Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer (Universal)
Janelle Monáe is an incredible actress. That was made obvious in 2016, when she had key supporting roles in two Oscar-winning films, Moonlight and Hidden Figures. Anyone who’d followed her music career from the beginning would not have been surprised: right from the outset, the incredibly talented singer and performer seemed to be playing a part. Which she was: her first three releases were apparently the work of a character called Cindi Mayweather, an “arch-android” inspired by the film Metropolis. Despite Monáe’s prodigious gifts, there was indeed always something arch about her, something overly performative that made her seem more stiff than soulful. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: it worked for everyone from David Bowie to Rihanna. But with rare exceptions, Monáe’s music always sounded more like work than fun.
Now that she’s come out as a thespian, her music is more playful and pop than it ever was. Maybe hanging out with Prince and Stevie Wonder—as one does, when you’re Janelle Monáe—convinced her to let her hair down (metaphorically, anyway). Dirty Computer is many things: political, pop, full of provocative invocations of “pussy power,” infused with the ghost of Prince (particularly the supremely funky “Make Me Feel”), and a major media event, with an accompanying album-length video, much like Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
“If the world should end tonight, I had a crazy, classic life,” she sings on the second track here. That she certainly has. And this album indicates it’s about to get even better. (May 11)
Stream: “Make Me Feel,” “Pynk,” “I Got the Juice”