When I first saw Janelle Monáe I didn't know she was also a talented singer. I saw her as a talented actress. She starred in the groundbreaking movie, Hidden Figures (2016), which covered the lives of the three renowned scientists during the 60s who helped with many of NASA's early accomplishments. All of these scientists were African American women.
The title is that they were hidden figures in history who are now being acknowledged and being recognized. Monáe played the real-life engineer Mary Jackson, whose determination and driven attitude is intensely inspiring. Monáe showed the determination Jackson had when she went to court to be allowed to attend an all-White school, also dominated by men, to get an engineering degree.
The determination and acting that was portrayed by Monáe for Jackson ripples through her as well. She is truly a multi-talented artist. The following article may have some graphic material so reader discretion is advised.
On February 2018, Janelle Monáe's song "Make Me Feel" debuted and you can get engrossed listening to the song and the music video. In the video, Monáe seems to play herself as a character and also as a woman discovering her sexuality.
The lighting is themed with the bisexual pride flag thus has pink, purple and blue colors. The nightclub has Monàe enter the club with the actress, Tessa Thompson. The video is a reference to the popular episode of the television show, Black Mirror, called "San Junipero", which is about two women discovering they romantically love each other.
Tessa Thompson has recently come out as bisexual in June of this year. She does have love for Janelle Monáe, who has already come out as a queer woman in April and says she is either bisexual or pansexual. The music video shows Monáe owning up to her sexuality. When another woman flirts with Thompson, Monáe immediately steps in making the other woman step back.
Monáe also flirts with a man and ends up dancing with both Tessa and the man. As she says in her lyrics: "It's like I'm powerful with a little bit of tender/ An emotion, sexual bender…/There's nothing better/That's just the way you make me feel."
It should be noted that musician Prince had helped with the sounds of Monáe's new album. The album is called Dirty Computer, released on April 27th of this year. In the interview to Bustle by Jesscia Hopper titled, "Janelle Monáe Is Breaking Rules & Creating A Space For Others To Do The Same." Monáe has explained that the Dirty Computer is a signifier for people who are essentially treated as outsiders.
As Hopper notes: "A dirty computer in this specific instance is a stand-in for queer identity, but a dirty computer is anyone who is persecuted, marginalized, left unsupported." And her album is celebration of different forms of Blackness and queerness coupled with all expressions of female sexuality.
The Song "PYNK" is completely a celebration of Black, female sexuality in all its forms. It is taking that the word "pink" from being a slang for female genitalia and treating it as a form of anthem for liberation and empowerment. The colors of the video are always overshadowed by the pink lighting.
"Some like that/ 'Cause boy it's cool if you got blue/ We got the pink." The lyrics are so positive and in a way aningenious play of words.
When one feels blue,they are sad but pink is vibrant. Pink may have culturally be associated with softness and tenderness but Monáe expertly flips the script by showing how aggressive, visceral, raw and powerful pink can be.
"I wanna fall through the stars/Getting lost in the dark is my favorite part/ Let's count the ways we could make this last forever." None of the imagery is meant to be docile but is a fierce invocation of one's own agency and understanding of one's own desire. As Hopper quoted Monáe: "
"I wanted to make sure that in songs like 'PYNK,' we're celebrating women - and not all women have vaginas or need to have a vagina to be a woman - but celebrating all of us. Celebrating all of the things that are beautiful about us in our sexuality," she says, adding, "I was taught at an early age never to be open about how I feel sexually."
And Tess Thompson is in this video as well. Popping around sweetly and being supportive and engaging as usual. Janelle Monáe's previous albums, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) (2007), The ArchAndroid (2010) and The Electric Lady (2013) all had her playing a persona, an android or gynoid, named Cindi Mayweather.
Dirty Computer is the first album not to feature this character or her setting, however, it still fuses many genres and aspects of music and storytelling. Dirty Computer is not only a song, it is also a short film with the same name. It is called an Emotion Picture, which Monáe states as a "narrative film and accompanying music album."
As Hopper describes Monáe: "She rattles off the women she admires and why: Yara Shahidi, Amandla Stenberg, Lena Waithe, Lupita Nyong'o, Issa Rae - all women she says use their platforms in the service of something greater and encouraged her "to do more and to be better." So what does Monáe's "more" look like these days? Dirty Computer is part of it."
The film, Dirty Computer, starts with something like a cyberpunk themed ritual, drawing on Egyptian motifs. Monáe is put on a slab, as though she is some sacrifice, and a voice tells her to repeat, she is a dirty computer and she needs to be "clean." Monáe is not dirty and she cannot say these things. She may be different but she is a person. Then technicians start to tamper with her memories.
And, we see Monáe singing and laughing with so many eclectic people and Tessa Thompson officiating a marriage between two women. As Monáe states she isn't "An American Nightmare" but "The American Dream." She also says "I Just Wanna Find A God/ And I Hope She Loves Me Too." She also proudly states she is "The American Cool."
The party is raided by totalitarian styled security and they try to delete Monáe's memories of her being in such a party. Tess Thompson plays Zen, one of Monáe's love interests, whose memories seem already deleted. When Monáe sees her, and wants to know if she is okay she just deflects the questions.
Zen, now called Maryapple 53, has come to "clean" Monáe of her "bugs." She doesn't remember that she was once called Zen or that she loved Monáe, known as Jane in the Emotion Picture.
They still try to take away her memories. Jane in one of her memories proudly wears a T-shirt: "Subject Not Object." Another song plays where she is hiding from authorities and parting with her friends.
There are also pop cultural science fiction references saying they are still stuck in the Matrix and taking blue pills, which to me sounded very creative and a good way of showing the progressive nature of the narrative in where the blue pill is meant to be rejected.
I am happy Monáe used this reference because some racist people use it to show White supremacists attitudes but Monáe used it as a term empowering people of color.In the midst of all this, Zen, gets captured.
Eventually, the technicians start to question what they are doing. One of them is amazed by Jane's creativity and wants to know about it but he is told to just delete. Jane resists the process and soon she tells Zen she doesn't wanna forget her, which strikes a chord in Zen. Then one of the most powerful songs in the album comes along "I Like That."
Where Monáe says that even when she was bullied as a kid, she knew she "was the shit", because she was the only she, she could be and no one else could be her. Her style, her words, her approach is all unique and even if it isn't mainstream she has all her creativity, intelligence and talent. The colors of the song, the aesthetics and the words are extremely powerful and empowering.
Soon Zen starts remembering the deep love she and Jane had for each other. But what if it is too late? The Emotion Picture ends with a twist and the colors and the words spoken by Monáe is one of complete rebellion. She will not go gentle into that good night. She will rise. She is proud of who she is and what she stands for. She is not a dirty computer. She is strong and brave.
I loved the Emotion Picture and I loved all the songs. The beautiful, storytelling and lyrical style of Monáe is something that will stay with me. I just loved the visuals and the words of the songs. It is queer friendly, feminist, people of color centric, sex positive and empowering to almost anyone who felt marginalized and an outsider. Monáe's work is surely creative and genius in motion.
The writer is a Copy Editor at
the Asian Age