Pink Sounds


Single Cover Art for “PYNK” by Janelle Monae. Owned by Bad Boy Records.

“PYNK” by Janelle Monáe employs the use of a hollow, thinly-textured musical sound to criticize cultural norms of heterosexuality and 21st century perceptions of gender, similar to “I Want To Break Free”. The song is in the key of Ab major, and the hollow instrumentation consists of a recurrent synth riff and light percussion, Monáe’s solo, and an occasional vocal harmony. The hollow musical sound creates a musical space that directs the listener’s ear to the words being sung rather than distracting from the messages of the song with elaborate instrumentation. 

The first sounds heard in “PYNK” are snaps that take place on the second and fourth beats of the song, which are the non-dominant beats. These snaps and their placement on the non-dominant beats establish a syncopated rhythm, and they are in the background of the entire song. The second sound that is introduced is the recurrent synth riff which, along with the snaps, plays throughout the song. The riff is particularly interesting because in the case of “PYNK,”  same as “I Want To Break Free,” the riff is more rhythmic than harmonic, further adding to the thin texture of the song. In addition, the timbre of the riff is electronic and muted, consistent with Monáe’s “persona that can be likened to…[an] Afrofuturistic aesthetic that embodies the desires of black feminism mixed with a futural sonic flare” (Anderson & Jones 2016). The “futural sonic flare” in “PYNK” is the riff, and the muted, electronic timbre draws the listener’s ear to Monáe’s vocals and the messages of the song. 

The hollow musical space of “PYNK” is also created with the use of registral extremes, where Monáe’s vocals are in a much higher register than the riff, snaps, and other minor instrumentation that make up the song. Sonically, the listener is exposed to this hollow “in-between” created by the musical distance between Monáe’s voice and the accompanying instrumentation. Even when she rap-sings in a lower register right before chorus, her voice still sounds distant from the underlying riff and accompaniment. The production of the song seems to be deliberate because together, the registral contrast registers and futuristic, simple, and repetitive instrumentation guides the listener’s ear to the underlying meanings of the song contained in Monáe’s vocals. 

Janelle Monáe. Image via JUCO.

In the same way that Freddie Mercury uses a deliberate hypermasculine vocal timbre in “I Want To Break Free,”  Janelle Monáe uses a hyperfeminine vocal timbre throughout the song to celebrate black female sexuality and criticize the norms of heterosexuality persistent in the music industry today. Despite singing a relatively low note in the beginning, G4, Monáe uses her head voice,  creating this hyperfeminine, breathy, and light sound that emphasizes Monáe’s own sexuality and femininity. Thus, the sexual, hyperfeminine sound of Monáe’s vocals affirms these notions of femininity, helping to “celebrate queer sexualities” and gender (Florio 2018). The only change in Monáe’s timbre occurs briefly during the pre-chorus and chorus, when she sings “sunny, money, keep it funky, touch your top and let it down,” and “‘cause boy it’s cool if you got blue, we got the pink.” At this time, Monáe’s voice increases dynamically and sounds more supported, yet still sounds feminine. Traditionally, the color blue is associated with the male gender, pink with the female gender. In this case, the deliberate manipulation of her vocal timbre here helps to highlight the importance of the phrase “we got the pink” in the song. Monáe uses timbre and lyrics here to criticize sexuality and gender by intensifying her sound and singing about how she is happy with “pink,” which in this song means the female body.