It’s been a while since Janelle Monáe’s last album — 2013’s The Electric Lady — but in that time, Monáe has been coming into her own, an impressive accomplishment for someone who already came across as so sure of herself. She’s fostered a burgeoning film career, with memorable roles in Moonlight and Hidden Figures, and she’s refocused her musical spirit into Dirty Computer, a fantastic album that’s well worth the five-year wait.
It’s slinky and sexy and confident and thoroughly herself, as she sheds the Cyndi Mayweather persona she’s built up to present a more realistic and resonant portrait of what it’s like the be a queer black woman in this world. Not that those thematics weren’t present on her earlier albums, but they were obfuscated in talks of androids and far-off planets, where Dirty Computer takes a hard look at both the fantastical and terrible that’s present in our own world, which is just if not more powerful.
The songs she’s shared from it in advance — “Make Me Feel” and “Django Jane” and “PYNK” and “I Like That” — have all been sleek and fully-realized, and Dirty Computer offers up a lot more of the same. And, throughout, it’s clear that Monáe has a specific audience in mind: “I want young girls, young boys, nonbinary, 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,” she recently said in a Rolling Stone profile. “This album is for you. Be proud.”
The album features guest spots from Pharrell Williams, Zoë Kravitz, Brian Wilson, and Grimes. It’s also accompanied by a short film, which Monáe is calling an “emotion picture,” that premiered on Thursday on MTV and BET, and echoes the themes of the album.
Listen to Dirty Computer below.
Dirty Computer is out now via Bad Boy/WEA.