Janelle Monae’s latest jams have been lighting up my social media feeds with exclamations of joyous discovery. Glad to know the girl’s finally getting around. Easily one of the most talented artists my generation has seen thus far, Monae has suffered a bit from exactly that kind of sudden, superlative praise. As Pitchfork noted in its review of Monae’s newest LP, “The Electric Lady,” “She arrived so thoroughly anointed by so many key figures in the entertainment industry that it has sometimes felt pointless to try and touch her.”
The chilly distance remains in Monae’s chosen lyrical genre — Afro-futurist sci-fi, this time with an added dollop of female empowerment and with the whole android thing cranked up a notch — but the warm sweetness threaded through set pieces like “Dance Apocalyptic” is undeniable and irresistible (we still don’t mind if you play that ukulele). “The booty don’t lie,” Monae sings in “Q.U.E.E.N.” (above), an important point driven home once more in the rap verses. As I’ve written before about her, Monae flips the script on the truism offered by fellow space cadet George Clinton — “Free your mind and your ass will follow” — by backing into the heady stuff ass-first: Get them moving, and their minds will follow.
“The Electric Lady” is an elegant follow-up to “The ArchAndroid,” seamless in narrative themes as well as jaw-dropping vocal versatility (and front-loaded with entertaining but needless guest stars, from Prince to Solange). You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but more often than not you won’t be able to stop yourself from dancing at least a little bit. Looking forward to the tour, which this time shouldn’t have to be shared with dullards she blows off the stage.
I'm THOMAS CONNER, Ph.D. in Communication (Science Studies) and culture journalist.