The Lowdown: With Dirty Computer, for the first time, Janelle Monáe loses her android’s tuxedo and pompadour and embraces the messiness of being human. The metaphor of the “dirty computer” is as applicable to our society as it is to the futuristic one depicted in the “emotion picture” that Monáe released in conjunction with the album — mirroring our own day and age back to us, like all good science fiction.
The Good: Monáe is, as always, a true master of melding genres, influences, and styles. Her central themes of identity and internal conflict are as tangible on Dirty Computer as they ever have been. Songs like the eponymous “Dirty Computer”, “Pynk”, “Don’t Judge Me”, and “Make Me Feel” alternate between sex-positive bravado and more intimate confessions about fearing intimacy and vulnerability.
The Bad: “Screwed”, featuring guest vocals from Zoe Kravitz, feels like a rare misstep for Monáe. While focusing the chorus around such an unappealing word is probably the point, it feels like a blase and reductionist assertion that the world is fucked anyway, so we should all be having more sex, because “everything is sex, except sex, which is power.” Is ALL sex power, though? Sounds exhausting.
The Verdict: The concept behind Dirty Computer feels a little thinner than the layers of symbolism and meaning coursing through her previous work, but maybe this is the price we have to pay for more of Janelle Monáe and less Cindi Mayweather (her android alter ego). Dirty Computer is a call for all of us to be our true and authentic selves, but especially women, queer people, and people of color. Monáe doesn’t want to eliminate the oppressor, but rather, help them understand why their views are wrong. Are parties more effective than protests in changing public opinion? Dirty Computer thinks they might be.
Essential Tracks: “Dirty Computer”, “Make Me Feel”, and “Don’t Judge Me”