SPECIAL EDITION 2018
The Afrofuturist Fashion Edition
in this issue
Solange Kelela TLC & Janelle Monรกe
TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S LETTER from THE EDITOR……..3 SOLANGE……………………….4 JANELLE Monáe………………10 TLC………………………………..14 KELELA……………………………20
Letter from the Editor
The future fashion edition of this magazine is concerned primarily with the afrofuturist worlds built through the music videos of these four immensely talented artists/groups. Each of them are worlds created or inhabited by Black women. In this issue I want to honor these women, and the worlds they have created. They are spaces of healing, empowerment, absolute coolness, and much more. As Martine Syms writes in The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto the creation of these worlds is, “The opportunity to make sense of the nonsense that regularly––and sometimes violently––accents black life.” Revel in the fun that TLC has in their world, breathe in the space Solange has created in hers, empower yourself through Janelle Monáe’s world, and find yourself embraced in Kelela’s. These are, of course, distillations of what each of these artists have created. Please enjoy and have a look for yourself.
“Together-ness” dress by Tina Knowles
Healing through Sisterhood Through her newest album, A Seat at the Table, Solange Knowles creates a world focused on black empowerment, healing, and connected-ness. In Cranes in the Sky, Solange uses clothing to emphasize her position within this world she’s created. The video’s distinctive color palate features purples, golds, pinks, greens, browns, and beiges. Solange moves through various natural settings, finding her place among and within them, rather than standing in stark juxtaposition to them. The song Cranes in the Sky references building cranes turning a town into an industrial center. It charts Solange attempting to escape this industrialized change, “I tried to drink it way/I tried to put one in the air/I tried to dance it away/I tried to change it with my hair.” Yet all these attempts do not solve the problem, and the song ends with the repeated refrain of “Away, away, away…x3.” The video showcases none of these cranes in the sky, but rather focuses on natural landscapes, with a muted color palette. It begins with various shots of Solange standing in pink or brown outfits looking directly at the camera. In one, she holds a bag of white blocks against a stained white background wearing a pink plastic bag as a shirt and skirt combo, in another she is perched atop a tree stump with no leaves in a long, light-pink dress, and in yet other she stands in an outfit made entirely of purple yarn as someone slowly unravels the yarn wrapped around her right wrist. Each of these images contain a measured stillness: there is weight to them, yet the weight seems to be dispersed in the air around her; it is intangible. The images then move to showing Solange in groups with other Black women, their bodies are all connected someway, and they are all wearing the same color: in one shot, white, in another, they are in nude colors. The vocals come in, and we are returned to the shots of Solange alone, as she sings and slowly starts moving her arms. We then arrive at the shot of her wearing a purple dress that connects her with six other women (page 6). This dress epitomizes the goal of Solange’s music video. Speaking about this music video in conjunction with the one for Don’t Touch My Hair, Solange states, “My husband, Alan, and I wanted to represent black sisterhood, strength, pride, and elevate the black man and all of his beauty and glory. This was our way of contributing to that narrative.” (continued on page 9).
Metal fishnet dress designed by Ericson Beamon
Headpiece conceptualized and executed by Shani Crowe
The dress itself is designed by Solange’s mother, Tina Knowles. Two wide pieces of fabric connect each of these seven women all in lilac tshirt dresses. They form a line, with Solange at the head, and they all look directly into the camera, as she moves her body, singing, “I ran my credit card bill up/Thought a new dress would make it better.” They are connected in a way that seems comfortable, each woman has her own space; they are not bound together. This connectedness evokes sisterhood, specifically a black sisterhood.
The album, A Seat at the Table is an album primarily concerned with healing. The clothing showcased within Cranes in the Sky embodies that healing. It asks both, how can we heal together, and emphasizes that in order to heal we must be together. The clothing through both the color palette and the literal physical connection, creates unity, while also emphasizing the delicate nature of the process of healing. As Solange moves in unison with the other women in the video they create a visual of creating and facilitating each others’ healing. Additionally, through emphasizing the natural world, and not an industrialized one, Solange points to a place of healing. In the images in which it is just Solange and nature, she stands out in a way that fits in––as oxymoronic as that sounds. (See page 5) As she dances in a gold ensemble, she fits in with the color palette nature has provided her, she is not unnatural in this space.
The first live performance of Cranes in the Sky took place during Saturday Night Live. In the performance, Solange wore a headpiece designed by Shani Crowe, in which cornrows form a circle at the back of Solange’s head, creating a spiderweb-like halo. Ericson Beamon designed the metal fishnet dress, and the outfit was finished off with a pair of silver metallic heeled boots.
Solange’s halo further emphasizes her ethereal presence and its presence within Cranes in the Sky. As she sings, “Sometimes I don’t wanna feel those metal clouds,” Solange rises through and above those clouds becoming a divine metallic being herself. What is particularly important about this look, is specifically the way in which Solange’s hair is firmly planted within a Black context through the use of cornrows. She maintains her commitment to showing how specifically Black styles are beautiful and divine.
