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"They call us dirty 'cause we break all your rules now," Janelle Monáe asserted in 2013 on The Electric Lady's "Q.U.E.E.N.," a song that was originally titled "Q.U.E.E.R." Five years later, during an interview with Hot 97's Ebro Darden, the newly out Monáe, who identifies as pansexual, broke her latest album down into three acts. "Songs one, two, three, four-that's the reckoning. That's you feeling the sting of being called for the first time by a white person. Feeling the sting of being called bitch by a man for the first time. Feeling the sting of being called queer or a by homophobic people. It's reckoning and dealing with what it means to be called a Dirty Computer."

Nevertheless, Dirty Computer's opening act is harmonically lush, filled with bright synthesizers and rhythm guitars that refuse to linger in the melancholy found in the lower frets-their realm is one of tentative exhilaration, of becoming. The album's following two acts celebrate the unabashed ownership of one's otherness ("Django Jane") and speak to the fear that comes from such visible vulnerability ("So Afraid"). The story has no end in sight, in part because Monáe is one of its first authors.

As a queer, dark-skinned black woman in an industry historically inclined to value her opposite, Monáe knows that the narrative behind the content matters just as much as the content itself, despite its exceptional quality. Which is perhaps why, from a distance, her career looks like an exercise in freedom by accretion, something amassed over time. Nearly 10 years have passed between Monáe first asking us if we're "bold enough to reach for love" on Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) and the bisexual lighting, tongue clicks, and aching sexuality of Dirty Computer's "Make Me Feel." "For the culture, I kamikaze" she proclaims on "Django Jane," a rap song full of trap hi-hats that dunks on the patriarchy and her haters. Monáe understands how much she's risking even today by being out. "I knew that I was supposed to make this album before I made [2010's] The ArchAndroid," she told Darden. The relief of Dirty Computer is palpable, the culmination of years of silence and deflection in order to one day be free.

The album is crucially accompanied by an "emotion picture" also called Dirty Computer that depicts a surveillance state where queer people and people of color are hunted down for noncompliance. They're stopped while driving by the police. They're beaten and arrested at their own parties. The music videos for the songs act as an allusive, visually stunning novel-in-stories, intentionally paralleling our own reality in judgment. Monáe's love for her influences far exceeds the artistic and sartorial nods to Keith Haring and David Bowie within her film. In Dirty Computer, Monáe is undercover passion on the run. She is bad. She is part of the rhythm nation. She no longer needs to ask if she's a freak because she loves watching Mary. In Dirty Computer, she wants Mary Apple 53, played by Tessa Thompson, to take a bite.

As for the musical component of Dirty Computer, Monáe has given us a pop record that feels gleefully youthful, perhaps even the album she wishes she could have had as a teen in Kansas City. The songwriting is precise if not always flawless. The reckless and joyful "Screwed" embodies the occasional, devil-may-care nihilism experienced by queer people of color living under a surveillance state. It also contains one of the funkiest and technically impressive basslines you'll hear on an album already in awe of Chic and George Clinton.

Still, to listen to Dirty Computer and look at Monáe's pallid chart history is to ask whether this is an industry willing to make room for black women who don't belt their wounds, those with slightly smaller, albeit gorgeous voices. What does it mean to be a newly out queer black woman of Monáe's stature making a pop album in 2018 when there is no precedent? And how does that affect how we interpret her music and her willingness to inhabit spaces currently dominated by white acts? As an album, Dirty Computer is what happens when a prism is held to the blinding light of a free Janelle Monáe. Her status as an acolyte of Prince dovetails with her modern pop sensibilities uniquely, which is how we get a queer anthem like "PYNK," and its video brimming with defiant black women, saddled with a chorus that could slide neatly into most Taylor Swift records. It is why "Screwed" sounds like a hedonistic Haim track.

But as with her queerness, her pop inclinations are a feature, not a bug, and it is difficult to separate Dirty Computer from the larger narrative of resistance across the arts today; from A Wrinkle in Time, a film dedicated above all else to instilling wonder and empowering young viewers; from Gabby Rivera's (now sadly discontinued) America comic book series, one centering a young, queer Latina, America Chavez, who repeatedly declares she is America; from An American Marriage, Tayari Jones's latest novel that emphasizes to be black is to be American. While this is Monáe's most personal record to date, there is an inherent distancing that takes place with songs largely speaking to the we instead of explicitly about the I-even when the we (i.e, queer folks) includes the I (i.e., Monáe).

But this royal, all-encompassing we is a part of Monáe's larger aim. "I want young girls, young boys, nonbinary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you," Monáe told Rolling Stone. "This album is for you. Be proud." Dirty Computer affirms that we are never more naked than when we stand in our joy. The whole of it is a testament to inclusivity both verbally and sonically. And Monáe's love is liberation, for her and for us.

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