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Breaking Down Janelle Monae’s ‘Yoga’ Video and Her Subversive Message of Female Empowerment

in YD News, Yoga Pop

janelle-monae-yoga-video

It’s here. The video for “Yoga” by Janelle Monae Yes, there is some yoga in it. Well,  yoga pants, at least. We cringed at first, too.

Monae, soul songstress turned apparent pop diva, released the song a couple of weeks ago and, honestly, we all weren’t sure how we felt about it. On the one hand, the lyrics – ie. “baby bend over, let me see you do that yoga” – gave us the icks. Ugh, is this really what yoga needs right now? Or pop music for that matter? On the other hand, there’s something that seems strangely subversive about it. Could Janelle really be selling out or is she cleverly sending a message about women in society in the form of a catchy club track calling out booties and yoga pants AND areolas?

With the video here, I’m still not sure we know exactly what to think about it. As with the song, the first reaction is NO, MAKE IT STOP! YogaPop meter’s reaching code red and sounding the alarm bells. Abandon ship! Yoga has reached maximum pop culture saturation! However, there are some interesting theories flying around the interwebs suggesting that Janelle is not, in fact, abandoning her social commentary, but instead, acknowledging a problem and throwing it back in our flexible faces.

Let’s discuss.

The video opens on Janelle levitating and (presumably) meditating. Later on we see her dancing in front of a mirror, watching her own reflection as she sings “I ain’t got no worries, I’m my own private dancer.” Cut to “yoga class” with a dozen or so females all dressed in matching yoga outfits doing some sort of dance/asana hybrid with Janelle leading the group, levitating once again, telling everyone to “get off my areola.” Then they all just break into dance for the chorus — some relatively tasteful booty shaking commences. The rap verse, which seems completely unnecessary, shows Jidenna in a restaurant dressed as an entitled loafer-wearing, tycoon-looking fellow who appears to be out of touch with reality and respecting females. Then Janelle and her lady friends pile into the establishment and take over the place culminating in one big dance party.

It’s actually much tamer than they could have gone with this, yeah? Imagine if it were another (any other) pop star’s song. Yes, there are women wearing tight clothing, there are booties bouncing, and the lyrics sound like they’re encouraging the sexualization of yoga and objectification of women, but digging under the surface, I think Janelle might be trying to say quite the opposite. That women are bending over backwards to meet society’s expectations of them. That women can be flexible and make things happen and bend but never break, despite “the world on my shoulder.” That women should feel free to own their bodies, and areolas, despite what they’re being told. That being confident in yourself and dancing to your own rhythm (or mirror) is empowering. The song really has little to do with yoga at all, besides the metaphor. Janelle levitating is her literally floating above all the nonsense.

Review this verse again:

Crown on my head but the world on my shoulder
I’m too much a rebel, never do what I’m supposed ta
Bend it never break it, baby watch and I’ma show ya
Stretching on my cash, got my money doing yoga
Sometimes I’m peachy, and sometimes I’m vulgar
Even when I’m sleeping I got one eye open
You cannot police me, so get off my areola

It does resonate a little differently after second though, no? Too much of a stretch? Am I completely off? I do realize it’s still a pop song with an unfortunate yoga angle.

Watch the video below and let me know what you think:

~

hollypenny is a writer, yoga practitioner and dimply-butted gal living in New York City. Her interests include taking long walks, meeting smart people and trying to make sense of the world. She appreciates those who have fire and passion, and who dig below the surface to find meaning within even the most mundane of situations.

——

Earlier

Janelle Monae Just Dropped a New Club Anthem Called ‘Yoga’ About Yoga in the Club

45 comments… add one
  • Mangomango

    Get off my areola.

  • paul

    a romantic pancakes for one.. the song and video show yoga conceived of as a communal practice of discrete hedonism, pretty normal and not so bad i think considering the magic and power-manifesting direction the song could have easily gone. they got the red and white right, but this may have been a mason thing considering the crown. i also wonder on why hollypenny’s dimple-buttedness is important to their bio.

