Last year, at the Emmy Awards, Lainey and I made the difficult decision to retire Zendaya from competition in any sort of fashion capacity. It was this epic green dress that did it, but to be honest, she’d been problematically excellent for some time, and we risked a can’t-be-caught situation at every event, kind of like this year’s acting categories.
There’s been a similar situation brewing with Janelle Monae. Everything she does is so incredible, so precise and pitch-perfect that she threatens to be out of contention altogether. When I say ‘perfect’, I’m not just talking about my own opinion, either – regardless of what you think about her specific looks or aesthetic, you will never, ever see a poor fit on Janelle Monae. There is never a sloppy hemline or an imprecise line or a look that’s only halfway there. If you want just one look to illustrate what I’m saying, it’s this one – her Met Gala look from 2018.
So there are many reasons why her Oscar dress could be disqualified from contention – we could have dinged her for repeated use of encrusted headgear, or for the ankle-length bell-shaped skirt she favours, or even the return to the same lip colour over and over…
But that would be like criticising a sunrise for being too perfect. Or a burrata. Some things just need to be appreciated for the almost-miraculous items of beauty they are. I’m not a religious person, but if I were, this Ralph Lauren spectacle with its cowl-snood would be what I would use as mathematical evidence of a divine power, like Leonardo Da Vinci.
But of course, it’s …just a dress. What makes it absolutely incredible is, once again, the commitment. Arrangements have been made so that the snood never slides forward or backwards, so that it’s always framing the perfect amount of her face. To that end, if you look at pictures of her, you’ll notice she’s almost always looking out at the camera from the side, or she’s sidelong to a lens --- there are very few times you’ll catch her being shot head on.
That continued inside the venue, too. Watching her enter the theatre, I saw the slightly rhythmic stride that allowed the skirt to ‘ding-dong’ ever so slightly with each step – and even when she was just clapping, or bopping along to the inexplicable, but not unwelcome, performance of ‘Lose Yourself’, there was a slight syncopation to the rhythm of every move she made, so that she was always moving a little bit inside the dress somehow.
I know I sound crazy. I know this – but you know without my having to tell you that this dress wouldn’t be anywhere near as good on someone who didn’t commit this hard to the look.
She commits to everything this hard, though – we talk about Beyoncé’s work ethic, but perhaps we’ve been giving Janelle short shrift; if she agrees to do something, to perform, even if it’s a slightly thankless task like opening the Oscars and being more or less solely responsible for setting the tone of the entire night, she’ll give it everything she has, and everything she has can and should involve a flower cape that makes you contemplate acquiring a flower cape of your very own.
We’re lucky to be living in a time with her in it. It’s as simple as that. I hope she keeps surprising us and topping herself, so that the idea of retirement can be kept at bay for another month, a season, a year…