You strip away the makeup, the costumes and everything you know about Janelle Monáe the artist, and I’m still the African-American, queer woman who grew up with poor, working-class parents. When I walk off a stage, I have to deal with these confrontations. I have to deal with being afraid for my family.
The artist we know as Janelle Monáe is under no illusions about her identity, her humanity or her vulnerability. She’s also clear about the fact that she has to fight for her freedom, which is why the singer and actress covers Allure magazine’s July issue, titled the Freedom issue.
In the accompanying article, written by Ashley C. Ford, Monáe speaks on how the 2016 presidential election fueled her anger and how her latest release, Dirty Computer, is less a “confessional album” than a very strategic reckoning with society, identity and self-empowerment and a reclaiming of all we’ve built. As she tells Allure:
I will say that after this election, I dealt with a lot of anger. I dealt with a lot of frustrations, like many of us, when it came to the non-leader of the free world and that particular regime. ... I felt it was a direct attack on us, on black women, on women, on women’s rights, on the LGBTQIA community, on poor folks. I felt like it was a direct attack saying, “You’re not important. You’re not valuable and we’re going to make laws and regulations that make it official and make it legal for us to devalue you and treat you like second-class citizens or worse.” I got to the point where I stopped recording because I was just like, “I’m going to make an angry album.”
But Monáe pressed on, thanks in part to therapy and a few encouraging words from a major mentor, Stevie Wonder (which would later become the interlude “Stevie’s Dream” on Dirty Computer). The cumulative effect was transformative, a journey Monáe ultimately recorded as an album in three movements, telling Allure:
I like to call that first movement the reckoning. Realizing what you represent to society, that you’re a dirty computer. It’s the sting of being called a nigger for the first time by your oppressor. The sting of being called bitch for the first time by a man. You’re like, “OK, this is how I’m viewed in this society”...
[The second movement is] a celebration of being a dirty computer. It’s self-empowerment. When you have songs like “Django Jane,” that’s where the pivot happens. It’s like, “Whoa. I’m here. I’m choosing freedom over fear.”
The end of it was the reclamation. I too am American, and this is a very American album, seen through the lens of a black woman. It was important to remind us that our ancestors built this shit. From the White House to black Wall Street, so many things that have been taken for granted and dismissed.
Freedom is something that Monáe—who, in addition to being a black woman, came out as “queer” to Rolling Stone magazine in April—doesn’t take for granted. As she tells Allure, she knows that even with all of her earned privilege, she simply isn’t afforded the liberty:
We don’t get that same grace. That’s just honest. People need to look and assess those privileges that the majority of white people in this country have versus ... [Monáe trails off]. We just need to really have a conversation on this and understand it’s a real thing. We don’t get second chances in the same way that white folks do, period.
But with the successful release of Dirty Computer and a profound new freedom in expressing who she is, Monáe is ready to face her obstacles head-on:
There’s lots of fears that I have about just living openly and freely and criticizing those who are in the position of power. You just never know. You never know what could happen when you are outspoken. It’s a risk. It’s a risk that I’ve prayed on and I’m willing to take. .... I’m not leaving. I’m standing here, and I am gonna fight for love.