Tightrope
by Janelle Monáe (featuring Big Boi)

Album: The ArchAndroid (2010)
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Songfacts®:

  • This is the first single from American soul-oriented alternative singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe's debut studio album, The ArchAndroid. The song features the album's co-executive producer, OutKast's Big Boi.
  • Monáe was born Janelle Robinson and raised in Kansas City until she moved to New York to study theatre at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Her original plan was to pursue a career on Broadway, but she soon changed her mind and returned to music. Renaming herself Janelle Monáe, as a homage to Claude Monet's son, Jean, she released her 2007 debut EP, Metropolis Suite I of IV: The Chase. The disc introduces her alter ego, Cindi Mayweather, a female android who is mass produced in the year 2719 for a market filled with severe social stratification. The ArchAndroid continues the story of Cindi Mayweather. "It's about learning from the past," Monáe, told The Observer Music Monthly "but listening to the future, saving the next generation and helping to alter history."
  • Monáe told Artist Direct the story behind this song: "Tightrope deals with balance," she said. "Early on in my career, and even now, it's a daily struggle to stay balanced and not get too high or too low. It was something that I hadn't really heard in a song. If I was telling somebody how to make it through life, I would definitely tell them that balance is important. You can't get too high on praises and you can't get too low on any one situation.

    "I wanted that song to be an empowerment song," Monáe continued. "I wanted people to find their inner confidence and to feel more self-empowered in understanding that they have to stay more balanced in life. That was my goal. James Brown influenced it, of course. I wanted it to be that 2010 beyond anthem—that classic song that you can go to in any moment when you feel like things are out of control in life. That'll be your little medicine."

    "Big Boi brought a different perspective in too," she added. "He's been in the music industry for awhile. There are so many lows and highs in this business. For him to be a part of this song only felt right. He's a friend of mine, and I can talk to him about anything. I thought he was definitely a person who could have a believable and inspirational perspective for this song."
  • The song's music video was shot in a sanatorium. "It was filmed at Palace of the Dogs, which is a place where a lot of great artists have studied, from Jimi Hendrix to Prince and Miles Davis," Monáe told Billboard magazine. "Dancing is forbidden there because it leads to magical powers that are illegal. So, the 'Tightrope' was a very rebellious dance that I came up with."
  • Monáe dreamt up the basics of the Cindi Mayweather storyline after watching Fritz Lang's 1927 classic silent film Metropolis, which is set in a dystopian future. "It's a black and white German expressionist film, but it represents what we're still going through," Monáe explained to Rolling Stone. "It's about the battle between the haves and the have-nots."
  • Another Metropolis music connection is the video for Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" single, which was based on the German expressionist movie. Lady Gaga took her name from the Queen song and many reviewers see Monáe as a funked up version of the Poker Face singer, which brings us full circle...
  • This was Mojo's Track of the Year for 2010. Monáe explained the song's meaning to the magazine: "Tightrope deals with balance, and the importance of that. Not getting too high, not getting too low, just staying in the middle of it."

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