  • Angela Raney

    Well, it’s certainly not traditional……but it won’t be bad for the yoga business. There’s some very positive stuff in there. And the yoga’s not bad either.

  • Jay

    Sell-out. Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice, right? What does that have to do with a dude eating pancakes talking about breaking women in? I’m so tired of people being too afraid to be critical of pop music because they are emotionally attached to an artist and hate to see the world of pop culture for what it is: commodification. If your kind of yoga is “business yoga” or “commercialized yoga” then this a “pretty groovy song.”

    • Shayre

      I agree with you Jay, I don’t speak for all South Asians, but I threw up in my mouth when I saw this video. There is the business yoga which our former white colonizers have totally misappropriated, and then there is the religious spiritual real yoga. I just didn’t think someone like Janelle would do something like this. Insult a religion, a spiritual practice like this. I thought I had found a great artist to look up to. My faith in humanity has again been disappointed.

    • Megan

      Totally agree, Jay. I was in shock when I first heard the song. Yoga already has sexual stereotypes associated with it from those who do not fully understand the practice. If anything, telling someone to “bend over and do that yoga” is only perpetuating the ignorance. I like Janelle Monae as an artist, but this was not a “genious” or witty move to me. More like Westerners still tainting practices for our own gratification.

  • John

    Subversive, obviously, the levitation clearly alludes to witchcraft and the power of flight symbolising woman’s sacred power transcending the oppression of patriarchy… Oh, who cares, I’m pretty ancient and this sort of “ironic” “analysis” of “popular culture” seems old and tired even to me. It’ll be being stuck in the intellectual ruts of the 50s that kills yoga, not the glut of teachers or the “ego” of selfies

    Barthes on wrestling this ain’t. The problem with applying this kind of analysis to “popular culture” is that some of is too slight and meaningless to stand up under scrutiny. A little known pop singer spouting incoherence and waggling her bum is at best selling her fans the chance to identify with rather simplistic signifiers of being sexually attractive. It’s not necessarily pandering to the “male gaze” (if such a thing exists) but it’s close enough to make claims the “artist” is “not for male consumption” a sign of hypocrisy, not subversion.

    • Jamila

      Is anyone who is outraged or disenchanted listening to the lyrics? It seems, like in most discussions, people are missing the point. There is a reason she presented it in this light. She’s trying to wake the sleeping mind. It’s a catalyst. And little known singer. . . OK. If you knew much about her at all you wouldn’t take such a “knowledgeable” position. Wait. You admittedly stated you know and care very little about these things. So, why speak on it?
      It is rare for her to show skin. She was making a point. Everything she does is very intentional.
      it calls for conversation. It calls for mindfully making certain decisions regarding how you present yourself.
      Her “misuse” of the culture and religion of yoga, of course we know both exist, is fitting. People misappropriate White, Black, Latina, and various western and eastern cultures all the time to prove a point. How then is yoga exempt? People are acting like Janelle is Katy Perry deciding to go for to Afro-centric look in “Dark Horse”. Now, that’s a slap in the face if you wanna see one.
      Certainly, Janelle Monae should be free to express her creative mind freely. I think the fact that her view is not clear to everyone who might wish to offer adverse opinions fuels her argument. You can’t police her. She’s gonna do what she feels is necessary to speak her mind and wake others’.

      • Jessica Austen

        Very well said.
        It would be inappropriate for Monae to present a neatly packaged viewpoint in this song and video. The whole point is to make you think, make you uncomfortable so you can reflect on why.

  • Certainly, not my taste. Looks more like dance moves loosely connected to asanas.

