Artist: Janelle Monáe
Album: Dirty Computer
Self-acceptance is unfortunately a difficult thing to gain for a lot of people. Especially if aspects of your true self go against the grain or are primarily frowned upon by the general public. If you don’t conform to societal norms then you’re unfortunately going to be subjected to ridicule, alienation, and even cruelty. To avoid these things a lot of people conform to social norms and abandon things that make them unique or individualistic. It’s unfortunate but it’s reality. It is immensely admirable and commendable when someone truly accepts who they are regardless of the fact that they will be placed in the minority. A beautiful thing that occurs among people in this minority though is unity, and a beautiful way to express any frustration or self-acceptance is art, and what is the most universal form of art? Music, of course. Some of the best musicians fearlessly touch on subjects considered to be taboo, or make powerful statements of individualism. It’s been happening since the dawn of music, which makes music the art form that is truly ahead of the curve. We still have plenty of artists that push the boundaries today, and one of them is an admirable woman named Janelle Monáe.
Janelle Monáe does it all. She’s an actress, a model, a producer, and a musician. A very intriguing musician who has been making music as far back as 2003. Those of you familiar with her know that she is an uncompromising, unsparing, and fearless artist who proudly speaks for people who have had to deal with hardships such as African Americans, homosexuals, and women. Her music has featured some of these themes in the past, and they were quite impactful, but the main focus was a cinematic concept dubbed the Metropolis Conceptual Series. This series focused on a fictional android named Cindi Mayweather. Mayweather ends up falling in love with a human, and is then sentenced to disassembly. This concept spanned one EP and two full-length albums. Now, her new album Dirty Computer departs from this series, and is a lot more personal featuring very relevant topics. Dirty Computer, as she explained in a recent interview is the idea that we’re all computers. We upload, we download, we share information back and forth, and with every computer comes bugs and viruses. Now are those negatives or positives? With this album she wanted to have a conversation with us as human beings about what it means to tell someone that the way that they’re programmed is a flaw, that they need to conform and be reprogrammed. With a name like Dirty Computer, she continues to pay tribute to her love for Sci-Fi, but this is the most human album she has ever created. It is a powerful statement of self-acceptance. It celebrates sexuality, race, and gender of all forms, and even though she is speaking from the perspective of a pansexual African American woman, it’s still easy for anyone to relate to her. Everyone of all backgrounds is invited to this celebration.
The album can be broken down to three parts. The first part is a fearless statement of individualism. With tracks like “Crazy, Classic, Life,” and “Take a Byte,” Monae expresses her desire to live life on her own terms and in doing so she encourages us all to not be ashamed of our personal desires, and with immaculate production rich with Funk bass, lush Synth-Pop influenced synths, and even some Trap percussion Monáe provides beautiful and powerful vocals. She even raps a bit with infectious swagger. “We gave you life, we gave you birth, we gave you God, we gave you earth, we fem the future, don’t make it worse,” Monáe flows as she speaks for feminism and kicks it’s detractors in their teeth on the all rapped “Django Jane.” Female empowerment is a major theme on this album, and that theme is celebrated head-on on the track “Pynk.” Featuring Grimes, this track is a smooth Pop anthem that celebrates the beauty of women, and the term “Pynk” comes from….well… you get the picture.
The influence that is obvious on this album is without a doubt the artistic and androgynous nature of David Bowie, and of course… Prince. His influence is definitely heard on the track “Make Me Feel” with it’s sexed-up fun and catchy as Hell chorus, and apparently the man himself provided the bouncy synth line that screams his signature sound. It turns out that Prince was actually working with Monáe on this album before he passed away, and Monáe definitely honored him with this track.
The second part of the album finds a more vulnerable Monáe. It represents the fear that comes with being different from the norm. No matter how proud you are about yourself, it is a scary world filled with people who don’t take to people outside of the norm kindly. The track “Don’t Judge Me” on the surface sounds like Monáe is singing to a lover, but this track can strongly be interpreted as a letter to her fans and the media asking them to accept her for who she is. She hasn’t always been vocal about her personal life. It wasn’t until recently that she came out as pansexual, and up until now the grandiose concept on her previous albums overshadowed any personal content. With a line like “Even though you tell me you love me, i’m afraid you just love my disguise,” it’s almost as if she’s telling the world “This is who I really am.” Backed by gorgeous string arrangements, this is one of the most melodic and powerful moments on the album. The track “So Afraid” carries a similar tone, but this one is gut-wrenching. Monáe pours her heart out as she expresses how scary it can be having the feelings she has regardless of how self-accepting she is. With this feeling comes uncomfortability and at times it feels like she can’t prevail. Though she has made peace with herself, she still has to fight any self-doubt that comes her way, and that is something we can all relate to. The final part of the album is the closing track “Americans.” This ends the album on a more upbeat note musically, but the lyrical content satirizes the racist and homophobic nature of America. “I like my woman in the kitchen. I teach my children superstitions. I keep two guns on my blue nightstand. A pretty young thing, she can wash my clothes, but she’ll never ever wear my pants,” Monáe sings as she smoothly glides through this reflection of Americas corrupt values, but with this detailing of the negatives, she also displays the positives in which she expresses how this country is her home and instead of running away, she’s determined to stay here and put her life on the line to better this country and rid it of it’s ignorance and hatred. It’s an uplifting end to an important album. Even though this album doesn’t feature a blatant concept like it’s predecessors, it still has a cinematic vibe to it, but this time it features an unfiltered and honest Janelle Monáe, and in the world of Pop music, a world that for the most part produces spineless and shallow material, Janelle Monáe is a Godsend.
Oh yeah, there’s also an incredible short film to accompany this album.
Written By: Steven Sandoval