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What I Learned at 92Y with Janelle Monae

On October 16th, I went to a 92Y talk with Janelle Monae, hosted by Rolling Stone’s Brittany Spanos. Here are some of the things I learned about Dirty Computer, her inspirations and more:

  • Her album, Dirty Computer, started off as something personal, but, as a result of Donald Trump’s election and the subsequent culture explosion, the personal became political. Thus, Dirty Computer transformed into an exploration of herself alongside a political anthem.

  • The background vocals and a lot of the melody in “I’m So Afraid” were created when Monae was on her way to the dentist with tooth pain. She described how the way her mouth was open on the chair created the “aaaah” sound on the track.

  • Her decision to come out was really difficult. She described how the night before Dirty Computer and the Rolling Stone article came out, she couldn’t even sleep. She was worried that she would lose fandroids (a wonderful nickname for her fans) because of the news and was worried about how the industry would react.

  • An audience member asked her what classes she would make mandatory if she was the headmistress of a school. She said empathy, “allyship,” and a dance class where you can dress up or down, whatever you want.

  • She learned how to be a sound engineer so that she could be more private in her process. She talked about how she values collaboration, but that she feels freer to make mistakes when she does not have the pressure of people around her.

  • “Django Jane” had a different music video, but the editing process would have taken too long. So, she and her team workshopped the idea on a Sunday, filmed it on a Tuesday, and released it on a Wednesday. This happened because her team wanted to release “Make Me Feel” at the same time.

  • Her dad’s favorite song is “I Like That” and her family also really likes “Makes Me Feel.”

  • There were many collaborators on Dirty Computer like Zoë Kravitz, Grimes, and even Brian Wilson, whom she described as dirty computers. She says “dirty computers are seen as being full of bugs and viruses and anything to be cleaned out. Dirty computers see their bugs and their viruses—whether it’s their sexuality, their race, their gender—as attributes, as features. This is an album to celebrate us, to celebrate all the dirty computers around the world.”

  • She talked about how when she takes her braids off, and gets out of her costume or her public persona she is still a “black queer woman who was raised by a worker, or lower class family” and how those identities shape her experience and influence her music and other art.

  • She just came from her first hometown show in five years in Kansas. She talked about how cousins that she had not talked to for years asked her for tickets.

Overall, the night was awesome! Janelle Monae is one of the greatest artists of our lifetime, and she was such a cool person to hear from.

Jordan Panzier

Columbia Barnard '22

Jordan is from the suburbs of NYC but likes to say that she is a native "new yorker." She is planning on majoring in computer science and/or political science. When she's not writing, she can be found watching comedy on Netflix, getting angry about politics, or staring at random dogs on the street.
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