  • Premaistheway

    Yoga imagery is so “white” it is refreshing to see this, I find it great and….I’m as traditionalist as they get. I am in shock when people defend “naked yoga” with soft porn models in poses but are offended by this hip hybrid of cultures yoga and pop music with what I assume has street cred.
    I thought it in good taste and good fun. AUM. Do your yoga. Let your booty loose.

  • yoga man

    Just reading the comments, absolutely no judgement from any of you so called yogi’s! Yoga is about what you can do, not, what others do!!! Free your minds folks and be yoga. There are to many self indulgent so called yoga teachers and practioners out there we don’t need to add to it. If she wants to sing and play pretend yoga it is none of our business.

    • Emily

      THIS.

      • Jayy

        Yall didnt know she is apart of satan if u look closely she is actually levitating wit no strings

  • You are right. Our responses were personal opinions. And, wasn’t that the question? Can we have opinions that are not judgements but reflections of our own reactions to what we see? I think we can answer the question without taking away from who we are and what appeals to each of us as individuals.

  • The song and video give voice to the utter confusion of what yoga has become in the west, which is useful to know, especially for teachers, whose job it is to help people understand yoga. Yoga itself is going to lose its name, surrendering it to what it’s become, unless we teachers and teacher trainers redouble our efforts to teach all eight limbs. As for the analysis above, I believe the yoga Monae speaks of here is just a description of a style of dance move. She is promoting personal power, I think, using a variety of statements, including saying she’s a rebel and does yoga, but I fear that any promotion of the actual yoga practice is made parody by the jokes about yoga as sexually seductive postures.

    • RecycleYogi

      First, I agree with Peter.

      Second, it’s a pleasant song to listen to, but the idea there’s a hidden meaning leaves me scratching my head. I think anytime we have to search so deep (“there are some interesting theories flying around the interwebs suggesting…”) – or hypothesize a theory far from the actual lyrics to find some coded meaning, maybe we’re the ones straying too far off point. If she wanted to empower female yogis and not sexualize the practice (even more), then why wouldn’t she use lyrics that reflected that message? Instead of, “baby bend over, let me see you do that yoga”, why not something more like, “ladies, brush him off and do your yoga”? Or, forget the tie-in with men at all and go with “ladies, get your strong* on, do that yoga”?

      *mental, physical, spiritual, etc.

  • We don’t own yoga, nor do we have any right to say how anyone else should do it, think about it, or treat it. Monae can do with it what she likes.

    (But I agree with your take on it Holly, this song isn’t even about yoga, it’s about female empowerment, and Jidenna is in there to remind us what women deal with every day.)

    J

  • Uumm I don’t think the video is about yoga at all or that it was even meant to be about the ancient practice of yoga! Its a dance track that’s catchy and will get chicks to bend over in the club and shake what their mammas gave them. Outside of that, no yoga involved in this song, just music meant to entertain. If you like it take it and dance to it. If not do real yoga to different music.

  • Thanks for hyping yoga Janelle, but we decided to make a music video about real yoga. https://youtu.be/_a8FubevfhY

  • Hanna

    I say yay for more diversity in the yoga pop message! Yoga may have saturated pop culture, but the diversity in this country has not saturated yoga studios. I hope this video/song invites more participation…

  • Rania

    So much natural hair in this video, love it. Plus I think the girl from “Dear white people” shows up at a moment. <3

  • Ellen

    I love it – The thing about Yoga, the practice of Union, is that it brings all things together – it adapts and enfolds both light and shadow. Like it or not, western culture is full of shadow, one that is spreading across the planet. Yoga, at its essence, balances and unites the masculine and feminine, and we all are affected by both (I love that Janelle invites the western, businessy, materialistic-looking male side of her to be invited to the party – forgiveness, acceptance, right?) We need a little more yoga in the shadowy club scene of pop music, even if it’s just to get us asking questions.

  • Looduh

    The author is spot on in my opinion. Although not entirely clear — Janelle explains during her interview with The Breakfast Club that it is a “party/ponder” track. That when we (the audience) would hear it, there would be a message to unravel, but still be able to dance to. Anyone who follows Janelle’s music wouldn’t be surprised by hollypenny’s assumption.

