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Music & Concerts

New Janelle Monáe album is futuristic ear candy

Out singer explores empowerment themes with Jackson, Prince influences



Janelle Monáe, gay news, Washington Blade

Janelle Monáe’s new album doesn’t try to hide its Prince and Michael Jackson influences. (Photo courtesy Atlantic)

Ever since her 2007 EP “Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase),” Janelle Monáe has brought a new and futuristic sound to the pop music scene. Her subsequent recordings have topped charts and she has starred in the films “Hidden Figures” (2016) and “Moonlight” (2016). Last month in Rolling Stone, Monáe came out as queer, addressing her previous relationships with both men and women, and used the term “pansexuality” to describe her sexual orientation.

Monáe’s third album “Dirty Computer” tackles her queer sexuality, in addition to other traditionally off-limits issues. Her lyrics explore blackness, the female body and the complex relationship of sex and power. And she deals with all these issues in remarkably creative ways. It’s a fresh, original album that is as political as it is hip. 

Accompanying the album is a nearly 50-minute short film, or “emotion picture” as Monáe calls it. Set in a fictional dystopian future (think “Blade Runner” meets “Black Mirror”), Monáe imagines a universe where “dirty computers” individuals who are different because of their race, gender or political beliefs are forcibly “cleaned” by a repressive government. Various tracks from the album appear in the “emotion picture” as memories that must be erased. Only after reconnecting with her male and female love interests is Jane 57821 (Monáe’s alter ego) able to escape from the “cleansing,” demonstrating love’s power to overcome oppression.

The short film makes clear that Monáe is not afraid to take a stand in the current political climate. Musically, its inclusion represents a return to the concept album and Monáe comes back to the same fictional universe of her previous albums. With its spacey, futuristic story line, “Dirty Computer” is not just a collection of songs but is a single, coherent narrative. It’s an ambitious move for a pop singer in a musical landscape where radio-edited singles dominate. That is not to say that “Dirty Computer” is not radio-ready (several singles have been released) but rather that Monáe has set higher aims for the project as a whole.

The lead single “Make Me Feel” seems at least a titular nod to Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” Many have also noted the influence of Prince, who was Monáe’s musical mentor until his untimely death, on both this track and the album as a whole. But if anything, the song is a testament to Monáe’s voracious musical borrowings, which go far beyond any one decade, genre or style.

Of the singles released from the album, “Pynk” has perhaps garnered the most media attention for its explicit depictions of the female anatomy. The song is Monáe’s answer to the Women’s March, an Eve Ensler-esque affirmation of the female body accompanied by an upbeat, futuristic groove. The track, which features Grimes, shows off Monáe’s vocal range, contrasting the delicate sounding soprano in the verse and pre-chorus with the impressive force of the chorus.

But the album cannot be fully appreciated from just its singles. Many of the most fun and musically innovative tracks are spread throughout the album.

Among these is “Crazy, Classic, Life,” a song about the promise of equality for all. Beginning with a quote from the Declaration of Independence from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “The American Dream” speech, Monáe affirms her identity as black queer person, singing “I’m not America’s nightmare, I’m the American dream.”

“Screwed,” featuring Zoë Kravitz, is another superb track, and it encapsulates much of the discussion surrounding the #MeToo movement: “Everything is sex/Except sex, which is power/You know power is just sex/Now ask yourself who’s screwing you.”

Through both futuristic sci-fi and borrowings from her musical heritage, Monáe has produced a cogent, sophisticated product. “Dirty Computer” is a great album and it’s Monáe’s best so far. One can’t help but look forward to seeing what else her future (real or imagined) has in store.


Music & Concerts

The Atlantis to showcase musical legends of tomorrow

New venue, a near replica of original 9:30 Club, opens next month



A look at the interior of the original 9:30 club. (Photo public domain/Library of Congress)

A new nirvana for music fans opens next month adjacent to the 9:30 Club. Dubbed The Atlantis, this intimate venue embraces a 450-person capacity – and pays homage as a near-replica of the original 9:30 Club.

The $10 million venue comes courtesy of I.M.P., the independent promoter that owns and operates the 9:30 Club and The Anthem, and operates The Lincoln Theatre and Merriweather Post Pavilion.

The Foo Fighters will inaugurate The Atlantis on May 30, which is also the 9:30 Club’s anniversary. Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl, during a concert in 2021, kicked off speculation that I.M.P was planning to open a new venue, noting that, “We’ll probably be the band that opens that place, too, right?”

Other big names on the inaugural 44-show run roster: Franz Ferdinand, Barenaked Ladies, Third Eye Blind, Spoon, and Billy Idol.

To thwart scalpers, The Atlantis utilized a request system for the first 44 shows when they went on sale two weeks ago. Within four days of the announcement, fans had requested more than 520,000 tickets, many times more than the total 19,800 available. All tickets have been allocated; fans who were unable to snag tickets can attempt to do so in May, when a fan-to-fan ticket exchange opens.

While I.M.P. oversees multiple larger venues, “We’ve been doing our smallest shows in other peoples’ venues for too many years now,” said Seth Hurwitz, chairman of I.M.P. “We needed a place that’s ours. This can be the most exciting step in an artist’s career.”

The 9:30 Club holds 1,200 people, while The Anthem has space for up to 6,000.

“This will be where we help introduce new artists to the world… our smallest venue will be treated as important, if not more, than our bigger venues. If the stories are told right, both the artists and the fans begin their hopefully longterm relationship. Its stage will support bourgeoning artists and the legends of tomorrow,” Hurwitz said. Hurwitz and the team developed a tagline for the new venue: The Atlantis, Where Music Begins.

