Powerful with a Little Bit of Tender

I learned about Janelle Monáe from my favorite writer, Trudy on her blog, Gradient Lair, in this piece: Janelle Monáe’s Womanist and Afrofuturist Trilogy of Songs. Since then, she’s been one of my favorite musicians and definitely someone whose work I appreciate and anticipate.

Last week, she released two new music videos, Django Jane and Make Me Feel, that will be on her album premiering April 27th, Dirty Computer. They were a treat, and I’m especially happy with Make Me Feel: the beat, the colors, the inclusion of her close friend, Tessa Thompson, the celebration of the feelings described in the lyrics, and the visual queer celebration of a woman flirting with and lusting for another woman.

From Janelle herself in this interview with the Guardian:

Rumours have long been whispered about her sexuality, but Monáe has thus far resisted publicly defining it; she characterises herself again as “sexually liberated” and she declines to frame Make Me Feel in literal terms. “It’s a celebratory song,” she says. “I hope that comes across. That people feel more free, no matter where they are in their lives, that they feel celebrated. Because I’m about women’s empowerment. I’m about agency. I’m about being in control of your narrative and your body. That was personal for me to even talk about: to let people know you don’t own or control me and you will not use my image to defame or denounce other women.”

When I watch Make Me Feel, it sends my heart a flutter and gives me a little smile.

My favorite visual part is probably where she’s crawling behind a lot of legs in different-colored pantyhose, herself wearing a yellow bodysuit and knee-pads as she makes her away across the floor. The first time we see her behind them, she’s singing the “powerful with a little bit of tender” lyric and playfully taps one of the legs. My favorite audible part is probably where the drums (or something that sounds or reminds of drums) kicks in and she runs to Tessa. It’s a fun, powerful shift.

The close-up of her butt in jeans reminded me of George Michael’s music video, “Faith,” with some notable differences. In the George Michael video, he is wearing blue jeans that have stains and are ripped. Janelle’s jean’s are instead almost like a special type of pantyhose jeans adorned with red roses and green stems and leaves, an expression of her femininity. I went to re-watch the “Faith” music video and some Prince music videos to look for similarities of possible inspiration. One of the feminists I follow, Melissa McEwan, referenced Robert Palmer on Twitter (“I hope this video makes Robert Palmer weep and scream at the heavens.”), so I took in a quick reminder of that music video too.

Prince helped Janelle with this album, which I am grateful we are able to experience after his passing. Thank you, Prince. Thank you, Janelle.

Django Jane is another celebration of oneself as she lists off her accomplishments, what’s been said about her, and her identity as a Black woman. I want to take a moment to acknowledge that the lyrics specify body parts (pussy, vagina) and that while one can certainly talk about one’s own body, which she does, to understand and recognize that some women, trans and non-binary, may not have those parts and are still women. Giving birth is also not a woman-specific thing, noting since that is part of the lyrics of what “we gave.” The “we gave” portion leads into this part: We fem the future, don’t make it worse/You want the world? Well, what’s it worth? And I do like the challenge in those last two questions. Another audible part I liked was the lyric, “cue the violins and violas,” along with the actual music to follow. Also, if anyone in any kind of official capacity or can even just reach those who are and have the power to do so, the music videos really should have closed captioning to make them more accessible. As of my typing these words, they don’t. I hope in the future those who benefit from such things will have them so that we can all enjoy this delightful and inspiring work together.

I am very much looking forward to Dirty Computer.