The singer-turned-actress is "excited" for her upcoming album, but still on cloud nine after Hidden Figures and Moonlight

By Janine Rubenstein
March 30, 2017 02:50 PM
at arrivals for The Dress Address Launch Party at Lord & Taylor, Lord & Taylor, Fifth Avenue, New York, NY March 23, 2017. Photo By: RCF/Everett Collection
Credit: RCF/Everett Collection

It had been over a year since Janelle Monáe had performed on stage, but fans couldn’t tell as the petite powerhouse rocked the mic during the grand opening of Lord & Taylor’s new 5th Avenue shop The Dress Address last Thursday.

“It was so electrifying,” Monáe told PEOPLE just after her set. “I miss the people, the stage, performing my songs.” The Grammy-nominated singer had taken time off to try her hand at acting, which proved a very good bet: She starred in both the Oscar-nominated historical hit Hidden Figures and the Oscar-winning indie film Moonlight.

“This year has been surreal,” says Monáe. “I look back and I’m like ,‘Wow, I was in two incredible films!’ I’m just so proud and thankful.”

Though fans were shocked to see her on the big screen — and out of her signature black and white ensembles — Monáe says acting is something she’s been working at for years. “I studied music and theater at a performing arts school, so it didn’t feel all that different,” she says. When it came to getting out of her usual style: “I didn’t want to play ‘Janelle Monáe’ in those films. It was about honoring [my characters] Mary Jackson and Teresa.”

For more on Janelle Monáe’s amazing year, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

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One thing that took some getting used to: “There’s a lot of waiting,” Monáe says of long breaks on set between scenes. “Or you may be shooting until 6 in the morning in the freezing cold and then that scene gets cut.” Still she says, “Those films were works of art. I hope that the studios look at the success of both those films and start giving more opportunities to do different storytelling.”

While she continues to audition for new roles, the singer is happy to be getting back to her roots. “Singing is just part of my DNA,” says Monáe. “I was working on four albums when I stopped to film, but acting gave me clarity on which album I need to put out.”

Lord & Taylor Celebrates The Dress Address With Janelle Monae
Credit: Cindy Ord/Getty

She’s mostly staying mum about the new music due out later this year, but the star, who recently launched the female empowerment organization Fem the Future, says it will definitely inspire a bit of girl power.

“That’s who I am and where I’m focused,” says Monáe. “I started my organization Fem the Future to help motivate and empower young girls and women, making sure we’re talking, squadding up and femming the future together. I’m really excited.”