This was the first song to be released from Janelle Monae's second album, The Electric Lady. It was premiered on April 22, 2013 at 7.54am ET exclusively on the singer's website.
The song features Erykah Badu, who has encouraged Monáe throughout her music career. "This song is inspired by private conversations she [Badu] and I have had and continue to have," the singer told Billboard magazine. "She's a great friend to me; she's like a big sister and it's a song about private dialogue that she and I have had."
Monáe revealed to Vibe in a 2010 interview that she has never forgotten reading a wise sentence Badu once said: "Never dim your light." The singer added that she has since applied her motivational words of wisdom to her work.
The song's music video was directed by Solange Knowles's boyfriend Alan Ferguson, whose other credits include the visual for Beyoncé's "Party
." It finds Monáe and Erykah Badu in a "living museum" where various historical rebels have been held in suspended animation.
Janelle Monáe's trademark apparel of starched shirt and tuxedo represents her belief that there should be no separate men's or women's wear. Her pro-equality views are outlined in this song. "With 'Q.U.E.E.N.,' the Sci-Soul singer told Billboard magazine, "I feel like there are constant parallels with me as a woman, being an African-American woman, to what it means for the community that people consider to be queer, the community of immigrants and the Negroid-the combination between the 'N' and the android. All of us have very similar fights with society and oppressors, with those who are not about love, who are more about judging. There are two different types of people: Some people come into this world to judge, some people come into this world to jam. Which one are you? It's a question we should all ask ourselves. My job is to create art that starts a dialogue, to create songs and lyrics that ask society these questions, by using myself as a sacrificial lamb."
Monáe told Power 98's Mr. Incognito that performing with Erykah Badu was inspirational to her. She said, "I love her. I was honored to have her as part of the song. It represents the under dogs, those who are often times marginalized. We wanted to do a female-empowerment song together and just highlight how two strong women, two strong black women, can come together and do something inspiring for the community. It was just great to work with her."
This was selected by Paste magazine as their Best Song of 2013. They said: "An empowerment dance nugget bouncing on a funk guitar line, shafts and squiggles of '80s synthesizer and staccato beats, it's a declaration of independence underscored by Erykah Badu's earthy soul witness that 'the booty don't lie.'"
Monáe asks at the beginning of the second verse: "Is it peculiar that she twerk in the mirror?" She explained the lyric to The Guardian: "These are things that women need to ask themselves. They need to ask themselves, 'Are we in control of our bodies? Are we trying to make money and bring attention using our bodies? What types of things can we do to promote more or less misogyny, or less sexism? How can we really fight against those stereotypes and those shackles that men and women have placed on us? What can we do to help the next generation of young girls? How can we redefine what it means to be sexy?'"
"I definitely consider myself a feminist and a 'womanis,' and I want to redefine the whole notion of what sexy is. I want to fight against sexism and to help nurture the female and the female body."
The song's original title was "Q.U.E.E.R.," and it references a character named Mary as an object of affection.
Am I a freak because I love watching Mary? (Maybe)
Until an interview in 2018 with Rolling Stone where Monáe identified herself as pansexual, she had always ducked questions about her sexuality, while giving clues in her music. "If you listen to my albums, it's there," she told the magazine.