When Janelle Monáe released her hit album Dirty Computer earlier this year, it was hard to imagine where she found the time.
Fresh off of a momentous 2017 that brought rave reviews for her work on the big screen, with roles in Hidden Figures as well as the Oscar Best Picture-winning Moonlight, the multi-hyphenate star makes it seem like she never skipped a beat. And in reality, she didn’t.
“When I was working on filming Moonlight and filming Hidden Figures, I was working on my album, The Dirty Computer, and putting together what I wanted the visual piece to look like,” Monáe, 32, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “I’ve never stopped creating on the music side.”
That diverse talent is something she’s always worked hard at. “When I left high school and graduated, I moved to New York City to study musical theater, and music, and acting, at the American Music and Dramatics Academy,” she explains. When she recently returned to the Big Apple for her Dirty Computer tour stop at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater this past summer, it was a full circle moment.
“To be able to perform and have people come and buy tickets, and you look out into the audience and you see a sea of people who come from different walks of life, all different ethnicities,” she says, “It was just beautiful…and it just made me so full, and made me feel like I needed to give my all.”
With this album, Monáe has given more of herself than ever before. In April the singer and actress opened up for the first time about being pansexual (a term often used to characterize a person whose sexual preference is not limited by biological sex, gender or gender identity).
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Of her experience since coming out, “It’s been beautiful,” she says. “I think that it’s been a very warm and loving time for all of us who are walking in our truths. And I’ve always hoped, by sharing my stories that people will feel more comfortable walking in their truths. And feel like it’s not a heavy burden, you know, that you do have support.”
Monáe’s support system includes her big family. Heading back home for the upcoming holiday season, “I’m gonna get some rest,” she says. “I told my mom, I told my aunts, I told my sister, I was like, I have to get some rest when I come back. All I want do is just smile, and eat food, and give hugs.”
The busy star, who’s also daydreaming of stealing away for a trip to Bali, has to get in her down-time while she can. Soon she will be back on set for Disney’s upcoming Lady and the Tramp live-action film. “I’m super-excited,” she says of voicing Peg, formerly played by Peggy Lee. “I grew up watching it. I can’t wait to meet my little dog.”
For the upcoming role she’ll be working alongside close friend, actress Tessa Thompson, who’s set to play Lady and who Monáe previously tapped to play her love interest in multiple videos for the Dirty Computer album.
As for why she chose Thompson, “Tessa is an exceptional actress, first of all,” says Monáe. “To have her on the Dirty Computer project as my friend and someone I respect as a black woman in this industry was a dream.”
Still, the icing on the cake for this year has been the overwhelming support of her fans. “I just feel so thankful,” says Monáe of fans who’ve come out to her shows, some even recreating the “vagina” pants from her hit Pynk video. “I see them and I try to bring them onstage,” she adds. “I’m excited about Halloween now!”
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