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The star tells PEOPLE about getting "dressed up" and performing with a full band for the first time in over a year, to kick off Ralph Lauren's immersive fashion event

By Kaitlyn Frey
March 25, 2021 02:50 PM
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Janelle Monae
Credit: Ralph Lauren

When Janelle Monáe hits the stage at Ralph Lauren's virtual, immersive spring 2021 fashion experience Thursday night, her musical performance will hold an extra-special place in her heart.

"Believe it or not this is the first time that I've performed with a full band, orchestra strings and horns since the 2020 Oscars. Can you believe it?" Monáe tells PEOPLE. "I was super geek to get dressed up and fluidly perform again."

The March 25 event, which virtually presents the spring 2021 women's and men's Ralph Lauren collections, is set inside the iconic Beverly Hills flagship and kicks off with Monáe, 35, performing a musical set including her interpretation of Frank Sinatra's "All or Nothing at All."

"I loved getting dressed up. I felt like I teleported back to the old Hollywood era wearing a navy double-breasted Ralph Lauren suit," she says. "I think with this collection, even with the way it's shot in black-and-white like film noir, it feels very cinematic, like I was a walking movie."

Janelle Monae
Credit: Ralph Lauren

Monáe's has a long-standing relationship with the fashion label, which goes all the way back to when her first album, The ArchAndroid, dropped in 2010. "Right when my first album was being released and maybe months before then, they had reached out and asked me to perform at their New York Fashion Week show. You remember the people who, when you were not as famous as you are now, that were there in the early beginning of your career," the star says.

She adds: "I think they were the first fashion brand to gift me a suit. I didn't have a lot of money when I first came into the industry to buy suiting that was tailored and that fit my body. I didn't have a stylist and I was doing it myself. To have the support of the Ralph Lauren team always means the most to me and at this point we're family."

So continuing to collaborate with the "timeless" label on fashion week performances, especially after a year spent at home in quarantine, is especially sentimental for Monáe.

"It made me excited about the world opening up. I told myself, 'Okay, I'm cool with being at home.' But I will tell you, being a part of this show made me want to host parties and be at parties. So I'm hoping that everybody will do their part and we can beat this virus," the singer and actress says.

Janelle Monae
Credit: Ralph Lauren

Throughout the past year, carving out time to focus on her mental health and self-care has helped Monáe navigate the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

"I have an amazing therapist that I talk to because your plate can get really full even at home," she says. "In order for me to stay creative, I need to stay present and allow myself time in the mornings to exercise, journal, work on music production and go finish the short film that I'm trying to write. I have to stay present. That's a muscle that I started to really use while being in quarantine."

She's also learned it's okay to say "no" when her schedule becomes overloaded. "I am a person who has a lot of things going on and sometimes everything is happening at the same time. So I need a team to help me manage my schedule. I need to be transparent and also tell my team when I need to take a break or I can't do this. I'm unafraid to say 'no' to too many things on my plate," Monáe says.

The star likes to get her day started early (around 5 or 6 am) while "everybody's asleep" to "map out how my day is going to go." Then, when she needs a mid-day mood boost she listens to a Spotify "Feeling Myself" playlist.

"It's all women bosses on one playlist that's just body positive and sex positive. That gives me more confidence if I'm working out or if I have a long day ahead of me and I need that extra energy," Monáe says. "We're under patriarchy. It's always good to listen to music [and know] that women get to determine that world and that I'll never give up."

Ralph Lauren's Spring 2021 Women's and Men's immersive fashion experience debuts on Thursday, March 25 at 7 pm EST on RalphLauren.com