Ultimately, through Cranes in the Sky specifically, and A Seat at the Table holistically, Solange creates a present concerned with healing from the past. This healing will create a future that contains the ability to breathe, to measure space, and facilitate community, much like what Solange showcases in her music video. This is a space that allows Black women to thrive.
Pants designed by Duran Lantink
Let’s Count the Ways We Can Make This Last Forever
“Pink like the inside of your….(baby)”
This is the start to Janelle Monáe’s song Pynk. There is nothing subtle about what Monáe is referring to, and why should there be? Even though she never uses the actual word vagina, we know exactly what she is referring to–which serves as only a testament to her creative vision. The video begins with Monáe pulling up in a light pink car with no wheels (page 12), the first clue that this world is not like the one we find ourselves currently inhabiting. The video shows a space with no men, making it an entirely feminized or “pynk” space.
Long associated with girls, the color pink serves as the predominating color throughout this video. Monáe plays on this association through the video singing, “‘Cause boy it’s cool if you got blue/We got the pink, huh” in the chorus. These colors now stand in for genitalia. Most of Monáe’s outfits are entirely pink, and the word “pink” is referenced twenty-four times. The most explicitly obvious visual reference to vaginas comes in the form of Monáe’s pants. The pants look like labium, and they are not worn by everyone in this video. This was a conscious decision on Monáe’s part as she states, “There are some women in the video that do not have on the pants, because I don’t believe that all women need to possess a vagina to be a woman.”
In Pynk the outfits are integral to the video as whole. They create the most famous and memorable image from this video. From the choice to wear the pants to not wear the pants, each decision connotes something important. The world Monáe has built in Pynk is precisely that: Pink. But moreover, it is a celebration of queer Black womanhood. She creates a world that empowers rather than shames, and celebrates rather than rejects queer Black women.
No Scrubs dir: Hype Williams
No Scrubs in the Future: TLC’s Afrofuturist Vision Listening to TLC’s famous song, No Scrubs, you would not immediately think to place it within an Afrofuturist context. The song’s lyrics,
A scrub is a guy that thinks he’s fly And is also know as a busta (busta) Always talkin’ ‘bout what he wants And sits on his broke ass
So no, I don’t want your number No, I don’t wanna give you mine No, I don’t wanna meet you nowhere No, I don't want none of your time…
Are obviously concerned with being bothered by a guy you would never want to waste your time on. But a look at the video shows T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli dancing in various spaceship/futuristic settings. Their outfits, which change throughout the video, are similarly in a futuristic vein. From the metallic silver pants and crop-tops complete with puffed up arm-warmers and shoulder pads, to a metallic blue chest plate and silver headpiece with metal bars coming out of either end, these outfits firmly contextualize TLC in the future. They are at once effortlessly cool and high fashion. Unlike the worlds presented by Solange and Janelle Monáe, this future world has nothing to do with the natural. The settings are all indoors and intensely lit with fluorescent lights. The outdoors are not even remotely a possibility.
(Continued on page 18)
Nevertheless, the choice begs the question: why pair No Scrubs with the future? The answer, we believe, lies in the fact that TLC’s fashion choices highlight just how above this scrub they are. They connote that they are in the future, while he (and all other scrubs) remain in the past/in a lame present. It also highlights their unreachability since they are occupying a space that is untouchable for most people: that of space/future. This is important because the world they inhabit is free of any scrubs––the space they occupy looks almost sterilized, yet they dance around and play fight making it a joyful space. They’ve eradicated the scrubs and have reached a place where they will not be bothered by them anymore.
Not to mention they look absolutely fantastic.
Video concept: Kelela Mizanekristos & Mischa Notcutt
Animation & visual eďŹ€ects: Claudia MatĂŠ
SIMS 5 or Kelela’s Virtual Reality in Frontline Kelela’s music video for Frontline begins with a sims-like version of Kelela driving then stepping out of her white convertible mercedes replete with pink leather seats. The taillights on the car flare pink, and she is transported to the outside of a house. She walks in, and as she sits down on the bed, she sings, “There’s a place you hold I left behind, I’m finished/Since you took your time, you should know why I’m quitting.” The scene playing before the viewer is clearly a breakup. She sheds a tear that looks like a liquified gem (much like the ones in her hair and on her earrings), and then walks out, back to her car and continues driving. She’s driving through what appears to be a post-apocalyptic sims-like landscape, one that bares a slight resemblance to Los Angeles, California. She lights up a joint, and meets up with two friends. As the video continues, we learn her boyfriend left her for a white woman, something that is an important part of the feeling this video tries to capture. Speaking about Frontline Kelela says, “It’s about leaving your ex with the wind in your hair while acknowledging curiously complex feeling of pain that he has left you for a white woman.”
