Janelle Monae did that sh*t. She released Dirty Computer, her third studio album that is being hailed as a celebration of queer identity during a socio political moment wherein black queer women are consistently erased from the narratives that impact our lives. The release of her album ushered an era of joy and freedom not only for her fans, but for herself — a mere 24 hours before the album dropped, Monae came out as pansexual in a freeing interview with Rolling Stone. In the era of the Trump administration, where black male musicians such as Kanye West are uplifting and affirming oppressive ideologies of “free-thinking,” Monae has manifested an afro-futurist space where people who live on the margins of society, such as black women and queer people, can be transported into a future where their bodies are truly empowered. Monae gave strength to individuals like me, a young black queer woman from the South, who feel that they can now reclaim their blackness and queerness, despite our constant fears of violence and harassment.
“Black girl magic, y’all can’t stand it,” raps Monae, flawlessly mingling with the beat on her Dirty Computer single, “Django Jane.” With that line, she’s essentially ushering in her political agenda and a movement that calls for listeners to resist the patriarchy and the negative effects of toxic masculinity. Her movement is brought to life in another liberating track, “Crazy, Classic Life,” where she states, “I am not America’s nightmare, I’m the American Dream.” Given her recent comments to Rolling Stone, the line clearly signifies that black queer women are entitled to same unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — because our lives and bodies built the foundation of this nation.
Monae’s message goes deeper than the face value of her emboldened lyrics. Embedded within her lyrics (a.k.a. declarations of truth of power) are political statements from novelist and social critic James Baldwin and performer-turned-activist Josephine Baker — black artists who inspired her, and utilized their platforms to call out the societal injustices of their time. (Look no further than lines like “Uncle Sam kissed a man, Jim Crow Jesus rose again.”) But beyond that, Monae has incorporated activism into her artistry, from leading anti-police brutality marches, to releasing protest songs like 2015’s “Hell You Talmbout” (which tackles the lost of African Americans to police violence), to dropping references to the #SayHerName movement (which seeks to raise awareness about police brutality against black women) throughout the powerful track, “Americans,” on Dirty Computer.
She has utilized her platform to lead a movement to reclaim America as a nation of equality, liberty, and freedom for communities subjected to state and police violence through the enforcement of discriminatory legislation and policies. Nina Simone said “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times,” and Monae’s music certainly does that by reflecting the sociopolitical climate in Trump’s America.
Fittingly, in her Rolling Stone interview, Monae described herself as a “free-ass motherf*cker” who is unafraid to navigate between the binaries of gender and sexuality. Her spirit is reminiscent of the legendary musician Prince, whose influence can be heard throughout the powerful ‘80s inspired synths in the album. From his artistry, to the development of his own symbol to symbolize his rejection of gender, Prince birth to a generation of young black musicians who found comfort in an artist unafraid to live outside of the cultural and societal obligations placed upon him as black male, Monae is now offering similar empowerment to queer women of color.
Of course, astute longtime Monae fans heard her anthems of empowerment and found kinship within her music long before Dirty Computer. Throughout her career, the ideologies of Afro-futurism (the idea that black people will exist in the future, and will use technology and science) have been a clear inspiration for Monae to create art that displays a future where empowered black people have autonomy over their lives. In the music videos and short film that accompany Dirty Computer and its singles, “Make Me Feel,” “Django Jane,” and “Pynk” and with her previous albums, Monae has shown the world what it looks like when black queer women are given the power to shape the narratives of our own lives — a power that is for “young girls, young boys, non-binary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you,” Monae said in her April 26 interview.
To be truly seen as a young black queer woman is the acknowledgment that your existence is valid, that your thoughts are heard, and that you are loved. And these themes of love and community for black queer folks are present throughout Dirty Computer, especially the title track in which she prays to God for love and guidance, after the affirmation of her queer identity.
Raised in the church, where individuals on the gender and sexuality spectrum experience difficulty between their faith and queer identity, Monae speaks to the Lord and her community of queer siblings, explaining that we are still open and receiving of God’s love. This love is explored through her album and accompanying film that depicts the multifaceted experience of being a black queer woman by depicting the joy of being in a lesbian romance.
By learning from strong voices from the past, delving into activism herself, and releasing this album and its empowering videos, Monae has telegraphed one all-encompassing truth to the masses: Black queer women are magic. We occupy multiple spaces and identities, we are seen and unseen at the same time. Our abilities are unmatched by the individuals and systems who attempt to oppress us, and the love we have for another in the fight towards equity and liberation is the truest representative of God’s love in this world. And Monae is the present embodiment of black queer women magic.
As I listened to Dirty Computer, by myself on the train, I envisioned a world where I am able to enjoy the fruitfulness of life, a future where I don’t live in fear of losing my life to a police officer, a space where I am able to kiss anyone without fear of harassment, and a place where I am able to free. To my black, queer siblings out there, Janelle has been to the future and guess what: we won.
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