janelle monáe double drops bisexual and black excellence anthems
Django Jane is your girl who can do both.
Janelle Monáe deserves to be massively more celebrated than she is -- and she’s already pretty huge. Not only has she added fire to the many dull red carpet round-ups with her monochrome majesty, she’s an amazing actor who killed it as Teresa in Moonlight and as trailblazing NASA mathematician Mary Jackson in Hidden Figures. Right now, however, she has chosen to remind us of her musical prowess, dropping two new tracks from her first album in five years, Dirty Computer, each with a video and two very different vibes.
Make Me Feel is a breathless, old-school disco track with an immediately addictive chorus. Prince was working with Janelle on the album before his death in 2016, and the vocal on this shows her love for him (the man and the music) front and centre, accompanied by an infectiously funky Kiss-style guitar line. One-third 80s classic, two-thirds Janelle’s ‘womanifesto’ for sexual liberation in 2018, Make Me Feel depicts a bisexual love triangle dance-off (that includes actor Tessa Thompson, her rumoured IRL lover). From the costume to the choreography, Janelle switches from Jane Fonda realness to Michael Jackson crotch grabs, by way of a loving shedload of Prince references. And it is glorious.
If Make Me Feel is Janelle having a riot of camp disco fun, Django Jane makes it clear that she. is. not. here. to. play. Of course, her flow is all her own and it would be ludicrous to suggest that she’s the ‘female-anybody’, but this track has a delivery that Kendrick and Kanye would be proud of. More revolutionary leader than mob boss, Django Jane leads an troop of black studded biker-jacket wearing women with more than a hint of the Black Panther Party about them.
At first listen, the lyrics seem to follow a rap standard (“This is my palace, champagne in my chalice”), but of course this is Janelle Monáe, and she is not here just to spit about her bling. Referencing her parents’ jobs and her former role in retail, she raps, “Momma was a G, she was cleaning hotels / Poppa was a driver, I was working retail / Kept us in the back of the store / We ain't hidden no more, Moonlit n***a, lit n***a / Already got a Oscar for the cause” -- a reference to Moonlight’s Best Picture Academy Award, which precedes a catalogue of black excellence.
The criticism of women’s looks and the silencing of their voices -- and of black women’s voices in particular -- are addressed with a powerful humour, hewn from painful experience: “Remember when they used to say I look too mannish / Black girl magic, y'all can't stand it,” followed by the amazing, “N***a move back, take a seat, you were not involved / And hit the mute button / Let the vagina have a monologue.” Janelle says Django Jane is “a response to me feeling the sting of the threats being made to my rights as a woman, as a black woman, as a sexually liberated woman, even just as a daughter with parents who have been oppressed for many decades,” in a new interview with the Guardian.
As with Solange’s groundbreaking A Seat at the Table, it’s clear that Janelle has a personal and political purpose for her music. “Black women and those who have been the ‘other’, and the marginalised in society – that’s who I wanted to support, and that was more important than my discomfort about speaking out,” she told the newspaper. Stopping just shy of explaining what that “discomfort” is exactly, she does say she fears her family’s reaction, and rejection more generally, so the rumour mill around her sexuality will likely trip into overdrive. Make Me Feel’s opening lines, “Baby, don’t make me spell it out for ya / All of the feelings that I've got for ya,” and the way Janelle gazes at Tessa in the video will -- along with the many lyrics about pussy -- only fuel it more.
On previous albums Metropolis, ArchAndroid and Electric Lady, Janelle was on a retro(if Afro)-futurist tip. With the release of the first two tracks from Dirty Computer, she appears more fully realised in the here and now, her musical and political ambitions focused powerfully on driving us into the future. Arriving in April with a narrative film dubbed, “An Emotion Picture by Janelle Monáe,” will Dirty Computer be the Prince-protégé’s answer to Dirty Mind? The double-release of Make Me Feel and Django Jane are surely a sign that the previously monochrome artist is ready to proudly nail her colours to the mast.