Janelle Monáe has always been attracted by the outsider, probably because the sci-fi-loving singer/rapper/actress identifies with the unconventional – it's why she created her alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather, a genderless android, who was the voice of her first two albums, 2010’s 'The ArchAndroid' and 2013’s 'The Electric Lady'. With 'Dirty Computer', Monáe has cast off her robotic-persona and is coming out to embrace who she proudly feels to be “a queer, black woman in America”.
Listen to lead single 'The Way You Make Me Feel' and it is easy to detect the unmistakable influence of Prince, who Monáe considered a mentor and a close friend. With funky guitars riffs and breezy melodies, Monáe's latest effort manages to resemble a throwback and tribute to the Purple One yet avoids feeling too nostalgic.
This is because she doesn’t look to the past as her main source of inspiration - she looks to the future. 'Take A Byte' may have the foundations of a synth-filled 80s pop track, but it firmly belongs to the digitally-run 21st century, with lyrics such as “Your code is programmed not to love me.” While others may fear it, Monáe views the increasing presence of computers in our lives as something desirable and natural.
Of course, the sci-fi motifs go deeper than a literal appreciation of the machine. When watching the 40-min short film that accompanies the album, it is clear that Monáe is using fantastical realities to provide social commentary on today´s events. With this project, she is celebrating the voices of the oppressed – who are pioneering and demanding change - and is channelling them into a cyborg-present future, which feels better today, and better than it ever was.
While the album´s mood is optimistic, it doesn’t make out like everything is fine now. No, the lyrics and tone are often angry: on rap-track 'Django Jane' she spits, “Hit the mute button, let the vagina have a monologue” or 'I Got The Juice' (feat. Pharrell Williams), “If you try to grab my pussy cat, this pussy grab you back” and juvenile pop anthem Screwed (feat. Nina Kravitz) “You screw me and I'll screw you too.” Dirty Computer celebrates defiance, it is a seminal record made in the time of Trump´s America, sounding out a very clear message: Fuck you.
'Dirty Computer' captures the plight of today's outsiders who are fighting back, forming the world to be. Monáe is 10 steps ahead, past the Trump era, embracing the robot-utopia that gives hope to an unprejudiced and equal world. She´s already there - now the rest of us have to catch up.
Words: Charis McGowan
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