Janelle Monáe is a master storyteller, and there’s no story she’s better at telling than her own.
From music to movies, Monáe has shared her voice in ways that help bring exposure to stories that have been erased. She did this through her award-worthy acting roles in Moonlight and Hidden Figures, and now she’s centered her latest emotion picture/visual album Dirty Computer around this same concept.
“The concept itself is centered around what it means to have an oppressed people have their very existence erased,” Monáe told Blavity in an interview. A dirty computer is any human being who “because of their very existence -- based off who they may love, the color of the skin, their gender -- means they are dirty and need to be cleansed."
“Dirty computers don’t see their bugs or their viruses as a threat; the bugs, the abusers of power claim they have as a threat,” she added. “They see them as attributes as features, so this album is to celebrate dirty computers.”
In fully embracing this theme and its message of self-truth and self-acceptance, Monáe dropped news on Thursday when she confirmed in a Rolling Stone interview that she considers herself a pansexual, which is defined as someone who is not limited in sexual choice with regard to sex, gender or gender identity.
It marked a significant moment because not only did it help bring more visibility to queer people of color and other “free ass motherf**kers,” it also unveiled a truth about Monáe’s identity that proved that she is telling her own story, in her own time. And that time is now.
“It’s an emotion picture because I went through a lot of emotion trying to articulate and be honest and be a champion for dirty computers around the world,” Monáe told Blavity. “I have always encouraged us to embrace the things that make us unique, even if it makes others uncomfortable -- especially, when it comes to young, black women. That’s the angle I know best.”
Monáe said creating Dirty Computer required her to be honest about where she is in her life journey and to speak authentically from her own experience. That meant dressing, performing and singing in ways that felt most true to her, and, in turn, which helped to deliver some of her best work yet.
Dirty Computer is a visually stunning 53-minute emotion picture that laces together songs from the album alongside visuals for each that vary in style, message and delivery. It taps heavily into themes of Afrofuturism and celebrates blackness in truly powerful ways. Sonically and stylistically, much of the album borrows and mixes innovative sounds and looks from the '80s.
“I always thought they were so free in the '80s -- their clothing, their experimenting sounds, so that really inspired me,” Monáe said.
For the visual album, she decided to tap her friend and actress Tessa Thompson to play her star-crossed lover -- or at least one of them. Monáe is also seen kissing and being romantically linked to a black man throughout the album, as well, showcasing sexuality in truly significant ways. As for her friendship with Thompson, Monáe only has wonderful things to say.
“She had so much on her plate, yet she still took the time to show up for me, for Dirty Computer and I am forever indebted to her,” she said. “I owe her my left arm. She and I loved doing ‘PYNK,’ and I loved being as inclusive as we possibly could for different images of black women.”
"PYNK" is a masterpiece -- everything from the vocals to the visuals are profound and send a message about inclusivity and togetherness among women. Thompson is featured heavily in the video, and while it’s clear the two had fun on set, they were also serious about its messaging.
Thompson recently responded to a Blavity tweet about the release of “PYNK” in which she said that she is listening and supporting all the black girls who don’t have vaginas; Monáe agreed.
“'PYNK' was absolutely centered around black girl magic, and as you noticed some of the women have pants, and some of the women don't have on pants and we thought that that was important because women are not defined by their genitalia. There are some of us who had to go through female genital mutilation, some of us can't have kids and we didn’t want to be exclusive of our tran sisters,” Monáe told Blavity. “It's difficult to bring everybody in because we’re so diverse, but the messaging is to show our uniqueness all together, and for us as black women, to have something we can be proud of, something we can be joyous about and we can celebrate.”
Monáe said Dirty Computer was also inspired by the current political and cultural climate. While she said she had the concept for Dirty Computer before her first album, which was released in 2007, it was her roles in Moonlight and Hidden Figures that taught her how to be vulnerable and real. The most recent presidential election also played a large role.
“The leader of the free world and that whole regime is trying to constantly show us through their regulation, their language, the bills they're trying to pass that they don’t care about black women, that they don’t care about the oppressed, the marginalized and that they will continue to oppress and marginalize us,” Monáe said. “I feel like the time was now to release this album and to give all the dirty computers around the world an opportunity to have an album that they can celebrate, that they feel celebrated, seen and heard.”
“I do hope people care about the state we’re in right now. I care about humanity, and I think music has the power to spark conversation and dialogue,” she added, mentioning film and art as having the same powers. “I’m hoping there are more conversations had where people can listen not just to respond, but to listen to understand.”
It’s a special moment for Monáe, and while she admitted she was a little nervous to share such a personal piece of work with the world, she’s also very excited about the potential impact it can have on viewers and listeners if they embrace the message she is sending.
“I want people to feel that love was at the center of this album,” Monáe said. “I want people to know, we have to be brave and choose love. It's easy to be upset and angry and to clap back. It's more difficult and more noble to choose love.”