Review: Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer
After years of silence, Janelle Monae has returned to take the world by storm with the release of her new visual album, Dirty Computer. Lyrically sharp and musically nostalgic, the album points to greater themes of acceptance, protest, and love in a climate rampant with violence and hatred. Spurred on by electric guitars and whimsical vocal riffs, Monae ushers in an era of queer Black female activism, and the Prince-inspired flare is undeniably an undercurrent throughout every song.
The introductory song, “Dirty Computer,” serves as a relaxing prelude to prepare its audience for the lyrical masterpieces that follow it. The subtle notions about ‘brainwashing’ and ‘political control over one’s bodily and mental autonomy’ are reinforced by the visual images of Monae, her female lover (Tessa Thompson), and her male love interest (Jayson Aaron). Openly pansexual, Monae’s public candor about her sexuality led to the term being the most searched on the album’s release date.
Another monumental song, “Screwed,” features a prominent collaboration with actress Zoe Kravitz. With a delicate vocal opening, Monae follows through with her musical domination by incorporating playful lyrics with the very real experiences of marginalized people in America. With memorable guitar riffs and spoken word, this song, while also a personal favorite, is rife to be the best song on the album.
On the other hand, “Django Jane” focuses on a powerful Monae sitting in a throne and discussing the endless possibilities of ‘black girl magic.’ While the album is surely meant to be an expression of romantic and platonic love, it does not shy away from social and political commentary. Speaking on the lived experiences of a queer Black woman in America currently, Monae touches upon issues of colorism, misogyny, and government control over bodies that are deemed unworthy of existence.
The anthemic sound of “Make Me Feel” is most similar to Prince’s music, and this is purposeful. The five year hiatus that Monae took was predominantly due to her mentor’s sudden death, and because the duo began work on “Dirty Computer” prior to his passing, Monae decided to finish the work. Claiming Prince himself as one of her musical collaborators on the album, his subtle touch is undeniable and woven creatively throughout each song. =
Each song is meant to unearth a different emotion from its listener, and as I have noticed these last few days of listening to the album nonstop, it changes with every listen. The dominant chords on one day can seemingly fade into the background in favor of Monae’s powerful voice. Even in its static, finished state, the album evolves dramatically to provide an expressive voice for each person who takes the time to listen.