By Carson King | Staff Writer

Monáe explores her identity as a queer Black woman in her videos “Make Me Feel” and “Django Jane.” (Courtesy of LiPo Ching/ Bay Area News Group)

This week, musician and actress Janelle Monáe, who has been featured in the films “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures,” announced the upcoming release of her third studio album. “Dirty Computer,” to be released on April 27, will be her first solo musical release in five years, following 2013’s “Electric Lady.” 

Soon after this announcement, two singles and accompanying music videos were released. The first video is for the funky dance tune “Make Me Feel.” In a colorful club, both futuristic and undeniably 80s-inspired, Monáe is seen as both a swaggering performer and a more timid reveler. The track and its video draw influence from the song “Kiss” by Prince, a personal mentor of Monáe’s.

Monáe, who has skirted questions about her sexuality for years, shares a bit more about herself in this video. Each of her two characters is seen dancing flirtatiously with both a female, romantic interest played by actress Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor:Ragnarok), and a male romantic interest. This song, which has been high on the YouTube trending list since its release, has been labelled a “bisexual anthem” by many queer women. However, in a new interview with the Guardian, Monáe repeated her distaste for being labeled, simply sharing that she considers herself a “sexually liberated woman.” With Zane Lowe for Beats 1 Radio, Monáe said that she felt this song and concept were long overdue and expressed her hope that this track would “capture that fearlessness and that freedom about embracing your uniqueness and who you are.”

The difference in tone between “Make Me Feel” and the album’s second single, “Django Jane,” is stark. However, the second song and its accompanying video are no less spectacular. “Django Jane” is a witty rap track celebrating the achievements of black women and Monáe herself. She celebrates her own triumphs in the face of working class struggle and references films she has contributed to: “Momma was a G, she was cleanin’ hotels/ Poppa was a driver, I was workin’ retail/ Kept us in the back of the store/ We ain’t hidden no more/ Moonlit…”

She raps these lines while seated on a throne, wearing one of her famous suits and a matching kufi hat, surrounded by female dancers in leather jackets and sunglasses—a recognizable homage to the women of the Black Panther Party.

Monáe also reminds the listener of the influence and generative power black women have: “Black girl magic/y’all can’t stand it,” and “We gave you life/we gave you birth/We gave you God/we gave you Earth.” This tune also hints at possibilities for Monáe’s future career on stage or screen while referencing her previous musical work: “Prolly give a Tony to the homies/Prolly get a Emmy dedicated to the/Highly melanated, ArchAndroid orchestrated.”

Influenced musically by soul singers, including James Brown and Stevie Wonder and conceptually by Afrofuturism, Monáe’s previous musical work paints the picture of a dystopian Metropolis, in which androids struggle under an oppressive regime. Cindi Mayweather, Monáe’s android alter-ego, is the rebel and revolutionary who serves as a beacon of hope for citizens of Metropolis and listeners alike. While “Make Me Feel” and “Django Jane” follow the path of her previous music with their soulful influences, themes of self-celebration, and afro-futurist aesthetics, it is clear that there is something a bit more personal and intense about this upcoming album.

Monáe’s Fandroids know that this is not the first time she has used her musical platform to speak out.  She is a leader of Fem the Future, an organization that has given speeches at Women’s March events with other members of this group. She has performed “Hell You Talmbout,” a song valiantly demanding remembrance of victims of police brutality, and this year at the Grammy awards she spoke in support of the Time’s Up movement against sexual harassment.

Monáe shared that even though she has previously worked to help “those who are often left behind and don’t have a voice” through film and musical projects, she is nervous about how “Dirty Computer” will be received. She said that this is a “very personal, from the heart….very vulnerable album,” and she often needed reassurance from her studio team that this project was a chance to “choose honesty over mystery.” In the face of this anxiety, she is optimistic about her album and the impact it may have on listeners: “Those who are oftentimes uncelebrated are getting the opportunity to shine and they have this album as a soundtrack to do it. That is my prayer.”

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