“Young, black, wild, free, naked in a limousine,” Janelle Monae sings on the pop song ‘Crazy, Classic, Life,’ setting up a declaration of peak black girl magic for the album: to live an unapologetically free life in any way imaginable by being one’s true self.
It’s been a decade since the world was first introduced to Monae, in the form of Cindi Mayweather, an android who falls in love with a human and time travels to free other androids from an oppressive society in her “Metropolis” series. Cindi represented Monae’s alter ego in the form of “otherness.”
Set behind pop and R&B beats reminiscent of Prince, Monae’s latest album, “Dirty Computer” dropped on April 27. It was accompanied by an “e-motion picture,” giving us a visual aid to the personal journey through Monae’s world that revealed a shedding of Monae’s android persona and introduced the world to herself. As she says in “PYNK”, “pynk is the truth you can’t hide” and Monae is in fact no longer hiding.
Monae, who came out as pansexual in a Rolling Stone interview published April 26, uses the album to debunk notions of queerness in media as a performative voyeuristic adventure in hetero-normative culture. Instead, she shows the complexities of a relationship with oneself and partner(s) in the midst of an authoritarian government, feeding off an emotion everyone can relate to, love.
“Dirty Computer” is pop/R&B music with representations of blackness and queerness. Through imagery portraying a fun-filled romantic relationship until society attempts to stop it, Monae portrays a view of relationships that isn’t from a hetero-normative perspective. Monae spoke candidly with the New York Times Magazine and said “I knew I needed to make this album, and I have put it off because the subject is Janelle Monáe.”
“Dirty Computer” takes the listener on a journey broken into three distinctive sections: Reckoning, Celebration, and Reclamation. The album begins with an introspective titular track, Dirty Computer, showing us that in some way all of us has “dirt” in a society that pushes notions of perfection. In Monae’s world “dirt” can be represented as a level of bondage that everyone may experience in different capacities.
Following the titular track, Monae continues to take the listener on a journey of freedom through “Crazy, Classic, Life,” where we learn she simply wants to live in a world free of judgment where people can be whoever they want.
The core of “Dirty Computer” is the “celebration” of oneself, shown to us as a homage to Black women and the wide-ranging spectrum of sexual identities. With songs such as “Screwed”, “Django Jane,” “PYNK,” “Make Me Feel,” “I Got the Juice” and “I Like That” Monae pushes society outside of its margins with her messages of liberation and empowerment.
With lyrics such as:
“I’m tired of hoteps tryna tell me how to feel” (Screwed)
“Black girl magic, y’all cant stand it. Y’all cant ban it, made out like a bandit” (Django Jane)
“Nigga, move back, take a seat, you were not involved. And hit the mute button, let the vagina have a monologue” (Django Jane)
“It’s like I’m powerful with a little bit of tender. An emotional sexual bender” (Make Me Feel)
“Got juice for all my lovers, got juice for all my wives (hey!)… If you try to grab my pussycat, this pussy grab you back (hey!)” (I Got the Juice)
Monae’s music is an ode to those who may have been left out of narratives that were traditionally hetero-normative or male-dominated. As Monae said to the New York Times, “I want it to be clear that I’m an advocate for women. I’m a girl’s girl, meaning I support women no matter what they choose to do. I’m proud when everybody is taking agency over their image and their bodies.” There is an unabashed freedom and celebration of Monae’s identities that she hopes everyone experiences for themselves throughout the album. Though the society depicted (reminiscent of our current) seeks to erase the essence of individuals, it isn’t achieved as the memories live on.
The album ends with a call to action through the song “Americans,” which tackles social issues in America ranging from sexism, racism, police brutality and homophobia with a background reminiscent of her mentor Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.”
“Dirty Computer” is a different Monae concept album. We are no longer seeing the android, but instead a powerful, political, Black, queer woman. The explicitly political and personal album reflects a new and fresh commentary. Monae’s ability to blend her influences and personal experiences allows her to true self to shine through. Hopefully, the reclamation this Monae is here to stay.
Images via. Google