I had the pleasure of seeing Janelle Monae on her Dirty Computer tour this past Wednesday at the Edgefield McMenamins. This was my first time seeing her live and it was awesome. Just getting to hear her do Jidenna’s part from “Yoga” was worth the cost of admission. But if you didn’t get to attend, I’ll provide some highlights, to get you in the mood for Pride Weekend here in Portland!
The videos are terrible in quality so I’m sorry about that. But I was way in the back, and my phone is pretty well broken. I’m hoping that the low quality will allow them to stay on the internet longer.
This song is the jam. I love it–it puts me in such a good mood. I’m a folk singer but nonetheless I aspire to at some point create a jam that puts people in as good a mood as this song does for me.
Pride Highlights include:
- she flipped the “boys” and “girls” in the lyric “all the girls be showing love while the boys be catching feelings.” This doesn’t explicitly mean anything, other than that it’s a fun role reversal and allows anyone to inhabit any space in the song. It’s already a song whose lyrical content pushes the listener to question who is the object of affection and who is the narrator, and the pronoun swap just adds to the nonconformity.
- During much of the song’s vamping, she sang “shock me one good time” repeatedly, as opposed to “shock it one good time,” making the narrator’s relationship to the electric lady more personal (If my ears are correct, in the album version, the first instance of this line does say “shock ME” and the subsequent ones say “shock IT.”
“YOGA” (and the amazing couple in front of me)
This couple was incredible. Every. Damn. Song. I unabashedly took a video of them–shout out to you, whoever you are.
I also love this song. I always hear it as being tongue-in-cheek, a bit of parody (though not full parody). There’s interesting gender play and racial subversion too, as yoga is, unfortunately, associated with upper class white women in this country. I’m glad to see people of color occupying this space in both the video and the song (since the practice IS from the Indian subcontinent, after all). I also love the “flex it” and “yoga” calls in the background that perfectly mirror popular hip hop but again, subverting the norm by calling out something unexpected (yoga). Compare to the call backs in, say, Remy Ma’s “All the Way Up,” in which Fat Joe’s lines are echoed (the word “need” at the end of the line “shorty what you want, I got what you need?” and the word “molly” at the end of the line, “got bottles, got weed, got molly”).
I was curious what she was going to do with Jidenna’s lines in the song, and she inhabited them in, I thought, a very clever way. Basically she changed the lines to the following : “yoga. she did that yoga/looking for my loafers man, she woke up in a toga/she like my collar on, like she my owner/so when she downward dog, you know I want her” and then just sort of vamped with ad lib “yeahs” for the bars in which Jidenna says on the record: “Oh Lord I love the way you bend/Oh Lord I’d love to break you in/Oh Lord I stretch you out and then/Oh Lord now you should tell a friend.” I can’t say why Janelle decided not to sing those lines, but one guess is that she didn’t feel comfortable voicing the rather aggressive phrasing. The use of lines like “stretch you out” and “break you in” in pop music is a complex topic and I’m not going to tackle it here. I will instead focus on the Pride Highlight of this live performance of “Yoga,” which was the whole darn thing!
Then there’s a tiny tiny snippet of “Pynk,” (my phone ran out of space), the Pride Highlights of which don’t really need explanation. And yes, the famous pants were very much present and to be honest, seemed like a lot of fun to dance around in.
Sorry you only got three seconds guys!!!
And then last but not least, here’s a clip from my favorite song on the album:
“DON’T JUDGE ME”
I realize this video is really just the jumbotron, but I was far away and Janelle Monae is quite a petite individual (and was sitting down!), so I couldn’t see her at this moment.
There was a moment in the concert where she talked about love (actually she talked about love quite a bit, but this time was particularly focused) and all the love that was present in the audience. She said if you came there tonight with someone you love to hold them close. I did, and I took the photo of us below, which looks psychedelic due to my phone’s cracked screen. She also said that if you didn’t come there tonight with someone special, to know that she loved each and every person in the audience. This is a sentiment I enjoy from artists, particularly when it’s backed up with actions of love, like activism and concern the wellbeing of others.
(Annie’s eyes are half-closed and it looks like there’s a thick cloud of smoke but for the record, there is no drug use going on here!)
In Janelle Monae’s case, I consider her part of a long line of musician-activists, including Harry Belafonte and Joan Baez. Janelle’s words, which came just before a very long version of “Primetime” (the instrumental solo also served as an opportunity for her to change costumes) reminded me of the closing of Joan Baez’s 1970 autobiography Daybreak in which she channeled the Canadian poet/comedian Lord Buckley, and implored the reader, “would it embarrass you very much . . . if I were to tell you that I love you?” This moment in the concert also reminded me of the part of church services in mainline Protestant churches where the minister asks you to say hello and share God’s peace with those around you. That’s not to say the concert was religious, this was just my experience of it. And experiencing live music in the presence of a community of people is always a spiritual experience, in my opinion.
With all that in mind, I wish you all love and peace as we go into Pride weekend. Seeing the allies in the Pride Parade (companies, and especially parents and veterans) always warms my heart. But it’s easy to show love to an ally. My goal for this weekend is to show love and compassion somewhere where perhaps it’s not as easy for me.
Happy Pride, everyone, and stay tuned for an upcoming Janelle Monae cover from me!