Song 341: Janelle Monáe (feat. Big Boi), “Tightrope” (2010)


I could listen to this song, and watch its video, all day long. I’m usually not sure what to do with songs whose dynamics—tempo, volume, etc.—hardly change over the course of its running time. “Tightrope” is a locomotive, powering ahead with no intention to stop. What makes the song interesting, and what gives it an edge, is Janelle Monáe’s unbelievable, James Brownesque singing. It’s also a locomotive, but one that lists to and fro, constantly at risk of falling off the tracks.

It never does, of course, and that’s why I find this song endlessly entertaining. The video, with its forbidden-fun plotline and goofy dancing, is nothing short of delightful. I knew Monáe was a committed performer and artist (her Archandroid record is subtitled “Suites II and III,” and it’s part of a Metropolis-themed series of albums), but I had no idea she was so silly. Without the video, the song is fantastically propulsive, but the video adds an infectious, delirious edge.

Big Boi guest verse is, predictably, great. His delivery—simultaneously laid-back and rapid-fire, full of wordplay and cheek—is a perfect match for “Tightrope,” and for Monáe’s sensibility. As another song on Archandroid chirps, “faster, faster, faster.” And, with music this good, Janelle, never ever stop.


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