    Great song.

  • Zsaire

    I love it. Being a fan of Monae, I figured the song had a message. She loves to dance as well. Voila: a song to make you think and dance!

  • There is nothing subversive about this music video. Yoga is oversexualized in popular culture and the essence of yoga is widely misunderstood in the popular media. This music video adds to the noise and has nothing of value to contribute. It is Jannelle Monae’s attempt to be more like Rihanna in order to sell more music. It is exploitative and vulgar – yes it is visually less vulgar than it might have been (the lyrics are as crass as any other pop song) but that doesn’t make it subversive. Despite the title the song has nothing at all to do with yoga and will deservedly backslide into the bog of mediocrity from whence it came.

    • chelsea

      why is a black woman exploring her sexuality and talking about loving herself exploitative and vulgar?

  • Shanique

    I don’t fully understand why her song or video is drawing criticism. It’s a fast paced song that doesn’t have women showing all the goods there mother gave ’em while celebrating some guy and his ‘rise’ to desired socio-economic status. All she seems to be doing is associating the general understanding that yoga seems to make the muscles in the body more flexible, allowing them to stretch and bend without tearing, to circumstances in life. Though more aptly put to the lives of women. Her choice in apparel and dance is probably to make the point that though women can be strong and flexible in today’s current environment that doesn’t mean that they can’t be attractive or deny themselves the right to feel, for a lack of better words, sexy.
    However, for those who made imperious comments about Ms. Monae’s use of yoga, I ask how much worse is it for someone to use a word and it’s generally known concept, the more shallow understanding of it, without conveying the full concept of what that word is associated with, than someone bashing a song without paying attention to the difference of that song and its feel good message, in comparison to most of the ‘sex sells’ and ‘FBGM’ pop/rap culture that surrounds us today.
    P.S. If you read this and are wondering what FBGM means it refers to a Notorious B.I.G song called Get Money.
    P.P.S. If you don’t like a song you should say you don’t like it instead of using some other tenuous reasoning to justify not liking it.

  • DOnt worry aboutit

    For me personally i like this vid, my real issue the who is writing about this is most likely white and they were going to be upset about the fact that someone was making a vid about yoga even though they stole yoga from asian people. (discloure if this is an asain person than carry on im happy for you) but this is most liikly a white person because they love to capitalize on groups OWN ideas so if this was written by a white person than fuck you, if this was writtten by an asian than im happy and this was a good article.

  • N Mcd

    I have followed J Monae since The Audition, so forgive me if I get confused not expecting something pertaining to Cindi Mayweather and the ArchAndroid. Maybe I have fallen for her game, in making herself mainstream to show her opinion on mainstream music, maybe the label is calling for more mainstream music. Whatever this is, I had an expectation and this wasn’t it. Its a catchy tune, and maybe too stupid to see the message; give me the awesome guitar riffs and stories of androids. I want a revolution and this isn’t the beginning I expected.

  • bamabella30

    Okay, people are taking this way too seriously. I may be late to the thread, but I think it’s genius what Janelle has done. The “strip club” “turn up” movement is running rampant through the black community. Everybody is trying to fit in with society by accepting it. She’s actually making fun of the type of music that is popular right now and the content that is heard within it. The song shocked me when I first heard it because it’s not her style. She is trying to empower our women to stop molding themselves into this stripper image that is so popular and hip them to yoga with a catchy beat that most people can bounce to. Stop looking too deep into people. Yoga is not just for you or defined by you.

  • shadow

    I don’t see a problem with the song, I mean if you find is bad then why are you here. She didn’t to anything wrong and compared to what we usually see in videos this is nothing so get over it and move on.

