It’s been five years since artist, actress, and activist Janelle Monáe released her last album, “The Electric Lady,” and she returned to the music scene on April 27 with her fourth studio album (and first “emotion picture”) “Dirty Computer.” And it’s worth the wait.
She’s come back, shedding her android alter-ego and producing a more personal album. In her past discography, she has taken on the persona of Cindi Mayweather, telling a story of a sci-fi fantasy in which Mayweather becomes a martyr in a sense while on the run for falling in love with a human. All the while she’s given the responsibility of freeing her fellow androids and robots, and ensuring they and humans live together in peace.
“Dirty Computer” still keeps her Afro-futuristic style alive but is much more Janelle than her previous works. The opening song, the title track, features Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, where he croons in soft harmonies as she sings that she’s a “dirty computer.” You’re probably wondering what that even means, but as Monáe explains in her “emotion picture” of the same name, “You were dirty if you looked different … if you refused to live the way they dictated.”
Monáe recently revealed she is pansexual in a Rolling Stone cover story that came out a day before “Dirty Computer” was released. Throughout the album, Monáe continues to explore a range of topics that expound on not fitting the norm and being “dirty,” including her personal identity as a queer black woman.
The lead single “Make Me Feel” touches on bisexuality and has a heavy Prince influence (he provided synths for the track before his death). The three follow-up singles, “Django Jane,” “PYNK,” and “I Like That” touch on exuding black excellence, uplifting femininity, and self-image, respectively. As for the album itself, it has star-studded features from Zoë Kravitz (“Screwed”), Pharrell (“I Got The Juice”), and an interlude spoken by Stevie Wonder (“Stevie’s Dream”).
Her aforementioned “emotion picture” is a 48-minute sci-fi short film accompanying the album. The storyline follows the character Jane 57821 who first awakens in a memory clearing facility. Jane lives in a dystopian society run by a totalitarian government where outcasts, if spotted, are sent to be “cleaned.” One of the dirty computers who becomes clean happens to be a woman named Zen, played by Tessa Thompson, who is her love interest, as shown in Jane’s memories. Zen (also known as Mary Apple) doesn’t recall any of this at first but slowly begins to remember during the course of the film. There’s many more surprises in the film, so feel free to watch for yourself!
My personal favorites on the album are “Take A Byte,” “Don’t Judge Me,” and “Americans.” The latter of the three perfectly describes today’s political climate with all that is currently going on with lyrics like:
“Seventy-nine cent to your dollar, All that bulls**t from white-collars/You see my color before my vision, Sometimes I wonder if you were blind/Would it help you make a better decision?”
While “Take A Byte” is just really d-mn catchy, “Don’t Judge Me” is a beautiful ballad and arguably one of her most personal tracks on the album. “Dirty Computer” is truly an album for this generation of outcasts and open minds, as it is refreshing to see a black woman in music going against the grain and doing what she’s been capable of doing all along.