Janelle Monáe

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Janelle Monáe. Dirty Android series. From Aja Romano, "Janelle Monáe’s body of work is a masterpiece of modern science fiction (Monáe spent years crafting a dystopian universe. Then in Dirty Computer, she unleashed rebellion)." Vox on line, 16 May 2018.[1]

Romano focuses on five albums covered as a "narrative cycle" and thematic set: (1) Audition (2003 EP), (2) Metropolis: Suite 1 (The Chase) (2007 with variants in how the title is written), (3) The ArchAndroid (2010), (4) The Electric Lady (2013), (5) Dirty Computer, with video (27 April 2018).[2]

In Romano's reading "Throughout Monáe’s work, the yearning for freedom" and individuality "is perpetually portrayed as a glitch in the cyborg programming (and is frequently coded as queer)." Monáe examines classic issues in SF from I. Asimov's robot stories to A. Huxley's Brave New World to Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS to the works of P. K. Dick, to Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto, finding resolution in an Afrofuturism that celebrates difference, even if it is doomed, and resists assimilation and loss of cultural memory. With Dirty Computer, completing this sequence, at least as of 2018, the more domesticated Jane, long with "her two lovers, on the run from the authorities, have been captured […] and brought back to a version of Droid Control, where their memories, dreams, and consciousness are being systematically wiped. Jane and Cindi" — the ArchAndroid "android messiah" — turn out to "share the same droid ID number; they are one being. Because Cindi has the ability to remember her cultural history, Jane is able to fight the effects of the Nevermind gas," compared to Brave New World's soma, "and retain her identity. That's how Jane finally seems to be able to do what Cindi could not, and break Metropolis's cycle of oppresssion to free herself and her community."

By adding the insights of Black authors like Octavia Butler to the mix, Monáe is able to move in her work beyond the split Double and toward presentation of equilibrium and freedom. Listening to the 2018 "Dirty Computer in isolation is to enjoy a fantastic album from an artist at the height of her powers. To see it as the culmination of Monáe's entire narrative journey, however is to understand it as a remarkable achievement in modern science fiction. Monáe simultaneously evolves her conception of an 'android' and uses the story to transform herself. By opening up about her real-life" pansexual, Black "identity, she finds her own posthumanist moral: Only by realizing that the android and the human are one and the same can we begin to celebrate the faulty programming inside us all" (concluding paragraph of Romano's article).

Monáe's images as a cyborg and android, and in association with METROPOLIS, are also significant; as she has put it, "The android is just another way of speaking about the new other, and I consider myself to be part of the other just by being a woman and being black,"[3] expanded by Romano to, "a pansexual black woman."


Dirty Computer (Wondaland/Bad Boy Records/Atlantic Records, 2018) is reviewed with a strong interest in its SF content by Jessie L. Cortesi, SFRA Review #326 (Fall 2018): 22-23.[4]

RDE, Initial Compiler, 28May18, 30Nov20