aspects that you find in pop music," Bentley said. "They won't be looking for the hit single."

His interview with Monae, along with a live performance of much of her album, can be heard at KCRW.com.