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Janelle Monáe Leads The Revolution In Stirring 'Turntables' Video

Footage of Black luminaries past and present pack the visual for the singer's powerful protest anthem

"We are in the middle of a revolution right? What’s a revolution without a song and a song without a revolution."

That's the question the Grammy-winning artist Janelle Monáe posed to Entertainment Weekly when describing her latest single, "Turntables." The song was released on September 8 and flips between cleverly rapped lines about "liberation, elevation, education" and a harmonic refrain with clear gospel influences. It's Monáe's take on a contemporary protest song, a call for a political sea change in the vein of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" or Public Enemy's "Fight the Power."

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

And on Tuesday (September), Monáe released a moving music video — or, as she calls it, an emotion picture — that solidified that message. The visual opens and closes with the singer walking along the beach in a beige trench coat and military cap. At times, she can be seen singing into a retro microphone before an American flag; in other moments, she moves through staged breakfast scenes, with a family reading through newspaper headlines as they mouth her lyrics. The visual flashes through archival and contemporary footage depicting inspirational figures past and present: Where one scene shows the model and activist Jillian Mercado at a photo shoot, another depicts a conversation with lifelong activist Angela Davis.

What rings true without is a hopeful cry for change and for equality, and a recognition of those who have been leading that fight for decades. Monáe wrote "Turntables" for the new Amazon Studios documentary, All In: The Fight for Democracy, that shines a light on voter suppression, particularly through the lens of Stacey Abrams's failed bid for the Georgia governorship. "Right now, I am focused on turning the election in our favor," Monáe told Entertainment Weekly, "and I hope this song can inspire those who are on the ground doing the work."