The dominant theme for Janelle Monae’s “Dirty Computer” tour is radiant positivity in the face of adversity.
“When I wrote this album, I had you in mind, the community,” she said near the end of an explosive “Austin City Limits” taping in front of an ecstatic audience on Monday night.
Instead of creating work centered around “those who seek injustice, those who abuse power...and women,” she chose to focus on “those who should be celebrated.” For Monae, this includes the black community, the immigrant community, the poor white community and the LBGTQ community, who she shouted out multiple times throughout the evening.
Performing with a predominantly female ensemble, including a four-woman dance team, her set for the taping mirrored the incredible show she put on in Zilker Park a day earlier. But in the smaller space, the detailed artistry that defines every aspect of the show was more evident. Everything from the elaborate costume pieces — the jeweled veil she wears at the beginning of “Make Me Feel,” the regal African garb she dons to ascend the throne on “Django Jane,” the infamous vaginal pants for “Pynk” — to the exuberant choreography that kicks the hype on every track up to 11, underlined the fact that this is not an ordinary show.
And Monae is not an ordinary entertainer. In addition to her musical prowess, she’s an accomplished actress. She oozes charisma and instinctive theatricality. She never forgot the audience, but she also knows how to play the camera. The episode, when it airs on Nov. 17, should capture the magic unleashed live.
Also, we’ve been talking about how it’s time to change the conversation about women in rap. Let’s go ahead and place Monae who, “In the darkest hour, spoke truth to power,” up there with the finest rhyme-slingers of our era.
The taping, differed from Monae’s ACL set in two ways. First, she took an extended break during “Juice” to bring audience members on stage to show us their moves. (Local singer Nakia, did the Austin music scene proud.) Second, she closed the show out the same way she closed the “Electric Lady” tour in the same room in 2013, by bringing the audience down low, then building back up to a climatic frenzy with “Come Alive.”
But in both the taping and her festival performance, Monae, who’s been politically outspoken this year encouraging all her fans to vote in November, carried the same message.
“Thank you for fighting for love,” she said. “We will continue to help each other.”
In this case, the revolution will be televised and Monae marched in to the battle hymn of the booty shake.
“I come in peace, but I mean business,” she said.