Although her career was hitting peaks it hadn't before, Janelle Monáe went into 2018 under quite a bit of pressure. Her last album – the android-themed The Electric Lady – came out an astounding five years ago. On top of that, her professional life had shifted from a complete focus on music to include acting – a transition that elevated her status to cinematic A-lister with critically acclaimed performances in two of 2016's top movies, Moonlight and Hidden Figures. But as the year started, Monáe found herself at a crossroads where a flop album could very well have the world urging her to stick to movies, à la Jared Leto and Ludacris. All that being said, when Monáe announced her third album, Dirty Computer, shit was hype.
Our first taste of new Janelle Monáe in five years came in the form of two videos for two very different songs. The first, and most impactful, was "Make Me Feel," a sexy-sweet Prince homage – worked on by the Purple One himself because this is fucking Janelle Monáe – paired with an image rebrand that marked a definitive year zero. Where prior, she was only ever seen dressing very androgynously in black and white suits – a unique look, but somewhat gimmicky – in "Make Me Feel" she emerged in bold colors looking like confidence, sex, fashion and most importantly, Janelle Monáe.
The second of the two videos announcing Dirty Computer was "Django Jane," the hard-hitting counterpart to "Make Me Feel"'s shiny pop-funk lust. "Make Me Feel" is a single, a hit clear as day. But "Django Jane" is a declaration: Janelle is back. The video shows her on a throne in an immaculately tailored suit that says, "I don't know what y'all have been doing while I was gone, but it doesn't matter." Monáe had never rapped with this much intensity and drive on a track, only coming close on 2010's "Tightrope (Remix)". Lines like "And we gon' start a motherfucking Pussy Riot, or we gon' have to put 'em on a pussy diet" and "Black girl magic, y'all can't stand it. Y'all can't ban it" more than hit the mark.
With these two juggernaut returns, Monáe crushed expectations and re-established her grip on music. When Dirty Computer was released a few months later, the album proved to be every bit as full of sounds and themes as diverse as on those twin singles. There were sugary pop songs and heavy rap bars, often on the same song. Songs like "Crazy, Classic, Life" and "Screwed" employ double entendres to juxtapose carefree sex and partying with pro-black, anti-Trump politics. She stands tall as a domineering queen of melody, with legends like Brian Wilson, Prince and Pharrell appearing as supplicants on the record merely to highlight her decrees. On Dirty Computer, Monáe successfully tight-roped the lines of pop album and political statement without compromising either.
So do you want to celebrate with the baddest and smartest matriarch in music? Her Highest holds court at a sold-out House of Blues on Saturday.