‘Dirty Computer’ Janelle Monáe’s third full-length, a clear frontrunner for album of the year since her announcement – suggests that Janelle’s tech fetish and machine love is becoming her brand thing.
After a few years focusing on acting with performances in the films ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Hidden Figures’, and sporadic collaborations with indie-experimental queen Grimes and fun., the American singer-turned-actor came to renown with her own particular stylish, a sci-fi human liberation concept album. Set in a futuristic dystopia, her debut album ‘The ArchAndroid’ (2010) starred a saviour robot, Cindi Mayweather, ready to disdained easy categorisations, combining multiples genres from R&B to pop and rock music.
The early Monáe was more insecure swerved the lanes often assigned to young black female artists. She sang about stilted ideas, not about sexual liberation; she wore black-and-white, uniform-style outfits, not the actual pink and colourful outfits. She was cerebral, a little bit less provocative but still refreshingly creative, if, perhaps, a bit distant to the public.
Now, with all her profile burgeoning from screen roles, and stirring appearances and speeches in favour of equality, equity and feminine power and sexual liberation at last year’s Women’s March and this year’s Grammys, ‘Dirty Computer’ seizes Monáe’s colossal moment.
Ditching Monáe’s previous sci-fi adventures, ‘Dirty Computer’ retains some vestigial allegory of the relation between computers and the human race. Co-starring Tessa Thompson, a short film – promoted as an “emotion picture” – screened on MTV and BET in the US the night before ‘Dirty Computer’ release. Although there’re differences between the plot set in the “emotion picture” and the record’s sound which is very much pink, lighter and vulnerable.
‘Dirty Computers’ is a term which is referred to all the people who are not ‘normal’, the ones with our corrupted drives and weird operating systems, although Monáe’s sexual liberating message on this record is on behalf of those who don’t fit the Political Trump-Era: The poor, the marginalised, color people and the non-straight.
One of the musical examples of Monáes’s musical fearlessness is ‘Django Jane’, released a couple of months ago along with Prince’s inspired ‘Make Me Feel’. Every line is bravely brilliant, taking in her background mixing it with a salvo on behalf of creative black womanhood.
The politic climate of fear and sexism of the last few years are represented through these songs based on freedom and self-belief. ‘Screwed’ (ft Zoë Kravitz) seems like a pinky inoffensive a pop tune, but Monáe turns it into a deep analysis of power dynamics that remains us to two icons, Prince (the opening riff) and Madonna (the spoken bits).
The personal aspects have long been political, but here Monáe is calling tracks sweeping things such as ‘Americans’ – the closing track, but not the album’s most convincing one – and singing a total declaration of intentions as: “I am not America’s nightmare/ I am the American dream.”
In one of the ‘Dirty Computer’ most subversive acts, these bouts of flag-waving often come more in the stadium pop vernacular, not the hip-hop or R&B sound that Janelle used to sing a few years ago. This album’s most obvious influences is 80’s Prince, who was Monáe’s friend and collaborator. This is most audible on the terrifically good Prince’s tribute, ‘Make Me Feel’.
Released as one of the last taste of the record, the song ‘Pynk‘ (ft Grimes), remains a sensational sugar pop anthem cut about cunnilingus, intimacy, sex and how we all are the same colour at the inside.
Most specifically of all, though, ‘Dirty Computer’ concerns Monáe, who is now wearing colours, baring skin and singing about herself and not about an alter ego like Cindi Mayweather. Some old-school will miss the steely distance that used to characterised Janelle previous work, but the aim here is to transform Monáe into a mainstream superstar, and on that count ‘Dirty Computer’ succeeds efficiently.
This is Janelle Monáe’s most personal gift to all the people out there who are ostracised by society just for embracing their true selves. A fundamental message of love and hope through music to anyone who feels different, but more importantly, it’s the most precious gift that Janelle has ever give to herself.