Androgynous bop-merchant Janelle Monáe has been around for a while, but 2018 seems to be the year that the only real pretender to Prince’s vacant throne has finally hit the Really Big Time. Her highly acclaimed Dirty Computer has just been nominated for the Grammy Awards Album of the Year. Monáe, who already had six Grammy nominations under her belt, also earned a Grammy nomination for best music video for her song PYNK, from her Dirty Computer album. Fans know her as an endlessly inventive pop android mixing up various musical genres. Earlier this year, just around the time the album was released, Monáe came out as pansexual. With Dirty Computer, she’s finally revealing the real person inside. As she sings on a song from her new album, “Let the rumours be true.”
She told Rolling Stone: “Being a queer black woman in America, someone who has been in relationships with both men and women – I consider myself to be a free-ass motherfucker.” She initially identified as bisexual, “but then later I read about pansexuality and was like, ‘Oh, these are things that I identify with too.’ I’m open to learning more about who I am.”
She had always been cagey about her sexuality: “I only date androids”. But the clues were there in her music. For instance, two songs, Mushrooms & Roses and Q.U.E.E.N., reference a character named Mary as an object of affection. In the 45-minute film accompanying Dirty Computer, Mary Apple is the name given to female “dirty computers” taken captive and stripped of their real names, one of whom is played by Tessa Thompson, who is rumoured to be Monáe’s girlfriend. The original title of Q.U.E.E.N., she notes, was Q.U.E.E.R., and you can still hear the word on the track’s background harmonies.
Starting off, Monáe did not fit into the stereotype of what a black female artist should look or sound like, more Grace Jones androgyny than Beyoncé Booty. She was a pop anomaly as her influences from David Bowie, Tina Turner, Prince, Funkadelic fused into a neo-soul, funky Sci-fi hip-hop electronica, making her one of the most inventive voices of the new century. A decade after her debut, Dirty Computer is a confessional, liberating coming out party. She told Rolling Stone: “I want young girls, young boys, non-binary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you. This album is for you. Be proud.”
On receiving news of her nomination, Monáe told CBS: “This album is so much bigger than me… it’s about a community of dirty computers, of marginalized voices… It’s about a community of voices that I hear and see when I look out in the crowd… there are a lot of people’s voices being pushed to the margins of society because of who they love and what God they choose to serve….there was something I had to say. And there was a group of people that I wanted to celebrate and I’m happy to be representing them. I hope they feel seen, I hope they feel heard, I hope they feel loved and I hope they feel celebrated. I wanted this album to be for them, to be a community and a church for their lives.”
The video for PYNK is pure Pussy Power and has been causing a sensation. It’s a queer, mischievous and deliciously sexy ode to the vagina. Monáe appears in a pair of unsubtle pants looking like hot-pink labia, with her gang of women romping around the desert driving pink convertibles. At one point Tessa Thompson, believed to be Monáe’s girlfriend, pops her head out from between her billowing vagina legs with a saucy grin. And there are lots of shots of dripping ice lollies and manicured fingers pushing through doughnut holes….it doesn’t get gayer than that! It’s joyous, uplifting celebration of Sapphic sexuality.
Now that she’s hit the big time, hopefully she will remain off-beat.
“I’m always left of centre and that’s right where I belong,” Monáe sings on I Like That, a single off Dirty Computer. “Told the whole world / I’m the venom and the antidote / Take a different type of girl to keep the whole world afloat.”
Watch PYNK here: