Janelle Monáe’s “Dirty Computer” Is Finally Here and Even Queerer Than We Imagined

So, it’s the day we’ve all been waiting for, the day I’ve been anticipating since this fANDROID first saw the trailer for Dirty Computer during a screening of Black Panther — the new Janelle Monáe album and its accompanying visual component, Dirty Computer, is finally here. And while our intrepid Janelle Monáe beat reporter, Carmen, is hunkered down dissecting Dirty Computer for a full review that’ll run here next week, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to open the floor up for your immediate reactions to Monáe’s first album in five years. I want to hear all your thoughts and feelings about it.

But first, did you watch the Dirty Computer visual component, which debuted at midnight on BET and this morning on MTV? Was it as spectacular as you hoped?

When Beyoncé released the visual album for her self-titled album back in 2013, she was nostalgic for a time when listening to new music was more than just shuffling through the music on your phone or iPod. She wanted to re-establish the bond — broken by a shift away from videos and an increased focus on singles — between the artist and the fan by inviting them into her head.

“I see music, it’s more than just what I hear,” Beyoncé said. “When I’m connected to something, I immediately see a visual or a series of images that are tied to a feeling or an emotion, a memory from my childhood, thoughts about life, my dreams or my fantasies and they’re all connected to the music.”

As I watched the “emotion picture” that accompanied Dirty Computer‘s release, I thought about the Queen Bey’s words and how much Janelle Monáe was looking to do the same. Monáe has always been an exquisite storyteller, crafting an afrofuturistic world long before any of us knew what Wakanda was, but she’s also willing to live in ambiguity, allowing an android, Cindi Mayweather, to be her stand-in. But this time, there’s no android, only her — the real Janelle Monáe — grappling with what it means to be a black queer woman in today’s world.

Oh, just nevermind.

Dirty Computer is a near-future [emotion picture] about a citizen who finds love and danger in a totalitarian society. She’s an outlaw because she’s being herself,” Monáe told Billboard. “Overall, I wanted to reflect what’s happening in the streets right now, and what might happen tomorrow if we don’t band together and fight for love.”

The 44-minute film is part Westworld, part Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, part The Handmaid’s Tale and part THX 1138. Jane (Monáe) is a dirty computer and is having everything that’s “dirty” about her — all the things the outside world considers “not normal” — stripped away, but she fights the cleansing process, fighting to hold onto the memories of her affair with Zen (Tessa Thompson).

If I wasn’t a Janessa shipper before, I became one, right at this very moment.

“Thinking will only make it harder,” Zen says, urging Jane to accept the cleansing process. “People used to work so hard to be free but we’re lucky here, all we have to do is forget.”

Then, Jane whispers back, “But I don’t want to forget you,” and, as my heart breaks, Zen answers, “You don’t have a choice.”

But the entire purpose of this emotion picture, the entire purpose of this album, maybe even the entire purpose of Janelle Monáe’s life right now, is to remind us that whatever the circumstances, we do still have a choice. We can give into the the “nevermind,” we can conform and allow others to strip us of the things that make us “dirty” or we can realize that whatever challenge lies in front of us, love can overcome it.

It’s perhaps fitting, then, that this album and the film that accompanies it, dropped on GLSEN’s annual “Day of Silence,” a day devoted to spreading awareness about the effects of the bullying and harassment of LGBT students. It asks us to be seen, to choose freedom and to accept love in whatever way it comes into your life.

“I woke up like this…I woke up like this…”

“I want 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 heir unique selves, to know that I see you,” Monáe told Rolling Stone. “This album is for you. Be proud.”

SEE! Janelle Monáe made an album just for me and you, and it’s your solemn duty as a queer woman to go and listen to it right at this very second and share all your thoughts and emotions in the comments. Now, I don’t want to step on Carmen’s toes — again, she’ll have a thorough review of the album for you next week — but I can’t resist sharing a few thoughts on Dirty Computer, the album:

First, I’m not sure how anyone can listen to the closing verses on “Crazy, Classic, Life” or “Screwed” or the entirety of “Django Jane” and not long for a full album of Janelle Monáe rapping. I NEED IT IN MY LIFE, JANELLE!

