Janelle Monáe slays every room she walks into, one bold and daring hairstyle at a time. The singer-songwriter, rapper, and actress is the reigning queen of hair accessories and intricate hairstyles, and experiments with her look often. Her edgy hairstyles don’t necessarily scream wake-up-and-go, but they’re a powerful reminder about the beauty and versatility of Black hair.
Monáe’s distinctive style has landed her on multiple best-dressed lists, while giving her the space to showcase her creativity. That includes the show-stopping Ralph Lauren crystal hooded dress she wore to the 2020 Oscars (via Nylon). Even with her hair tucked into her hood, she still got everyone’s full attention with the 168,000 sparkling swarovski crystals sewn into her dress and her signature red lip.
Never one to play it safe, Monáe rocks every intricately thought-out hairdo with absolute confidence, and has us wishing we also had her hairstylist’s magic touch at our disposal. Here’s a timeline of our favorite hairstyles worn by the beauty icon.
Janelle Monae's natural updo was a defining moment for Black fans everywhere
The early 2010s saw many era-defining hair moments for Janelle Monáe. One of the most memorable was her vintaged-inspired hairstyle. In a 2011 interview with HuffPost Black Voices, the entertainer shared the power words that inspired her style, which were “electrifying, epic, minimalistic, transcendent, timeless and rock ‘n roll.” Those same words accurately sum up her most recognizable hairstyle.
Drawing inspiration from the classic pompadour, Monáe told HuffPost how she put her own spin on the look. “My signature hairstyle is called ‘The Monáe.’ It’s pinned and twisted much differently than a pompadour, which I love as well,” she explained. Her natural updo sparked fans to copy her notable hairstyle. One YouTube vlogger DIY’d “The Monáe” using just bobby pins and haircare brand Carol’s Daughter mimosa hair honey, showing that there’s hope for us all to rock this gorgeous style no matter our hair-styling abilities.
Her pinned-up hairstyle has a hidden message
All eyes were pinned on Janelle Monáe when she popped up at a screening and Q and A for her 2016 critically-acclaimed film “Hidden Figures” (via IMDb) with her now-famous updo. From the white safety pins, geometric earrings, and bold red lipstick, to her artfully styled buns, everything about this look served. Her long-time hairstylist Nikki Nelms told Yahoo that her legendary pinned updo happened by chance. “I keep the most random things in my kit,” she explained. “And while on holiday, I picked up some white safety pins — for a rainy day, of course. So fast forward, when I saw Janelle’s [black and white] outfit, I felt like using them would complement it pretty well.”
The pins may not have been intentional at first, but they meshed perfectly with the star’s personality and style. In true Monáe fashion, Nelms even shared that there was a hidden message behind her monochrome outfit — if you look close enough. “We also said that the pins could be a reminder to everyone to just try and ‘keep it all together,'” she explained (via Yahoo).
Monae's Princess Leia buns had a dash of glamour and pearls
Year after year, this beauty icon turns Paris Fashion Week into her playground. In March 2019, Janelle Monáe didn’t disappoint and had jaws dropping with a series of carefully crafted hairdos and adventurous outfits (via Refinery29). Of all the iconic looks she served that week, the way she styled her hair at Thom Browne’s SS19 fashion show seriously got our attention.
She ramped up her signature buns with timeless pearls, giving off a very Princess Leia-meets-Coco Chanel vibe. It’s the little details that matter, like those braids artfully threaded into said buns. It’s not the first or last time she’s accessorized her hair with pearls. In February 2020, she brought the stunners out again at Essence’s 13th annual Black Women in Hollywood Awards Luncheon (via PopSugar). BRB, running to our nearest arts and crafts store to steal her look.
Her endless, Chanel-kissed braids were a dream
Janelle Monáe reinvents her beauty style with every album release, award show, and movie premiere, and manages to look flawless in every single shot. This time, she and her hairstylist Nelms took a break from gravity-defying updos, and opted for a more casual look with a quirky twist. The singer-songwriter gave Vogue a peak behind the scenes as she prepped for Paris Fashion Week 2020.
She turned heads at Chanel’s fall 2020 fashion show by incorporating the fashion brand’s logo into her statement pigtail braids. The unique detailing in the fashion goddess’ hairdo is further proof that she’s a master class in fearless beauty. Her classic Chanel brooch highlighted the mini bows expertly weaved into her hair. Paired together, the brooch and bows add the right amount of playfulness into her stunning look. This is one of our favorite fashion moments from the star, no contest.
Her edgy mohawk was an '80s throwback
In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Janelle Monáe opened up about feeling silenced when she was first starting out in the entertainment industry, and how those experiences shaped her. “Early in my career I would show up at a photo shoot, and stylists would say, ‘Hey, you’re in this tuxedo, and you’re wearing your hair natural. It’s a bit avant-garde. How can we sell that? Perhaps you should look like this,'” she reminisced.
Now, her voice shines loud and clear in the stylistic choices she makes and her endless celebration of her hair. Forever a hair chameleon, Monáe waved goodbye to her dark locks and embraced a fiery new cut. In a September 2020 Instagram post, she debuted a coppery red mohawk with her defined curls on full display. She captioned it with a simple fox emoji, and let her edgy hairdo speak for itself.
Fans blew up her comments section with praises for the drastically different, but still sexy look. Monáe posted more shots of her curly haired mohawk, and the new angle showed off a surprise braided rat tail. Fans lost it again and many claimed it as her best look. One fan felt inspired by the full power of her ’80s throwback haircut, writing, “What in the Black girl magic have you done?!”
We’re glad the triple threat never let anyone define her voice.
She shines with this sleek, strawberry-blond cut
Throughout the 2010s, Janelle Monáe has cycled through unconventional, conversation-starting hairstyles that showed her commitment to embracing herself fully and pushing the envelope. In March 2021, she debuted a sleek, strawberry-blond cut for her performance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (via YouTube). Performing her 2020 single “Turntables” — which she wrote for the documentary on voter suppression titled “All In: The Fight for Democracy” (via IMDb) – themes of racial injustice, change, and Black empowerment are at its core (via Rolling Stone).
She turned up the heat some more at the NAACP Image Awards later that month, and traded in her short, straight hairdo for an even shorter, curly pixie cut (via Allure). This time, she went full blond. But make no mistake – whether she’s blond, redhead, or brunette, she reinvents the beauty game with every look.
Since her start, Monáe’s used her personal style, acting, and music to express her voice without restraints or regrets. Her beauty evolution reaffirms that she’s unapologetically herself — and has a lot to say.
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