Janelle Monae has been quite busy since she last graced Toronto with a performance, during the 2015 Panamania concert series. Since then, she has modelled for CoverGirl, acted in two high profile Hollywood blockbusters, and has a few more films and television episodes on the way. Thankfully, in between her forays onto the silver screen, she had the opportunity to write and record April’s Dirty Computer, and visit Toronto on the album’s corresponding tour.
During her 17-song set, Monae guided the crowd through Dirty Computer, while interspersing a few older fan favourites - “Electric Lady”, “Primetime”, “Cold War”, “Tightrope” - throughout the evening. However, the focus was undoubtedly on her latest offering, as she played the entire album, in almost the exact order as the tracklist itself.
Janelle Monáe’s video for “Dirty Computer” is, well, dirty.
Whereas her past live shows have been stylized in her characteristic black and white, Monae’s latest production injects some colour into the spectrum: red checkerboard jackets, her signature “Pink” pants, a golden throne (which she perched atop for “Django Jane”, and fittingly, “Q.U.E.E.N.”), skin tight silver leggings, and a variety of other colourful costume changes. Like the staging and wardrobe of her past, everything is stylized quintessentially Jane, but this time with a bit of colour - as if to mirror how her music, while always laced with allusions to the repressed being given a voice, is now more explicit in its support of the LGBTQ, disabled, coloured, and minority communities.
Throughout the show, a quartet of dancers accompanied Monae, further bringing the performance to life, and at times armed with water guns. Monae herself, on top of her musical chops and acting abilities, is a capable dancer. She has often been compared to Michael Jackson, and her late mentor Prince (who also contributed to Dirty Computer before he passed away in 2016). However, the influence was most evident during “Make Me Feel”, in which a silhouetted Monae danced her way through an extended intro for the song. The dancing continued amongst the crowd as well, who were invited onstage to “show us your juice” during “I Got The Juice”.
Throughout, Monae had words or hope and gratitude to share amongst an eclectic crowd - a crowd that has embraced her just as she’s embraced them. “Tonight we are celebrating self love,” she shared, “We are celebrating the things that make us unique even if it makes others uncomfortable,” then launched into self-love anthem, “I Like That”.
Monae closed with the last two tracks from the album, “So Afraid” and “American”. The songs’ commentary on the current state of affairs in the USA were punctuated by iconic African American imagery, and a reimagined US flag - the iconic stars and stripes now adorned with rainbow colours. Though she touched on important, and at times heartbreaking, issues throughout the evening, both in song and spoken word, the room was filled with undeniably positive vibes. “I want to thank you for fighting for love,” Monae confided in the crowd. That night, the love was very much alive.