BY SOPHIE MUELLER
Janelle Monae is a name you should know by now. It’s okay if you don’t because, unfortunately, not a lot of people do. Being a queer woman of color, Monae and her success story rarely get the spotlight. But one night at Summerfest, one of the most highly anticipated music festivals in the Midwest, Janelle Monae told her story through an hour and a half show filled with compassion, sadness, and living one’s truth.
Monae’s music goes beyond normality and reaches into the groundbreaking. Her songs focus on the very things that we avoid discussing because the areas where we are the most vulnerable: sexuality, love, race, and politics. It is an unspoken problem in the music industry that women of color rarely headline a major festival. This very problem is why Monae’s performance was so groundbreaking, as it highlighted all the broken parts of this crazy world and encouraged her audience to live their truth and live it boldly.
Performing the entirety of all the songs on her latest album, Dirty Computer, Monae had costume changes, back up dancers, and a percussive horns section as well as amazing graphics. For some artists these facets are added to a concert to distract from the lack of talent. For Monae, her band, dancers, and artistry took her performance to the next level. The crowd felt her energy, singing along at the top of their lungs to every song, as Monae turned the venue into an all out dance party for the ages. During her song “I Got the Juice” she brought up four lucky fans onstage to show off their dance moves during the main chorus. This genuine happiness and enthusiasm to spread the message that Dirty Computer conveys, made this performance the most anticipated of the festival season.
Janelle Monae’s voice held her audience in a trance for the entirety of the concert as she rapped and sang with a purpose, while showcasing her dance moves similar to that of her late mentor, Prince. Empowering songs, such as “Pynk”, caused the audience to go wild as Monae and her background dancers appeared in vagina shaped pants, that first debuted in her music video for the song, and making the video go viral. The guitar riff and lyrics in “Screwed” led to an insane sing-along and “Django Jane” entranced the entire venue as Monae rapped each lyric and rhyme with such a deep and intense purpose. My personal favorite song off of her album, “I Like That,” was also enjoyable to watch, as Monae and her backup dancers held a mini jam session on stage, dancing and singing along to the catchy backing vocals of the song. And who could forget the five minute show-stopping performance of “Tightrope” where Monae literally ended up on the ground because she was belting her heart out.
It is important to note that albums like Dirty Computer are few and far between and that artists like Janelle Monae are unparalleled. Monae creates music that allows you to willingly let down your guard and her songs compel you to listen without the need to respond but rather with the need to understand. Despite her music sounding typically upbeat, she still tells a story of confusion, loss, and hurt. With this juxtaposition Monae truly captures the complexity and chaos in life.
If you have not had the chance to hear her music or read her story, please do. Janelle Monae refuses to be ignored and commands attention in a way never been done before. She is truly one of the most influential artists of our time and has continuously pioneered for all artists of the modern age.