Before discussing Janelle Monáe’s magnum opus, Dirty Computer, let’s go back to how the album came to be. 2016 went downhill when we elected Trump, and 2017 was another step down when he was inaugurated; however, in the wake of these events we saw people come together to rally for hope. As a vocal activist, Janelle Monáe remained a voice of hope and unapologetic equality as she joined marches, kept her Twitter active, and participated in movies about gay love and racial equality (Moonlight and Hidden Figures).
Miss Monáe’s music career has spanned the past 11 years and three previous albums: Metropolis: Suite 1 (The Chase), The ArchAndroid, and The Electric Lady. Her albums have always been from the perspective of her alter ego Cindi Mayweather, an android who is being punished for falling in love with a human. Through this persona, Miss Monáe has continually explored the themes of racial and social injustices within minority communities. After all this we got Dirty Computer, an album about love, equality, and unapologetic culture through the eyes of her new persona, Jane. The album was accompanied by her short movie of the same name.
Let’s talk about what Miss Monáe brought to the table in this 14-track masterpiece:
1. “Dirty Computer” feat. Brian Wilson
We begin the album by establishing that we are all dirty computers– “you were dirty if you looked different, you were dirty if you refused to live the way they dictated, you were dirty if you showed any form of opposition.” In this first song (“Dirty Computer” feat. Brian Wilson), we get a sense of what this album will be about. Her beautiful vocals harmonizing with Brian Wilson’s bring us into the album with a sweet and angelic intro.
2. “Crazy, Classic, Life”
We segue into “Crazy, Classic, Life,” a song that begins with a dramatic reading of an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence. She reminds us that the founding fathers wrote that all men are created equal, but this album explores whether this is true. The first verse begins with “Young, Black, wild, and free,” which Miss Monáe surely is.
3. “Take a Byte”
“Take a Byte” continues to explore the strong feminist themes of the album as she states that she’s not the kind of girl you take home to your mom. However, she implores you to take a “byte,” and this song makes it hard to resist.
4. “Jane’s Dream”
The fourth track on the album is a transitional track named “Jane’s Dream” after her persona, a dirty computer who wants to be free. The track serves as a beautiful melodious segue in her emotion picture.
5. “Screwed” feat. Zoë Kravitz
Following the beautiful transition in “Screwed” feat. Zoe Kravitz, an unforgettable song we didn’t know we needed. The song title refers to both sexual innuendo and the state of our country. As Monáe’s vocals wrap around Zoe Kravitz’s captivating voice in a song that is unapologetically about urges as they sing “sex, body, we’re gonna crash this party.” The song ends with a transition that leads directly into the next track.
6. “Django Jane”
Django Jane, first single released off of her new album, hits the ground running. Monáe spits verses about feminism, self love, and pride in coming from a hard patch of life and making it to where she is now. In this song she references Moonlight, box office numbers for African-American films, pussy riots, and the distinction between a Jane Bond and a Jane Doe – women are not nameless identities, they are powerful individuals.
7. “PYNK” feat. Grimes
This bop is undeniably about women, vaginas, sexuality, and humanity. She describes where she sees pynk: on the inside of her, behind all of the doors, where the tongues go down… the list goes on. With this song we can envision ourselves driving down a sunny highway in a convertible with the top down, singing at the top of our lungs. Demonstrated by the music video, this song is about being a woman and loving who you want. As the song fades out she tells us “we’re all just pynk,” showing us that no matter who we are outside, pynk is for everyone – we’re all human.
8. “Make Me Feel”
The entire album is laced with traces of Prince but in this song, Miss Monáe delivers on the retro beat and dance tunes we are familiar with in his music. In this song Miss Monáe never uses any pronouns, letting anyone use this song. She recently came out as pansexual and in this song lets us know you can love whoever you want. She delivers a song with a sexy pre-chorus and dance tune that is not only a retro bop but an anthem about love.
9. “I Got the Juice” feat. Pharrell Williams
After the retro, pansexual bop of the year we jump right into “I Got the Juice,” another song inspired by Prince that provides the first vocal collaboration between Miss Monáe and Pharrell. Combining funk, rock, R&B, and rap, this song provides a much needed dance break and a call to action for all people. “If you try to grab my pussy cat, this pussy grab you back.” Just like that, we’re inspired and dancing.
10. “I Like That”
“I Like That” is the fourth single off of Janelle Monáe’s album and provides a song about self-love for all people, and specifically for the African-American community. In this song she recounts being told that she was weird in math class, growing up on thrift clothes, being laughed at when she cut her perm off, but “even back then with the tears in my eyes I always knew I was the shit.” Janelle Monáe gives us a song about overcoming what other people think of you, and a beautiful reminder of how she came from nothing and has made it to where she is now because of her mother’s hard work. This song empowers you to say you like yourself without feeling conceited, as it feels good to like yourself.
11. “Don’t Judge Me”
“Don’t Judge Me” slows things down to a smooth beat over lyrics about the moment between a decision and the reaction, between a letter and the response, between a sexy text and its reply. It is a soulful and sexy song about the three dots jumping on your phone screen. In this song, she explores connections and the way things change when you’re with someone you love ― judgement fades away and it’s just the two of you.
12. “Stevie’s Dream”
“Stevie’s Dream” is a transition reminiscent of “Jane’s Dream” that gives us a beautiful melody underneath a spoken word poem from Stevie Wonder. It’s a 47 second break about love, words, and letting go of anger.
13. “So Afraid”
As we near the end, we explore fear and growth. “So Afraid” provides a song about the fear we all feel as we go to work, climb trees, swim in rivers, fall in love. The chorus kicks in with a soft melody and a choral harmony that feels like a vocal hug. We’re all afraid, but Miss Monáe is carrying us all through it.
Before leaving us, Miss Monáe makes her glorious exit with a song about America’s racism; she is here, after all, to sing about the truth. On the day of the album’s release, Miss Monáe came out as a “queer Black woman in America,” and this song is here to remind us how many hardships we face as Americans. She discusses pledging allegiance to the flag because our parents taught us to, rather than because of what we believe in. She describes Uncle Sam kissing a man, people working in servitude to people who don’t treat them equally, and being part of a new wave of Americans that will defend their land ― this dirty computer will keep opposing the oppressors.
Janelle Monáe’s latest masterpiece is a 5/5 album. Go listen to it now; go watch the emotion picture. Go support Janelle Monáe, a woman we don’t deserve but are so lucky to have. Very rarely do we find an artist so free and unashamed, and even more rarely do we get a whole album about it. This may very well be the album of the year.