  • Christine

    I agree with Yoga Man. And I appreciate the view of the song and video that hollypenny has presented. Love people. Even if it doesn’t make sense. Janelle Monae is an artist. Her art is up for interuptation. Enjoy the journey.

  • abby

    I don’t think you’re off, hollypenny. If you’ve seen Monae’s other videos, you know she knows her shit. My take is that with this song she aimed to break into a wider audience, and she did so, while continuing to retain her integrity. I think she’s brilliant.

  • Lenny Dave

    I am Christian, I don’t practice yoga at all but I’m a musician. This song called ‘yoga’ is a banger. I listen to the song over and over again. Because its arranged properly. The song was done right.

  • Lenny Dave

    The chorus is dope. The 808s used, pound in the ear like crazy. The plucking melodies are sounds from outta this world. The producer of the song did a great job

  • Phyllis Wheatley

    this song, at a first glance, appears to carry the typical disrespect to yoga that most pop references to it do. I totally agree with hollypenny; Monae is a feminist mastermind promoting equality right underneath the public’s noses. Whether we accept it or not is up to the individual, but it is there nonetheless. This song is not about yoga or the sexualization of it at all.

  • Melissa

    Thanks for considering Ms. Monae’s song from a yoga standpoint. I’m not actually sure that the audience of the song is directed toward dedicated yoga practitioners, but I doubt her intent was to offend people who practice yoga for physical and spiritual benefit.

    I must say I’m a huge fan of Janelle Monae. I went to a recent concert appearance in summer 2016 with my son and we experienced one of the most amazing concert experiences I have ever had (I am 48 and a professional musician myself). Her songs are challenging and uplifting. She engages the trauma of US racism in a very direct way while making beautiful, inspiring, danceable music. She took a moment to introduce this song and picked out what to her were the most important phrases to hear: “Crown on my head, got the world on my shoulders.” The image of the Black Woman’s Crown is too complex to go into in this paragraph but if it doesn’t move you, please look it up! The idea of Yoga in the song is about flexibility, health, and positive body awareness. The background chant of “flex flex flex” gets in my head.

    The challenge in this song is the challenge to think about a woman’s body in not just one way. Ms Monae invokes Yoga as a practice, but at the same time she is making a club song about using her body to dance — also maybe that dancing is for her alone, or maybe someone is watching. She doesn’t care. You cannot police her, or tell her why she should move her body or how. That is the explicit message of the song. That challenge is in fact Feminist. She is her Own Private Dancer (a reference to the famous song released in 1984 by Tina Turner, actually written by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, but not released by them): “I’m a private dancer, a dancer for money, do what you want me to do.” Janelle Monae is NOT your private dancer. She is her own. She will do what she wants to do. She will move her body the way she wants to. “Wanna last, wanna last forever…” in my humble opinion, is a message of the health aspects of practicing flexibility, but also a message about every artist’s goal to make a lasting memory in the minds and hearts of her audience… 🙂

    Jidenna’s contribution to the song is not the most uplifting. He is Janelle’s label mate at Wondaland. While I don’t feel that his part does much for the song, as a critic I feel it would be problematic to conflate their separate contributions to the song; it is her song, but he is a guest and has artistic freedom to say his own thing. Similarly I wouldn’t hold McCartney accountable for anything said in any Beatles song, regardless of who penned it…

    “Yoga” is not Janelle Monae’s most subversive song by any means. Listen to QUEEN, Cold War, or Ghetto Woman, and you will have a clearer idea about her project. She is so inspiring, such an important voice right now. “Yoga” is a fun dance song about moving our bodies, with a little bit of a feminist message like icing on the cake. 😀

    And don’t forget to watch “Hidden Figures” in 2017!!!

  • Kam

    I’m not one to spout off whilst saturated in my own ignorance but watching 95% of you lot do it thus far has got me like shisse I might as well because my “perspective” is more on point to some of the crap yall are coming out with. Number 1, doctors make the worst patients. Yes, this means professional yoga instructors from the western world and/or students are not the best kinda of people to drop an opinion on a video like this. “How dare she say such a thing? How rude?!”, you say. Well, you’ve all said it yourselves (contradiction or what?). You all know nothing, or appear to know nothing about the true origins of yoga. No, its not an asian practice (which is so politically incorrect to say btw). I’m late to the party but I’m learning about who my people were and my true heritage currently, and I don’t know too much about Janelle Monae because mainstream music for me became purely about everything Janelle Monae (JM), imho, appears to be against. (A slight digression, an important one still) because she, which approx 98% of you failed to mention, is an artist first. She’s trying to change the game. She puts in her music what she is passionate about, she’s been using her art for something real and on her terms. Not yours, mine, Bob, Dick, Harry, Sally or Celeste’s. You know what art is though right??? (Clearly not) Its open for interpretation. So far, from what I’ve seen – which isn’t much, JM has been using narratives in her videos but she plays with key concepts and drops them clearly for you to question and explore. The problem with this, which is evident on this page is that people watching are too lazy to research into these concepts to find out what controversial things she’s introduced in her art for you to sink your teeth into. Art is subjective! Hello! Hollypenny is more on the money than you think.

    She’s openly said she’s a feminist, she’s challenging social stratification systems, sexuality, police brutality and sings about the sense of identity. Hence ‘Yoga’. And as yall don’t seem to know yoga is an ancient kemetic practice. That’s Egyptian, aka African hence the reference to the third eye which I believe is to do with horus (not comfortable speaking in ignorance – but hey you lot have no qualms). Hollypenny is definitely onto a prime part of her message here, I’m just here like “oh yehhh, I see that, Why didn’t I clock that before”, but it’s definitely deeper than just that which is why I read through these comments (Oh boi! Sad times). I think that’s a case and point on number 1 for sure. I got so carried away in my rant points 2 and 3 are in there too damn!

    So, number 4 is a reference to JM tone. How in the shizz are you shocked and appalled at the tone in this song. I mean for real tho-?!?! Her lyrics and videos have been portrayals of a lot more than impish. Have you seen queen? Do you even listen to her lyrics? Don’t be ashamed to say “no, you know what, let me run that track back”. Please do! I beg you, do! Q.U.E.E.N is about rebellion. A sick track, she even tells you at the start of the video “this is rebellious shizz, mothershutyomouth”. In yoga she almost serenades you with it, “Hello, dope!”. Maybe its because you guys have been plugged into mainstream this whole time your desensitized to it all. Gosh darn, (this is number 5 btw) which is as Anthony Hamilton sings ‘The Point of it All’ (dope track, check it out (chuckles)), which again goes back to precisely what HollyPenny was trying to say. Yall are used to seeing girls in the background in uniform-ready dress (a bikini – the bigger tits and more ass the better) but you didn’t see that here you found a paradox. the behaviours in the video and the lyrics do two different things yoga and a denigration of the female sex jarrrrr. Its ok for you to have that in your face but lo and behold someone challenges it in her own artistic way with her own artistic approach. Oh, how vulgar and abhorrent. She done told you all “You cannot police me so get off my tits” I mean “areolaaaa” lmao! I like what someone else said about that and that the views are different (sorry for not saying your name I hadn’t intended to rant about this for paragraphs on end by I can’t stand active ignorance. (Clapping sounds) We have the birth of subjectivity. I’ll finish by saying this when applying reasoning to something, try and stick within the parameters you’ve been given, listen to what is actually being said, how its being said and what and how messages are being portrayed. Its time to get multimodal. Its a new day and you don’t require a college education to do that.

    Being an artist myself, of a literary capacity, I think its a fly video. Just knowing that little I could sift through the excremental comments (with the exception of maybe 3) to actually realize how much more of a clue I had about this video after all. Wake up! JM already tells you to stop scratching the surface and use your third eye. I’m done! Peace.

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