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Janelle Monae and A New Musical Frontier

Janelle Monae, a genre-defying singer and songwriter is coming out with a new album today, Dirty Computer. And it’s making a huge splash. Following up on her 2010 debut album The ArchAndroid and her highly-acclaimed 2013 The Electric Lady, this is the first piece of music from Monae in 5 years. She’s been pretty busy since. She starred in the films Moonlight and Hidden Figures, and been an outspoken activist about racial justice and feminism.  

But with Dirty Computer, Monae is going into a radically new musical frontier.\

SPANOS: It’s really a love story about Janelle Monae re-falling in love with all of her flaws and learning to really love herself as a Dirty Computer as she puts it, as a flawed human being. I think it’s really clear in the album the idea of accepting all of that and accepting who you are.

MARSTON: Janelle Monae has made overtures throughout her work to being queer or being bi-sexual but it seems with this latest album she’s really making a statement. What is the signifigance of this do you think? The Webster dictionary’s most searched for term for yesterday was pansexual due to your piece.

SPANOS: What I think is really beautiful about the understanding of how she presents her queerness and presents herself as a dirty computer is that there’s a political undertone to all of it. There is this nature of we are fighting against the people who want to clean us and the people who want to make us less human than we are.

MARSTON: Your piece travels from where Monae grew up in Kansas City to her studio Wondaland in Atlanta. What did you learn about her as a person?

SPANOS: Getting the opportunity to see her in Wondaland which is a wonderful community seeing everyone go in and out the way that they are really a family, is really beautiful. But than to get to actually meet so much of her family, to meet both of her parents, to meet her great-grandma and her aunts and her uncles, seeing how that informed her and built the Janelle Monae we know today was really inspiring.

MARSTON: And do you think that this album may mark her becoming a cultural icon, like her mentor Prince?

SPANOS: I think she was well on her way, even without this. I think this has continued such a hot streak of albums and I think this is definitely a moment of solidifying and also being able to solidify it with a very honest portrayal of her own self and her own views. I think that’s really remarkable and I do think this will be considered one of her best works.

MARSTON: If you had to choose, and I know this might be difficult, but what is your favorite song on the album?

SPANOS: I am really in love with “Don’t Judge Me.” Her delivery on that is just really sensual and beautiful and also really vulnerable and there’s a kind of sadness to it. So that one’s really grown on me. But I do also still really love “Crazy Classic Life.” I’m happy that it’s out now so my friends are now obsessed with it and we can all kind of listen to it all summer together.

MARSTON: That was Brittany Spanos, staff writer at Rolling Stone magazine. Thank you so much for talking with us.

SPANOS: Thank you.


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