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Janelle Monáe explains how her family influences one of her most-worn outfits

Monáe's iconic tuxedo makes her think about her family for a very particular reason.

Janelle Monáe sat down with Willie Geist and revealed that there's a very personal reason behind the iconic tuxedo that she frequently wears.

The singer-songwriter, who recently published her first book "The Memory Librarian," sat down with Geist to talk about the short story collection, her 2018 album "Dirty Computer" and the way her community and family inspire and influence her work.

Geist pointed out that the tuxedo is a uniform of sorts for the singer and said he was very moved to learn that this has ties to her childhood, when her parents wore uniforms to work.

“When I put it on, I always think about my family,” said Monáe. “You know, my mom used to serve at banquets. She was a janitor. And my dad was a trash man. My grandmother cooked food for the county jail for 25 years. So I come from a hard-working class family.”

Janelle Monae attends the Exhibition Opening of L'Exibition by Christian Louboutin as part of Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2020/2021 on February 24, 2020 in Paris, France.
Janelle Monae attends the Exhibition Opening of L'Exibition by Christian Louboutin as part of Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2020/2021 on February 24, 2020 in Paris, France.Luc Castel / Getty Images For Christian Loubo

Monáe explained that this is the reason she’s very big on community.

“I have 49 first cousins,” she told Geist. “All my aunts and uncles are working class.”

She said her family worked hard to make sure she and her cousins could enjoy their summers, having picnics and going to amusement parks. They also supported her artistic dreams and goals. For this reason, she tries to "honor them" in her work, specifically in "The Memory Librarian," but that pressure to live up to her family's work ethic can make it hard for the star to take a break.

"It’s like a gift and a curse in a sense, because you can work, work, work and you don’t play, play, play," she said. "I’ve worked for a very long time. And I was super serious."

Now, her outlook on work and its place in her life has changed.

"Now I’m like, 'If we’re not talking about vacation, I don’t wanna talk,'" she laughed. "We're supposed to be having the best earth experience of our lives right now. You know? Why are we getting caught up in the rat race?"

Image: Sunday TODAY with Willie Geist - Season 36
Willie Geist and Janelle Monae on May 1, 2022Nathan Congleton / NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

In addition to her work as a musician and author, Monáe has a stellar acting career: In 2016, she starred in the Oscar-nominated films "Moonlight" and "Hidden Figures" and recently signed on to appear in the sequel to "Knives Out," where she'll star along actors including Kate Hudson and Daniel Craig.

"I love getting into different characters," she told Geist. "The human experience is performative. One time it freaked me out when I thought about it. I was like, 'This is one big play.'"

Acting isn't the only involvement Monáe wants to have on the big screen: She said that she is "in talks" to turn "The Memory Librarian" into a TV project or film, but didn't reveal any further details.

At the end of the day, Monáe says that although her work is somewhat autobiographical, it's also about the larger community.

"I’m sprinkled in, a lot. But it’s a community," she said. "It was super important to make sure that not just my own personal story was represented, but there’s so many of my friends and my family members -- my friends in the trans community that I wanted to highlight, those in the nonbinary community. There’s so much intersection. And I wanted to get into that nuance."