Second, I’ve been listening to “I Like That” and Drake’s “Nice for What” in tandem, on repeat, since they dropped. I didn’t realize how perfect the pairing was until I read Monáe’s description: “inspired by wack ass fuckboys everywhere (from the traphouse to the White House) who make the lives of little brown girls so damn hard.” Sounds about right…

And lastly, how do we think that Brian Wilson collaboration of the title track happened? Like, how is it possible that those two people ended up in a room and were like “we should definitely work together?” And, also? How did such an unlikely pairing churn out the perfect song?

So, Janelle’s here, she’s queer and she’s got an amazing new album out. Let me know all of your feelings about it.

A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. Spends her Thursday nights trying to make #Shonday happen.

Natalie has written 43 articles for us.

61 Comments

  1. i watched this last night on BET.com and i felt like i was missing some stuff, so i’m rewatching it right now on Youtube and there is a new verse in PYNK?? and it’s SO gay? it made me very emotional, watching janelle monáe sing to tessa thompson about painting her toes and kissing her nose in the morning. and the rolling around and shit? too much for my heart. EMOTION picture is correct.

    anyway, the visuals were amazing. she’s always been making these amazing visuals for her music and Dirty Computer really was the next step for her. honestly, i want to see more of this world, like a whole tv series or something. also, i want one a car like that.

    • @sushita I saw someone on twitter describe the EMOTION picture as the best episode of Black Mirror ever and that just felt so accurate. And yet, somehow, even with this great film, I feel like we’re just scratching the surface of what Janelle’s imagination can conjure up…

  2. I have been freaking out all morning about the brilliance & amazingness that Janelle gifted us and the world with Dirty Computer. The ways the world tries to snuff out difference, to make us say/believe we are dirty, the choosing of our full selves & each other as an eternal middle finger to the world.

    The extended version of Pynk in the emotion picture is the best thing. Just so damn good.

    The line in ‘Don’t Judge Me’ where she says: “Even though you tell me you love me / I’m afraid that you just love my disguise / Taste my fears and light your candle to my raging fire / The dirty desire” just brings up so much around internalized homophobia & cissexism for me personally. What it means & the sheer fucking power that is lovers choosing us. How that opens up worlds of possibilities.

    And just goodness. So many of the songs are just hot & sexy and powerful & full of political brilliance and I am in awe & gratitude.

    • @jstlouis On Tuesday, when Janelle revealed the tracklisting for Dirty Computer, she also released descriptions of the tracks and this was the one she included for “Don’t Judge Me:”

      From that moment, before I even heard it, I knew “Don’t Judge Me” would be the song that’d resonate with me most because…God, who hasn’t been there?! Definitely one of my favorite tracks on the album.

  3. I just watched it (again) for the second time I just Love it. It’s so creative and fun and sexy. I cherish every scene with Janelle + Tessa they’re so cute and have so much chemistry. She hasn’t confirmed it but I know in my heart of hearts they’re a couple.

  4. first react: IT IS THE QUEEREST BEST FUCKING THING I’VE EVER SEEN IN MY WHOLE GODDAMN LIFE

    second react: i feel so seen and comforted in their queerness and vulnerability and power and pansexuality and polyamory. i love how political it was, i love how vulnerable it was, i love how sexual and queer it was. i love that she didn’t compromise or simplify or depoliticize her queerness or her Blackness. i loved every single second. i related so much to the lines and the interviews where she talked about her fear of showing her true self: “even though you say that you love me, is it me, or do you love my disguise?”

    third react: I am absolutely in awe of Janelle Monáe as an artist and a creator and a queer person living her beautiful truth, she is so incredibly talented and powerful

    fourth react: TESSA AND JANELLE HAVE TO BE DATING OMG AND ALSO ARE THEY ALSO DATING CHE/JAYSON AARON IRL??? ALSO THEY KISSED ONSCREEN AND THAT WASN’T EVEN THE TOP 10 GAYEST MOMENTS BETWEEN THEM

    (i have lots of reacts and this is all i can think about today)

    • @gaygraciehart Yes to all of this!

