Our favourite androgynous android has finally returned with new music.
As we all get ready to listen to Dirty Computer on a loop for the rest of 2018, here’s everything you need to know to get you crushing on the sublime Janelle Monáe.
She’s a style icon
From the earliest stages of her career, Monáe had an aesthetic that stood out. Whether giving interviews or walking the red carpet, she would rock the hell out of a monochromatic tuxedo. Not only did this help to differentiate her from other starlets, it was a smart bit of visual branding. Her androgynous style gives the finger to stereotypes; to look at Monáe is to get a taste of who she is and what her music is all about.
And a talented actress
While known first and foremost for her music, it’s likely that you’ve seen Monáe on-screen; she had significant roles in two of 2016’s most talked about films. In Hidden Figures, the previously untold story of the African-American women who worked at NASA during the Space Race of the Sixties, Monáe played real life engineer and mathematician Mary Jackson.
And in Moonlight, she played Teresa, a surrogate mother figure to the tortured protagonist Chiron; her performance alongside Mahershala Ali was a source of warmth in an oftentimes dark film. An avid fan of science fiction, Monáe also recently appeared in Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, a series of self-contained speculative tales in the vein of Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone.
And her music could not be more relevant right now
Her first two studio records, The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady, were concept albums set in a distant future inspired by the science fiction classic Metropolis. Monáe’s alter ego on these albums, Cindi Mayweather, is an android, leader of an oppressed cyborg community. Science fiction stories are often packed with allegories of real life civil rights movements (the X-Men, for instance), and Monáe’s futuristic storytelling is no different; she says that the androids of Metropolis represent the “other”, be that the LGBTQ community, people of colour, or anyone else who feels disenfranchised.
Monáe’s third studio album, Dirty Computer, is coming out this year, and has already been preceded by two instantly iconic lead singles. ‘Django Jane’ is a timely and empowering take-no-crap anthem that sees her rapping on a throne in her trademark suit (if “hit the mute button / let the vagina have a monologue” isn’t a #metoo slogan within the week, I will eat my hat) — but it’s the video for ‘Make Me Feel’ that’s got everyone all heart-eyes-emoji.
‘Make Me Feel‘ follows Monáe and movie star Tessa Thompson through a a San Junipero–esque nightclub populated with a cast of androgynous dancers, and features Monáe at her most playful, revelling with suitors of any gender while saturated in “bisexual lighting” (a newly coined term for blue-and-pink neon, echoing the colours of the bisexual flag). It’s a visually lush ode to queer culture, and subtly political in a way that ‘This Is Me’-style anthems could only hope to achieve.
And if the song itself sounds like a quintessential Prince jam, well, that’s because it is. The late, great music star was Monáe’s mentor, and he worked with her on Dirty Computer before his passing in April 2016. “I wouldn’t be as comfortable with who I am if it had not been for Prince,” Monáe said in a recent interview with the Guardian, citing the influence he and other free-thinking artists like David Bowie have had on her. “I feel their spirit, I feel their energy. They were able to evolve. You felt that freedom in them.”
If any artist could hope to one day fill the shoes of Bowie and Prince, my money’s on Monáe.