Being queer in America is made difficult through systematic homophobia, but being black and queer is a hardship that many in this country don’t understand. With a recent public revelation of identifying as pansexual, it is clear that Janelle Monae understands this and that is what she is trying to convey throughout her audibly smooth and buttery album, Dirty Computer. Afro-futuristic elements were normally the forefront of Monae’s previous albums, which stuck with a uniform concept that followed an android named Cindi. While the fictitious Cindi definitely had elements of Monae, the songstress gets as personal as ever with Dirty Computer.
Monae has never been one to ride trends and this is clear with the space-age, yet nostalgic tones of the production of the tracks on Dirty Computer. The introduction track “I Like That” is probably the song with the most radio play due to its rhythmic hi-hat pattern, pulsating synths, and infectious hook. “PYNK” is a queer-anthem featuring avant-garde Canadian artist and producer Grimes. In the track and accompanying visuals for “PYNK,” Monae celebrates femininity and enjoying a same-sex fling while appreciating every little bit of their partner.
“Make Me Feel” is another LGBTQ+ anthem with musical throwback elements that would have made Prince proud. Heavy, funk-filled bass riffs and bouncy, Prince-esque vocals make this a fun and memorable track on the album. “Screwed” is one of my favorites on Dirty Computer, with a melody that is straight from the 80s and a really fun and poppy Zoe Kravitz feature. Although the track is definitely the most sonically upbeat, the themes explored in “Screwed” are highly politicized in nature. “Hundred men telling me to cover up my areolas/ While they blocking equal pay, sippin on Coca-Colas/ Fake news, fake boobs, fake food—what’s real?/ Still in the matrix eatin’ on the blue pills/ The devil met with Russia and they just made a deal/ We was marchin’ through the street, they were blockin’ every bill/ I’m tired of hoteps trying to tell me how to feel”. This criticism on Trump and America, in general, is something that is revisited throughout the album.
On “I Got the Juice” featuring Pharrell, she exclaims “If you try to grab my pussy, this pussy grab you back”, further highlighting the intersectional feminist tone on the album.
Although Dirty Computer is a delight throughout there are some tracks that come off more as filler. The title track “Dirty Computer” has some gorgeous vocals, but has an Ambien effect amongst some of the more charismatic tracks on the album. “So Afraid” might work on a different album, but it comes off as a random throwaway compared to the rest of Dirty Computer.
All-in-all Janelle Monae artistically mastered an album that perfectly expresses what it is like to celebrate queerness and blackness, while also highlighting the struggles. A pinch of queer, a little afro-futurism, an ounce of politics, a bit of Wakanda, and a piece of intersectional feminism make up the ingredients for this fun and enjoyable project that myself and other fellow black queer people can celebrate joyously.