This video certainly accomplishes that. Sim-Kelela wears a white body con halter top dress with white boots. Her head is shaved on the left side of her head, the rest of her hair is in dreads with glistening crystal beads at the ends. As she meets up with her friends they dance together, achieving the desired “wind in hair” effect. This does not affect Sim-Kelela too deeply, precisely because she is a Sim, and therefore her feelings are not felt or conveyed in all the dimensionality that they would were this real life. But this is exactly the point.
Arguably, this virtual reality provides a protection for the feelings of this breakup. These feelings are encompassed through the presentation of the world surrounding Sim-Kelela. It appears to be depicting a real place, but there’s something off about it. In this world, the only people that exist are Kelela, her two friends, her ex-boyfriend, and his new white girlfriend. The video captures feelings of disassociation by creating a world that clearly looks like a simulation, or rather, SIMulation.
Blue Light dir: Helmi
Growth: Examining the Powerful Visuals in Kelela’s Blue Light Video Blue Light begins with Kelela dressed in a gold pleated dress. Her eyes are closed, and as she starts singing she starts moving, and her hair starts growing. She is glossy, everything about the video is glossy: the blue backdrop that looks either like an ocean or frozen slime, the pleated gold dress, and Kelela’s body all carry a similar other worldly shine. As the video continues, her hair continues to grow, covering her entire body, as she unzips the gold dress. She stays standing in one place, but moves her body as her hair covers her face, shoulders, breasts, and encircles her waist, wrists, and legs.
The video ends with Kelela draped in her dreadlocks with her arms partially outstretched and held tilted back. She sings, “My chains, they come falling down/It’s all falling down/My chains, they come falling down.” Yet, as she sings this, she seems to be getting trapped, not by chains, but by her own hair. This at first seems to be a juxtaposition, as the song is about transitioning from moving slowly to, “Darling, my guard is down/When I know you’re around.” She’s letting her guard down, which facilitates this growth depicted through the literal growing of her hair. This growing, at the end of the video becomes her protection, and because the hair is her own, it becomes a powerful metaphor for her self-protection and shielding.
The last image is the one that will stick with you for days to come. It is at once surreal, sensual, and freeing. Rather intentional or not, the image calls forth religious iconography, mainly that of the crucifixion: as Kelela raises her arms and tilts her head back. She is reborn from this growth, as she repeats the refrain: “No, no, no, no (Falling)” seven times as the song comes to a close. The process of letting oneself go and jumping into a new and possibly hurtful experience is an incredibly difficult one. The video encapsulates that, but it also locates the protection she receives as one that is distinctively Black, as it is her dreadlocks that encircle her. In a similar vein as Solange did in her SNL performance (and continues to do), Kelela works to undo the false rhetoric surrounding Black hair by situating it within this context. And of course, because this is the way she wears her hair, why would it be anything different?
SOURCES Da Costa, Cassie. "The Profound Power of the New Solange Videos." New Yorker, 24 Oct. 2016. New Yorker, www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/theprofound-power-of-the-new-solange-videos. Accessed 13 May 2018.
Daw, Stephen. "Janelle Monáe Might Be Selling Those Vagina Pants from Her 'PYNK' Video." Billboard, 3 May 2018, www.billboard.com/articles/news/pride/ 8452054/janelle-monae-vagina-pants-pynk-video-for-sale. Accessed 15 May 2018.
Kim, Michelle. "Kelela Is One of “The Sims” in Her New “Frontline” Video: Watch." Pitchfork. Pitchfork, pitchfork.com/news/kelela-is-one-of-the-sims-in-hernew-frontline-video-watch/. Accessed 13 May 2018.
Knowles, Solange, performer. Cranes in the Sky. Directed by Alan Ferguson, Columbia Records, 2016. Youtube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0qrinhNnOM. Accessed 13 May 2018.
---, performer. Cranes in the Sky. 4 Nov. 2016, NBC studios, New York. Performance.
Mizanekristos, Kelela, performer. Blue Light. Directed by Helmi, Warp Records, 2017. Youtube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wjq7x2d_s1w. Accessed 13 May 2018.
---, performer. Frontline. Directed by Claudia Maté, Warp Records, 2017. Youtube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=l227G1KSWks. Accessed 13 May 2018.
Monae, Janelle, performer. Pynk. Directed by Emma Westenberg, Atlantic Records, 2018. Youtube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaYvlVR_BEc. Accessed 13 May 2018.
Nnadi, Chioma. "Solange Knowles on Why Creating Regal Images of Black Women Matters Most in Her New Videos." Vogue, 4 Oct. 2016, www.vogue.com/ article/solange-knowles-new-videos-cranes-in-the-sky-dont-touch-my-hair. Accessed 13 May 2018.
Thomas, Rozonda, et al., performers. No Scrubs. Directed by Hype Williams, LaFace Records, 1999. Youtube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrLequ6dUdM.
A fashion magazine showing the afrofuturist fashion worlds created and inhabited by Solange Knowles, Janelle Monáe, TLC, and Kelela.
Published on May 15, 2018
A fashion magazine showing the afrofuturist fashion worlds created and inhabited by Solange Knowles, Janelle Monáe, TLC, and Kelela.