      In that Rolling Stone article she describes herself as a “free-ass motherfucker” and while I cheered it as a fun turn of phrase, I think part of me wondered what that meant…and then Janelle just came and showed us all what it means to truly be free, in all the ways you touched on. It’s all just so powerful and inspiring to bear witness to…

  5. I liked every single one of the comments before mine because I also have all of those feels. SO MANY FEELS.

    I had a venti coffee this morning while listening to the album on a loop and THEN the emotion picture went up on YouTube so I sneak-watched it on my phone at my desk and it’s taking every ounce of my willpower not to fall off my chair and roll around on the floor because it’s so amazing and I love it/her so so much. So those are my main emotions, right now, about this entire situation.

    Also THE SPOKEN WORD VERSE IN PYNK. IT’S SO AMAZING AND SO GAY AND I’M DYING.

  6. Natalie, i have also been going back & forth listening to “I Like That” & “Nice for What”!!

    I’ve just been in my feelings about this entire project all week. Currently listening to the album for the second time today, and I’m about to watch the emotion picture soon (I wanted to wait until I had enough time to watch it in its entirety).

    • UPDATE: I have finished watching the emotion pictures and I am feeling so many [queer] feelings!! the extended Pynk verse??! and the ending scene!!

      I really loved everything about it.

      SN: anyone else feel an intense emotional reaction listening to “So Afraid” ?

    • @heyitssam The songs go together so perfectly, don’t they?

      And, yeah, I definitely felt the emotion of “So Afraid”…like, on the one hand, it’s about be scared to embrace this person (“I’m afraid of it all, afraid of loving you”), but also, it’s about being scared of losing everything that you already have. The line that really caught me, as someone who grew up in the church, was “While I sit in my room writing letters to my church and things and such”…that just brought back so many memories for me of grappling with my sexuality and my faith…and trying to square those two things. It was a lot.

  7. YES! I listened to the album twice before going to bed and was amazed! Then I got up early to watch the emotion picture, and it gave me all kinds of different emotions and feelings! It’s so gay! There was a part of one interview when she mentioned trying to decide which version of PYNK would be released as the single, the one that was or the one with the gayest spoken word verse ever. It makes sense that they went with the one without the verse for a single, and since she hadn’t officially come out yet, but I wish that the longer version was on the album, even as a bonus track.
    I know I’m gonna be listening to this album all day as I work and then watch it again a few times tonight! I cannot wait to see her live in June!!!!

  8. Brian Wilson doesn’t just work with anybody. That is quite a guest feature for any musician to pull off. That just shows how amazing Janelle is. I would love to know how that came about as well.

  9. Dirty Computer is so queer and beautiful and perfect. I cannot wait until I know every second of it through listening to it everyday. There are so many bangers. I teared up about 5 into the Emotion Picture, and stayed that way basically the whole time. It touches something raw and true in me.

  10. Been a long time lurker on this site, and came here to write my first comment ever! This album is so so good. Her lyrics are perfect. The emotion picture was spectacular. Excited to see her on tour later this year!

  11. I can’t I’ve got too many feelings. [insert the cries in bisexual picture]

    Bubbling at the top is how having this album when I was 12-13 would have made hating myself for being “dirty” (bi and kinky, I was high on some sex neg feminism) a lot harder and might have felt less like moral collapse into depravity.

    And I saw Black Panther within days of Make Me Feel’s music video release all butch’d out in my bi pride Commander Rogers shirt, leather jacket, battered levis, and combat boots. Then later in same bi-butch outfit that day did a strip while the video played in the background.

    That was a real thing that happened in an organic fashion not a plan to have the most bisexual day possible.

    I have never seriously said “Blessed!” before cause I was raised Catholic not Southern Baptist.
    But “Bi-lesst”

  12. its so so so so perfect. I also got serious The Man Who Fell to Earth vibes in the intentionally cornball scifi outfits and the themes of queer alienation and conversion therapy.

    She’s everything and we do not deserve her!!!

  13. I watched the MTV premiere and then went and watched the version on youtube and then listened to the album one and a half times.

    Honestly, happy friday to me. I can’t get over the spoken word verse in PYNK.

  14. I feel like I’ll have to listen to it a few times to really get into it, cause it’s not really my genre of music, but it’s still so good! And Django Jane is basically the only rap song I like. It’s an incredible album and Janelle Monae is such an icon.

  15. 1) I keep playing the videos for Make Me Feel and Prince’s Kiss back-to-back and it’s like Janelle is his musical heir in the best way.
    2) I listened to the album as soon as it dropped last night and two more times at work today and I love it. I Got The Juice is going to be stuck in my head for days and I am disappointed that there’s no video for it.
    3) The emotion picture is afrofuturistic sci-fi amazingness. That spoken word in Pynk! Janelle has a right to privacy but I will never believe that she is not madly in love with Tessa. I actually had to pause the video after that to gather myself. And the moment I realized that the movie was also depicting a polyamorous relationship was a revelation. I am so impressed with how very on-her-own-terms this is and I hope it’s successful!

  16. I have so many feelings about this especially after she came out yesterday I can’t even begin to organise them! The album is so incredible in so many ways and it’s just so fucking seamless – the tracks all slide into each other and its just such a complete whole – made me realise how rare that is now!

  17. ok hear me out, what if Janelle and Tessa are polyamorous irl and Tessa and Gina Rodriguez Maybe Bisexual are also dating

    also in seriousness just major kudos to them for depicting a HEALTHY UNAMBIGUOUSLY POLYAMOROUS RELATIONSHIP ON SCREEN (which is uhh extremely rare like if anybody can tell me any other examples of that please do?)

  18. I went out yesterday and managed to buy Archandroid the cd, which was no easy feat, considering where I live.
    It’s epic, afro-futuristic soundtracky goodness. Get it immediately if you are into orchestral, swinging, retro stuff.
    Why oh why didn’t she manage to do a film version of that, I want to know what happened next!!

  19. Add: I’ve never been so excited about a musician since I discovered KD Lang a very long time ago.
    Here is background info about the Metropolis backstory with some really intersting suggestions
    http://www.transchordian.com/2013/10/metropolis-janelle-monaes-hidden-sci-fi-epic/

    “1. Similar to Björk’s Biophilia, an accompanying app or app album would work wonders for the next (and last!) two suites of Metropolis. A different app per song could help flesh out the narrative aspect of each track, allowing the user to connect to the music in a new way. Or, an interactive, encyclopedic-like app could be released alongside the last album, collecting and presenting all of the story into one place, with a chronology, city map, political structure, and other details hinted at throughout the music.

    2. A social media presence for Cindi Mayweather. As the leader of an uprising, it would make sense that Cindi would be utilizing digital networks in order to spread her message to the masses. This could work whether she exists in our present time or in the future. Cindi could be communicating with her fellow future robots, sending out cryptic clues through Twitter and posting subversive art to Tumblr. If she somehow managed to get messages to humanity of today or even time travel, her warnings to us directly would also work in such realms, even allowing her to interact with fans on Facebook, answering questions and asking for their help. Because of the futuristic setting and her own electronic nature, conversing across social and digital media works perfectly for her character.”

  20. And here is a complete list of her visual work with more background info.
    “However, at the end of “Electric Lady”, the lighting changes dramatically to purples and blues – a queer visual aesthetic known as ‘bixsexual lighting’ due to the blue, pink, and purple colours of the bisexual flag. ”

    http://www.dazeddigital.com/music/article/39679/1/janelle-monae-visual-aesthetic-evolution

  21. I’m so obsessed with this album and the emotion picture right now! I made Janellé and Tessa kissing my phone background because they’re cute and everything seems right when I look at them.
    I recommend you listen to Metropolis and The Archandroid because there’s more to queer afrofruturisic story y’all! Her imagination knows no bounds.

  22. Yes omg emotion picture is right, I’ve never been more full of feelings, it is sooo good.

    Just commenting because I just came across this Rolling Stone article answering the “how on earth did Brian Wilson come on board” question, and it’s just as good as you’d expect: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/janelle-monae-talks-enlisting-brian-wilson-for-new-album-w519575?utm_source=email. Basically she just asked and he was like, yes please!!

  23. So I’ve listened to the album a dozen times since it went out but I only been able to see the Emotion Picture last night and wow.

    Wow

    All the feels.

    The new end of “PYNK”.. made me cry.

    The end, the other end, the polyamory.

    Everything was perfect.

    And I’m so I glad I have a place where I can say all this and read from others with the same feelings <3

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