'Homecoming' star Janelle Monáe relives that dramatic mid-concert breakdown: 'I needed to cry'

One month ago, Janelle Monáe smiled through tears — literally — during a dramatic April 30 performance on Verizon’s weekly streaming entertainment series, Pay It Forward Live, which benefits small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. While singing Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” the emotion of the moment overwhelmed the Grammy-nominated superstar. "Fandroids, I’m going to need your help to get me through this,” Monáe told fans watching at home. “This is a lot... I'm not going to be able to get through this song.”

Monáe did eventually finish “Smile,” and that emotional breakdown was precisely the reason why. “I needed to cry,” the singer tells Yahoo Entertainment now. “When I started to think about the country and started to think about small business owners, just thinking about all of the people we lost and families not being able to be together. It was difficult for me to encourage anybody during that time.” (Watch our video interview above.)

Having been in quarantine for weeks at that point, Monáe also admits to feeling the personal weight of isolation. “I had not connected with folks outside of the mannequins I had been quarantining with,” the singer says, referring to the inanimate co-stars of that Pay It Forward Live concert. “[Missing] that human-to-human connection and feeling the pain and uncertainty was a bit much for me. I think I had been trying to be strong, walking around my house, looking a mess. It was time to let it out.”

Allowing the tears to flow in that moment will also hopefully help Monáe through a summer season that will be missing the live concert extravaganzas that artists thrive on. “There’s nothing like crowd-surfacing and feeling all of the little sweaty hands holding you up. There’s nothing like that personal touch, and I think when I step back onstage and I perform, I’m going to appreciate it even more.”

In the absence of a summer tour, the singer’s “Fandroids” can spend the warm weather months binging the acclaimed Amazon Prime series, Homecoming. Monáe replaces Julia Roberts as the star of the show’s second season, and received the Oscar-winner’s official seal of approval. “The best encouragement was her showing up on set,” Monáe remembers. “After [my co-star] Stephan James and I had done a scene together, we heard [Julia] scream. One of the guys in production said, ‘I think she liked it!’ I guess I was doing a great job in her eyes; having her on as an executive producer and knowing that she helped pick me for this role, I’m forever indebted.”

Homecoming is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

— Video produced by Gisselle Bances

Verizon is the parent company of Yahoo.

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