Janelle Monáe: Our New VBF

The singer invokes the spirit of Prince and sexual freedom of a Control-era Janet Jackson

Janelle Monáe: fantastically cool, perfectly peculiar. Photograph: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Janelle Monáe: fantastically cool, perfectly peculiar. Photograph: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

 

“You know I love it, so please don’t stop it
You got me right here in your jean pocket (right now)
Laying your body on a shag carpet (oh)
You know I love it so please don’t stop it.”

Who gave Janelle Monáe permission to invoke the spirit of Prince and the sexual freedom of a Control-era Janet Jackson in the Year of Our Lord 2018? On her thrilling new single, Make Me Feel, Monáe unapologetically stamps her identity over a song that highlights her sexual fluidity and desires. No, her name ain’t baby. It’s Janelle . . . Ms Monáe if you’re nasty.

It might be time to fetch the smelling salts, because if she hasn’t made you swoon already she’s coming in hard with the campaign for her forthcoming album, Dirty Computer.

The singer, songwriter, actor and occasional model arrived with a full-on slap to the face in the shape of her 2010 debut album, The ArchAndroid, which was a full-throttle sci-fi exploration of soul and R&B inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 movie Metropolis. Using time travel and the Funk – that’s right, the Funk – the album’s protagonist, Cindi Mayweather, an out-of-this-world android, liberates minorities from enslavement and breaking down physical, regimental, institutional and emotional barriers.

Janelle Monáe: Make Me Feel

Produced by Big Boi of OutKast, Puff Daddy and Kevin Barnes of the psychedelic indie-rock band Of Montreal, The ArchAndroid is fantastically cool and perfectly peculiar. How’s about that for your first album?

Hailing from Kansas City, Monáe actually cites Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz as an influence on her music, but when she clicks her feet three times she doesn’t go back home: she goes on a musical odyssey. With a drama and theatre education from New York, she went on to be schooled in life in Atlanta, Georgia, the hometown of OutKast, who featured her on Idlewild, their 2006 album. Wearing tailored suits and bouffant hair, and serving up dizzying hooks packed up in feverishly hot R&B songs, Monáe stepped into the limelight a fully fledged entertainer.

In 2016 she slid on to the silver screen with as much candour, sophistication and talent as she puts into her records. Her first appearance was as Teresa in Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-winning Moonlight, which followed the life of a young black man exploring his sexual identity in a hypermasculine world; later she played Mary Jackson in Hidden Figures, the true story of black women mathematicians who worked for Nasa during the space race.

Both roles reflect the message of freedom and acceptance that Monáe works into every element of her career. Thoughtful and clear cut, she celebrates her femininity, her androgyny, her blackness and her queerness with impenetrable confidence.

When we asked who gave Janelle Monáe permission to invoke the spirit of Prince, it was actually a trick question. According to the singer, Prince worked on Dirty Computer before he died, in 2016, and according to a now-deleted Facebook post from Prince’s DJ Lenka Paris, the Purple One also wrote the synth part for Make Me Feel, explaining the sensual breathlessness the song brings on.

So who gave her permission to move us like this? Prince technically handed her the keys, but, with her foot slammed down on the accelerator, get ready for one hell of a ride in the company of Janelle Monáe.

Dirty Computer is released on April 27th

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