As hungry consumers of mainstream media, we pay so much attention to the spectacle of Beyoncé and can’t help but get jiggy with Bruno Mars and his Hooligans. However, Janelle Monae is right up there as one of the best performers out today, and we need to start paying her the same amount of admiration.
The five-foot ball of energy’s Dirty Computer tour made a stop at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (Jul. 18). The packed crowd, which was as diverse as the Wondaland musician’s catalogue of hits, was treated to an assortment of tracks from Monae’s three albums. Fans varied in age, ethnicity and sexual preference, and Monae welcomed them all with open arms and an open heart.
“Earlier this year, you got to find out a little bit more about how I like to love,” she told the rowdy audience before singing her song “Primetime.” “No matter how you love or who you love, you are welcome here tonight.” During the tail-end of the aforementioned Electric Lady track, her top-notch lead-guitarist Kellindo Parker interpolated Prince’s “Purple Rain,” an homage to an artist who Monae has collaborated with and was mentored by.
Several segments of the show involved poignant tributes to some of the musicians who paved the way for her to be on that very stage. Leading up to her sexual liberation anthem “Make Me Feel,” a cloud of smoke billowed over the stage as Monae pulled out a Jackson-inspired routine full of isolations, glides and the slickest moonwalk in the industry today. After the hit ended, she performed James Brown’s “I Got The Feeling,” and danced so hard that her black hat fell off her head. Ever the professional, she smiled and kept on groovin’.
Throughout the hour-and-a-half set, there was never stagnation. While posted up in a throne fit for a “Q.U.E.E.N,” Monae, adorned in a black-and-white military jacket and matching kufi hat, rapped along to “Django Jane” and kept up with her very talented and highly-melanated dancers. She and her crew also shot water guns at the crowd during the spirited “Screwed,” and invited enthusiastic audience members to the stage to prove if they got “The Juice.” To say the floor was shaking is no exaggeration; she got the joint jumpin’.
Janelle Monae possesses the ability to couple raucous excitability with purposeful reflection, which she carries both in her professional and personal lives. Before she performed The Archandroid’s “Cold War,” she urged the crowd to continue fighting for the rights of all humans, and during her performance of “So Afraid/Americans,” videos of Black Lives Matter activists, Trayvon Martin and an American flag played in the background as the crowd lifted their voices and fists. She also made it easy for “Fandroids” to register to vote by having a booth at the show, in order for them to gear up for their local and national election.
From the eye-popping choreography, chill-inducing vocal and instrumental riffs and the inventive costumes (the “Pynk” p***y pants obviously made an appearance), Janelle Monae puts on a show that maintains engagement the entire time. She moves and performs intently and uplifts her fans by reassuring them of their beauty, worth and uniqueness. It’s apparent she’s not trying to be better than anyone or be “this generation’s so-and-so;” Janelle is just Janelle, and that’s working swimmingly for her. But as she says on “Django Jane:” “if she’s the G.O.A.T now, would anybody doubt it?”
— Janelle Monáe, Cindi (@JanelleMonae) July 18, 2018