From the get go, I will admit that I am biased. I have been a fan of Janelle Monáe since she released the song “Tightrope” in 2010. From the moment I saw her dancing across an asylum in a tuxedo, I was in love. Through the releases of her more eclectic ArchAndroid and ElectricLady albums, I retained a deep seated respect for her and her work.
via Rolling Stone
The 2018 release of her fifth studio album, Dirty Computer, only strengthened my love and respect for Ms. Monáe. A fusion of Afro-funk, rap, ‘90’s R&B, bubblegum pop and Prince-esque guitar riffs, Dirty Computer is a futuristic celebration of diversity. Paired with a gorgeous 48 minute visual or, as Monáe calls it, “Emotion Picture,” Dirty Computer is a concept album which follows the life and rebirth of Jane 57821. Featuring hits like “Pynk”, “Make Me Feel,” and “Django Jane,” it was no surprise that Monáe earned Grammy nominations for Album of the Year and Best Music Video.
It was a surprise that she lost.
I hold nothing against Kacey Musgraves, the winner of this year’s award. However, I do have to question the criteria the Recording Academy are using to decide their winners. Are they looking for originality? Musicality? Creative lyricism? Because Janelle Monáe, in my book, checks every one of those boxes.
If you give Dirty Computer a listen yourself, which I highly recommend, you’ll see exactly why I’m so outraged. Not only is the album full of empowering hits that cross nearly every genre line— each and every song is filled with unmistakable heart. As a queer woman myself, songs like “Don’t Judge Me” and “Screwed” sound like anthems. The lyrics range from heartbreaking to funny, flirty, and outrageously relatable.
Past the wit, though, there is an underlying tone of seriousness and sincerity. In Monáe’s Emotion Picture, the character Zen (played by Tessa Thompson) admits at a pivotal part in the story that “People used to work so hard to be free. But we’re lucky here. All we have to do is forget.”
This single quote holds boatloads of cultural significance, especially in our current political climate when topics such as freedom and expression are highly debated.
At the end of the day, I believe that the Recording Academy avoided granting Dirty Computer Album of the Year for one reason and one reason alone: fear. The album itself is practically a love letter to progress, individuality, and independence. If I were to compare this years snub to a another famous Grammy brush-off, I’d say it was similar to the 2016 Adele vs Beyoncé debacle. People were outraged when Queen-Bey didn’t win Album of the Year for Lemonade, a stunning audio-visual masterpiece that celebrated and illustrated her experiences as a black woman in a strained relationship. Even Adele herself dedicated her acceptance speech to Beyoncé.
Not every detail fits, but the parallel is clear.
Regardless of the Recording Academy’s decision, I know in my heart that I will never find a more well-thought out, creative, and joyful album than Dirty Computer. It’s not only a collection of songs, it’s an experience— one filled with joy, hope, and above all, love. In years to come, I hope to see Janelle Monáe get the kind of recognition she deserves. After all, she’s Jane Bond, never Jane Doe.
by Mimi Ottavi