- 04 Jul 19
Hot Press picked the brilliant Dirty Computer as our No.2 international album of 2018, so we were more than a little bit excited to see what Janelle Monáe had in store for audiences as she performed in Trinity. In the heel of the hunt, we were properly blown away!
It should be stated emphatically, over and over and over again, that Janelle Monáe is one of the most important artists living today. So inventive is she that her first three LPs were all futuristic concept albums which revolved around an android called Cindi Mayweather trying to embrace love in a dystopian world where technological advances have crippled it.
Her 2018 release, Dirty Computer, was also called a concept album which, according to the artist, was "a homage to women and the spectrum of sexual identities." Having witnessed Janelle behind the persona of Cindi Mayweater for so long, we were finally seeing her completely unmasked, in all her colourful glory.
It’s appropriate then, that the first song of the night is ‘Crazy, Classic, Life’, with its affirmations “Young, black, wild and free/ naked in a limousine” and “I am not America’s nightmare/ I am the American nightmare.” With its starry-eyed synths and lush R’n’B, it immediately gets everyone grooving.
The funk comes next with the equally beautiful ‘Screwed’. Here, Janelle dances her way around the stage (which features a set of white steps leading to the back of the stage) and her quartet of dancers do mesmerising work to assist her. The song is so typical of what makes Janelle Monae’s music iconic: thematically, it deftly covers national – and sexual – politics, while musically, it’s absolutely joyous, spirit-raising, and hopeful.
Next, a throne is brought on stage as Janelle merges seamlessly into the counterpart song to 'Screwed' – ‘Django Jane’ – which showcases the singer’s ferocious rapping chops (“Let the vagina have a monologue/ Mansplaining, I fold em like origami/ What's a wave, baby? This a tsunami/ For the culture, I kamikaze”). This gets taken up another notch with some bars from her 2013 song ‘Q.U.E.E.N’, earning her appreciative hollers from the crowd.
The artist mines her back-catalogue for the next song, singing the title track from her album Electric Lady, the tail-end (or should we say tale-end?) of which leads naturally to a clap-along.
After this, Janelle Monae makes one of her many meaningful engagements with the crowd. Throughout her set, she talks about everything from embracing equality to defending minority rights to impeaching Donald Trump, and yet, what follows feels like the most touching statement of the night: “As I have lived," she says, "I’ve realised that life is made up of tiny memories. The only thing I can hope for is that I can be a memory to you.”
Next up, an interpolation of ‘PrimeTime’ and the guitar solo from Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ (the late funks icon’s influence is felt everywhere on Dirty Computer). Following this, a quick costume change and Janelle and her dancers come out dressed in full vagina regalia for ‘PYNK’ – a sublimely candid song about sex positivity and self-acceptance.
These themes continue with ‘Yoga’ and ‘I Like That’, before the show enters a new phase, announced by the undeniably perfect pop/RnB song ‘Make Me Feel’ (again, the Prince influence is all over this song). The crowd are in a dancing frenzy by now, which gives Monae the perfect opportunity to request a few members of the audience to help her out for ‘I Got The Juice’.
The singer picks out members the crowd – all of whom are either bedecked in rainbow colours or have a rainbow flag close at hand – and brings them on stage to suss out if they – like her and her dancers – have the juice. What follows is an infinitely crowd-pleasing moment, where four Janelle Monae fans get the chance to move and shake and strut and dance their hearts out on stage. It would’ve been a touching moment had all the four of them been absolutely terrible dancers, but they’re actually half decent. One of the four – named Daniel – dances like he’s auditioning to be part of Monae’s crew (he could well get himself a job by the end of the night…)
We’re into the home-straight now, as the singer ends her set proper with a seriously soulful rendition of ‘Tightrope’. With the sun fully set over Trinity now, she returns for the encore, playing the jittering swing/new wave ArchAndroid track ‘Come Alive (The War of the Roses)’. It might be a surprising choice, but it’s a song that gives the artist a chance to finish the show with a spectacle. As she steps down from the stage and climbs the barrier into the crowd, she gestures for everyone in the audience to get down on their haunches, before springing us back up with her howling, uninhibited ‘Come Aliveee’ chorus.
An exhilarating finish.