Hurwitz got his start at the original 9:30 Club, originally located at 930 F St., N.W. He was an independent booker of the club for the first six years and then he bought it, and managed the move from its original location to its current location in 1996. The venue first opened in 1980.

Audrey Fix Schaefer, I.M.P. communications director, provides further insight. “We were missing small venues in our umbrella. Big acts don’t start in stadiums. We need a place for emerging artists and for the community to discover new acts. The Atlantis can help new artists grow.”

While design elements are still coming into focus, Schaefer says that the space will be intimate, with almost no separation between the artist and the crowd. “There will be energy on both sides of the stage,” she says.

Although The Atlantis is set to be a replica of the original 9:30, I.M.P. has spared no expense. Schaefer notes that the sound and light systems use the latest available technologies, similar to next door at the current 9:30 Club.

The Atlantis takes over the footprint of now-closed Satellite Room. The venue will have at least two bars flanking the stage; cocktails but no food will be available.

Schaefer notes that since its early days, 9:30 Club and I.M.P. “has always been a place where people are welcome. People come and feel safe with us.” 9:30 Club has hosted several LGBTQ Pride parties, the BENT dance party series, and other events for LGBTQ patrons. Particular acts of note during the kickoff run include Tegan & Sarah and Tove Lo.

The Washington Blade was a neighbor to the 9:30 Club at its original F Street location back in the 1980s. Despite their proximity, noise wasn’t an issue for on deadline nights, when Blade staff worked late hours.

“We would of course work later hours back then,” said Phil Rockstroh, a longtime Blade staffer, in a 2016 Blade interview. “Everything was typeset and done by hand without computers and fax machines so getting through deadlines was much more time consuming.”

Rockstroh said the noise wasn’t a distraction.

“It wasn’t too bad as older buildings were constructed more solidly,” Rockstroh said. “There was only one entrance to the building and you entered so far to the elevator that went up to the other floors and then continued down the hall to the entrance to the 9:30 Club. Frequently at night if I was coming or going, there were people spilling out the doors.”

“The Blade has always had a friendly relationship with the 9:30 Club,” he added.

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Music & Concerts

National Philharmonic to perform classical, contemporary works

Violinist Melissa White returns



The National Philharmonic will host “Beethoven’s 7th” on Saturday, April 15 at 8 p.m. at Strathmore.

Past and present will collide in this performance of contemporary works and classical masterpieces. Maestro Piotr Gajewski will direct Valerie Coleman’s “Umoja, Anthem for Unity for Orchestra” Violinist Melissa White will also return to the Philharmonic to perform Florence Price’s sweeping, melodic “Violin Concerto No. 2.”

Tickets start at $19 and can be purchased on the Philharmonic’s website.

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Music & Concerts

Bruce & Janet & John Legend, oh my!

Slew of iconic acts hitting the road after pandemic cancellations



Janet Jackson is among the iconic acts touring this spring.

Pop and rock icons are releasing their pent-up pandemic frustrations by mounting huge tours this spring and summer. After three years of canceled and postponed shows, everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Janet Jackson is hitting the road at long last. But save your coins because the TicketMaster algorithms are driving ticket prices to astronomical highs. Here are a few highlights from D.C.-area venues this spring. Although some of the iconic acts aren’t coming until summer — Beyonce, Madonna, Pink — several others are hitting the road this spring.

Betty Who plays March 10; Keyshia Cole headlines the All Black Extravaganza 20 Year Anniversary tour on March 18; the Yeah Yeah Yeahs come to town on May 3; Seal brings his world tour to town on May 10; and the beloved Pixies are back on the road with a new North American tour stopping here on June 10.

9:30 CLUB
Don’t miss Gimme Gimme Disco, an Abba dance party on March 18; Inzo arrives on March 31, followed by Bent on April 1; Ruston Kelly brings his The Weakness tour on April 17 along with Purr; The New Pornographers show on May 19 is sold out but there are tickets available for the May 20 show; The Walkmen have added a fourth show on May 23 because the other three shows are sold our;

Living legend Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are back with a vengeance, playing one of four area shows on March 27. (They’re in Baltimore the night before.) If you missed out this time, don’t worry, Bruce is playing Nats Park in September as well as at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. April 1 brings the R&B Music Experience, including Xscape, Monica, Tamar Braxton, and 112. Blink-182 comes to town on May 23. And this summer watch for Sam Smith to continue his hot streak, bringing his “Gloria” tour to town on Aug.4.

Janet Jackson makes her highly anticipated return to the stage this spring, arriving in our area on May 6 along with guest Ludacris. The LGBTQ ally and icon has promised new music on her upcoming “Together Again Tour,” which follows the pandemic-related cancellation of her “Black Diamond Tour.” Jackson also plays Baltimore’s newly renovated CFG Bank Arena on May 13.

John Legend plays two nights at Wolf Trap on June 2 and 3; Charlie Puth follows on June 4. Wolf Trap also hosts the Indigo Girls on June 7 just in time for Pride month. Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the Smithereens at the Birchmere on March 17. Fans of ‘80s alternative will be lined up for the Church also at the Birchmere at April 4, followed by Suzanne Vega on April 26. Amy Grant returns to the stage this spring and plays the Birchmere on May 2. Echostage plays host to a slew of buzz worthy shows this spring, including Ella Mai on April 8 and Fisher on May 12.

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