I knew that Dirty Computer would be Janelle Monáe’s Fuck You album. After the first two singles, I knew it! The Fuck You album is the album that is more honest in sound, aesthetics and in lyrical content. More honest to the artist’s unadulterated vision, closer to what they have always wanted to present to the world. Why Fuck You? Because it disregards any commercial sensibilities, considers little if at all what people want and goes on its own path, hoping that people will follow, and if not, that’s also ok.
This ‘Here’s my Fuck You album after two or three albums’ formula is not new. Normally, the body of work comes after an artist has developed a strong following, strong enough that something off their known beaten path won’t cause them harm. Even with the cushion of fame, it’s brave, because there’s a chance that it may not work. There’s a chance that the most honest work won’t resonate with people, and that rejection can be hurtful both personally and financially.
Lady Gaga released Joanne, and it was the ‘real her.’ I didn’t find it to be as inspiring and boundary pushing as Born This Way. In Younger Now, Miley Cyrus professed that she was going back to her Tennessee roots. It turned out to be tame and honestly, the hiphop-appropriating Bangerz was more interesting and more representative of her following. Rihanna did it with ANTI and she blew us away – the album is all kinds of edgy. Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie did it with Americanah. After two successful novels, she’d garnered enough authority to be more honest without losing her spot amongst literary royalty. It worked. Her Fuck You book is her best one yet. So sometimes this formula works, and sometimes it does not. When Janelle Monáe says that she is terrified of how people will receive Dirty Computer, I get it. She’s put her heart out there. Having listened to a few songs, she does not need to be worried at all. Dirty Computer is already blowing my mind.
As of yesterday, four singles have been released with the first two released at the same time: the obviously Prince-inspired Make Me Feel and the bold, intersectional feminist rap track that could be a number one hit in Wakanda, Django Jane. Then there was Pynk, the ode to pussy power whose pink-hued video harks back to Electric Lady’s sorority except, layered with Afrofuturism and womanist symbolism. The fourth single, I like that, is easily my favourite track. I mean, I love Prince and Wakanda, and I love womanism. But I like that is the song I needed all my life…
It’s the song I needed to hear when I was four or five, dancing in my sister’s clothes with reckless abandon while being laughed at by half the neighbourhood kids. I was free and gay.
It’s the song I needed when when I was 7 and my childhood best friend called me a homosexual, gave me the nickname MaDube – the female derivative of a person of the Dube clan. I was a boy child, and this was meant to ridicule and shame me for my visible homosexuality.
It’s the song I needed when I joined needlework classes in my sixth grade. I was the only boy in a class of 16. All the other boys were in the woodwork class.
It’s the song I needed when I presented my first needlework project, a pink peg bag with white polka dots. My grandmother was very pleased, while some neighbours side eyed me.
It’s the song I needed when I went to boarding school at age 13, and should have been my anthem as I dealt with a sea of adolescent boys filling up with testosterone and not knowing what to do with themselves in a conservative patriarchal place.
It’s the song I needed when one of the teachers in my high school called me a homosexual as if to expose me. His taunt, because it was a taunt, asserted being gay as a fraudulent human existence.
It’s the song I needed when I reconnected with one of my kissing buddies from secondary school – I was 18, he was 19, we were at my house and he stop mid-kiss and said to me, that if my mother was alive she would be disappointed in my being gay.
It’s the song I needed when I went onto Gaydar the first time, at an internet café, constantly minimising the Internet Explorer window so I wouldn’t be caught out by other patrons for being on a gay dating site.
It’s the song I needed when I met with the first ever date from Gaydar who turned out to be the first guy I ever kissed as man overtly conscious of my sexuality.
It’s the song I needed when I walked through the streets of my hometown, and asserted for myself, a space in a society that otherwise would be happier if I did not exist.
I like that is the song I have been needing all my life. It’s the song I need everyday when living my life honestly, in any and every way, people feel the need to question me. In this song, Janelle Monáe has reached out and held my hand saying, ‘You are ok, just the way you are.’ Not just as a homosexual man, but as a human with an othered existence. It’s a song about agency, and flipping the middle finger at the dangerous concept of ‘normal’ that the world has crowd-sourced for centuries and continues to thrust upon us all, to our own destruction. It’s self-empowering and doesn’t just justify the existence of complex individuals, but asserts it. In a word that seeks to erase the other, in this song, she writes them into history, into the present and into the future. She sees them. She sees me.
Dirty Computer has ten other songs. April 27, 2018 is the official date of the album release. It’s available for pre-order on all leading music retailers. I have no doubt that in the other tracks yet to be released, Janelle Monáe will remain in the eye of the girl power hurricane set to dismantle the patriarchy, and all his little bigoted friends.