Janelle Monaé has a vision and a message. Along with her smooth yet electric voice and songs that stay with you long after you’ve finished listening to them. She’s a legend in the making if not already one and people will be talking about Ms. Monaé’s brilliance centuries from now. I first heard Janelle when she was featured on OutKast’s song “Call The Law” from the film “Idlewild”. I was obsessed with her voice and wanted to know everything about her. Two years later, her EP “Metropolis: The Chase Suite” came out and I knew that I’d be a fan of hers for a long time.
Over the years she’s done an EP and two albums, the albums being full length complex stories but neither compared to her Metropolis. I loved the storytelling and how creative Metropolis is, Ms. Monaé created a world, built it and had us living in it. In only 7 songs. Still to this day I don’t often find EP’s or albums that compare to Metropolis. I like “The ArchAndroid” her debut album just fine, it’s a little too long for me but her continuation of Cindi Mayweather is top notch. I cannot say the same about “The Electric Lady”, I never truly got into the spirit of that album and it’s because of that I was worried that her newest album “Dirty Computer” would leave me with the same feelings. I’m happy to say that Dirty Computer has taken me to a place that Metropolis did over a decade ago.
On Janelle’s third album, we are no longer talking about Cindi Mayweather. We’re talking about Janelle, also known as Jane. A new character that’s probably closer to Janelle herself (hence the namesake) than Cindi ever was. Because of this, the songs on the album sound a little more real and cover topics that are twice as relatable. The album is smooth and flows perfectly in the car, on a walk and blasting through speakers while you clean the house. There are bangers and slow songs, catchy phrases and critical thinking lyrics. Dirty Computer is ahead of its time in more ways than one.
In the emotion picture Ms. Monaé released with the album, Jane isn’t an Android but the world around wants her to be. They want her to conform, to not think too hard and just forget. In the Dirty Computer world, people fight hard to be free and be themselves. The premise isn’t all that different from Cindi’s world but the characters are. In this new world, Jane is free to love whoever she wants, she’s also free to love as many people as she wants. We follow her journey through a series of memories that are being erased from her mind. Watching as she loves both a man and a woman simultaneously while running from those that wish to make her conform. Tied along with the actual music of the album, the emotion picture Dirty Computer is an excellent mini sci-fi piece. It easily could be transformed into a tv series, a comic or even a movie.
There isn’t a song on Dirty Computer that I skip. Each song has a phrase or a bridge or a beat that I absolutely love and refuse to miss. From the title song’s “I’m not that special, I’m broke inside”, to Screwed’s “I’m tired of Hoteps trying to tell me how to feel, for real.” and I Like That’s “I don’t really give a fuck if I was just the only one who likes that”. For the first time, I believe we are seeing Janelle Monaé as herself. This is the person that Prince saw and the reason he wanted to work on Dirty Computer with her, he saw the genius behind Cindi Mayweather and knew what she could be when she was ready to step into the spotlight. Janelle Monaé is ready now and Dirty Computer is a reassurance that Ms. Monaé is going to iconic and in the history books.
I relate heavily to Dirty Computer as a whole. From the messages conveyed to the songs that I’ve deemed my favorites and the visuals that spoke to me while I watched the movie. For a long time, I wasn’t comfortable with myself. It was hard to see the beauty in myself when I didn’t care for the physical appearance. It wasn’t always that way, but more of a conditioned thing over time. Society has a set beauty standard that we are only just now starting to revolt against. When I was in school if you didn’t look a certain way or act a certain way you definitely an outcast. I wasn’t bullied per say but often words hurt more than physical violence ever good. In Django Jane, Janelle raps the line “Remember when they used to say I look too mannish, black girl magic ya’ll can’t stand it” and part of me wishes that something to this effect had of been on Metropolis back in 2008. I can only imagine how my younger self would have clung to that line. I love the realness of “I Like That”, Janelle singing about how she doesn’t care if she’s the only person who likes something, she’s still going to like it. We live in a hive mindset world right now, everyone likes most of the same things and they will band together to shame you if you don’t like what they like or if you like something they don’t. It’s a dangerous line society is teetering on right now and I love Janelle for speaking out to say she’s going to like what she wants.
Hands down, “So Afraid” is my favorite song on the whole album. I really like when Janelle’s midwestern starts to come out and it’s out in full force during So Afraid. The tune paints a picture of a country girl, surrounded by cousins, family, and church. She sings about the fear of losing in general along with the fear of loving someone you aren’t supposed to, according to society. She’s comfortable in the shell she’s created for herself and the idea of having to step out of it is scary. I developed anxiety in middle school and as I’ve grown I’ve created a space around myself, a protection. Most the time I never want to leave my shell either. I’m not really into the idea of love anymore, but if I was I think I’d like to love as freely as Janelle Monaé seems to be.
I truly appreciate the visuals of a healthy happy poly relationship. In the emotion picture, Jane has both a woman and a man at her side, Zen and Che played by the wonderful Tessa Thompson and Jayson Aaron respectively. But it’s in the way that they interact that truly solidified in my eyes that it was a poly relationship. They both are clearly interested in Jane and are aware of each of other but Zen and Che hardly interact. I’ve always wished more poly relationships shown in the media would show that they aren’t always three or more people in love. Sometimes it’s one person in love with two people and the two people are confident enough and open enough to be okay with that. They don’t hate each other, clearly, but their interest is in the one person, not each other. This was the vibe I got from Jane, Zen, and Che. It was great to see.
With the release of her album, Ms. Monaé also came out publicly as pansexual. For a long time, it was speculated that she was everything but straight, no one could pinpoint her exact orientation because Janelle rightfully never talked about it. Who she’s sleeping with is irrelevant to whether or not Janelle makes good music. However, she’s come forward and come out, giving hope and encouragement to young Black LGBT people everywhere. There’s a lot of discourse going around between identifying as bisexual or pansexual, there’s a lot of young people out there who are confused and aren’t sure if the way they feel is valid. Hopefully, with Janelle’s reveal, they can realize that the way they feel is okay and that they can be themselves. I understand why she waited so long to say anything at all but I’m happy and grateful that she finally has.
I’m excited for Janelle Monáe and her career. With each album, she only gets better and better. The movies she been in are critically acclaimed and I believe we’ll be hearing more from Ms. Monaé for many years to come. I’m extremely happy that I’m here to witness it.