Janelle Monáe’s May 2010 appearance on Letterman was her network television debut. Watching her performance, this comes as a bit of a shock. Performing “Tightrope” off her first full-length album The ArchAndroid, Monae seems to have emerged fully formed from some sort of genre-defying-singer assembly line.
Leading a ten-piece band as Shaffer lurks in the dark behind his keyboards, Monáe places every note precisely where it needs to land and dances as if she was computer-programmed. (Appropriate, considering she was promoting a concept album about a female robot.)
She apparently couldn’t get Big Boi to appear to replicate his verse from the studio version, but Janelle made the most of that time, channeling James Brown with a cape routine (Letterman and Shaffer had a version of this themselves).
Letterman is right there to shake her hand as soon as the song’s over; effusively praising her work and asking after Monáe’s “buddy Sean.” Diddy then emerges from backstage to playfully bow before her. By the next time Monáe appeared on the show three years later, she’d grown sufficiently emboldened enough that she danced right on Dave’s desk.