Janelle Monae is back-musically because they’ve been on our screens both big and small. This time it’s with the album of the summer (if not the year). It’s been five years since the release of Dirty Computer, an album that began Janelle’s exploration with freeing themselves from the android image they’d crafted for themselves since the beginning of their career. In their own words: “Dirty Computer was an attempt to step into their own authentic self”. If Dirty Computer was the first step on the journey of self actualization in a public eye, then The Age of Pleasure is a leap into that same truth. The Age of Pleasure is freedom in 14 tracks and a perfect summer album.
The pursuit of pleasure (in all forms) rests at the heart of this album. The way you want to move with the music as soon as it comes on highlights that. From deep soul sounds featured in Float to traditional R&B in The Rush to reggae vibes in Lipstick Lover, there’s something for everyone in the slightly more than 30 minute album. A big part of the pleasure in this album, for me-a Black queer identifying woman-is how clearly it is meant to be a love letter to Black people and all of our identities in all of the places and spaces that we inhabit. The album encourages us all to truly love ourselves loudly and freely.
I’m a proud “Fandroid”, since the beginning of Janelle’s career. I’ve been listening to them since 2006 and I’ve been so happy to follow them on this journey. I’ve always seen myself in their work. Always felt represented by the themes found in their music. As they’ve grown into a sort of personal and professional freedom so have I. In 2018, Janelle told the world they were pansexual and in 2022, let us know that they are nonbinary with the unforgettable quote: “I feel like God is so much bigger than the ‘he’ or the ‘she.’ And if I am from God, I am everything.” I feel like The Age of Pleasure is an ode to that journey-to the ways in which they now feel free to live their life the way they want to-out loud.
If you don’t like the album that’s because the album isn’t meant for you. This particular album is clearly meant for the Pan-African community. Those are the voices I want to hear when speaking about this particular album. With features from artists across the diaspora, including Doechii, Nia Long and Grace Jones (America), Sean Kuti, Egypt 80 and CKay (Nigeria), Sister Nancy (Jamaica) and Amaarae (Ghana), there’s pieces of our shared experience woven throughout The Age of Pleasure.
Janelle’s album isn’t the only album from a Black artist celebrating queer culture and history this year (see Beyonce’’s Renaissance-also featuring queer icon Grace Jones), but it feels so incredibly important to hear from out queer Black artists at this point in time. We’ve taken massive steps backward in terms of policies to protect queer adults and youth across this country. Yet during this time of massive uncertainty-The Age of Pleasure reminds us that there is nothing more important than being exactly who you want to be, wherever and whenever you want to be.
The Age of Pleasure feels like Janelle is truly ready to share (and celebrate) their Black, queer experience with the world. The album is unabashedly queer, loud in all the right ways. It’s a true sex record full of eroticism, carnality and desire. It’s a hit record and I think everyone will find a song for them. My personal faves from the album are all of them, but the songs I know will be on constant repeat are Phenomenal (“I’m looking at a thousand versions of myself and we’re all fine as fuck.”). Haute (“A bitch look good, a bitch look haute.”). The Rush (“Baby cause tonight I’m trying to catch that feeling.”). and Know Better (“Nobody do it like me and you know better.) and of course singles Lipstick Lover and Float.
I want to listen to this album on full blast speeding down the highway to the beach. I’m excited to hear this album in the background while I’m getting ready to go out with my friends. I want this album to empower me while I’m getting ready for work. This album evokes a true joy in me that a lot of more recent releases haven’t been able to. The Age of Pleasure sounds like the first steps out of your hotel on vacation. How it feels when you know you have no responsibilities for however long you’re out of office. It feels like liberation. It feels like joy. I’m so happy I’m here for its release. I’m so thankful that Janelle has shared it with us at this specific time.
Janelle Monae’s Age of Pleasure is now available on all streaming platforms. Listen and tell us which songs are your personal favorites!
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