anelle Monáe’s new album, The Age of Pleasure, makes a significant departure from the artist’s previous work. In the past, the iconic singer, rapper, and actor channelled Afrofuturist themes, creating concept albums as a fictional android character. Now, Monáe is leaning into humanness to become a self-described “present tourist”. The result, The Age of Pleasure, takes listeners on an island vacation to a diasporic party of unabashed sexuality.
But such a seismic shift prompts the question: what changed?
The answer to this question lies in the album’s origin. Monáe describes the album as being “by my friends, for my friends”. Its creation involved the artist attending, hosting, and DJing Pan-African post-Covid parties, secretly testing material on new audiences. This gives The Age of Pleasure (2023), a striking sense of communal identity.
By contrast, Monáe’s earlier work was defined by the artist adopting a singular identity. In The ArchAndroid (2010) and The Electric Lady (2013), Monáe performed using the persona of Cindi Mayweather, a messianic android and torchbearer for revolution. On 2018’s concept album Dirty Computer, Monáe’s self-portrayal evolved; this time they were Jane 57821, one of many friends trying to escape the confines of an oppressive regime.
The Age of Pleasure continues this thread. Monáe isn’t presenting themself as a solitary figure. In this case, they wanted to present their human and vulnerable self, alongside their friends. And hanging up the android armour was a means to this end.
But how does this sense of communal identity impact Monáe’s music?
Firstly, Monáe’s friends have brought them an overwhelming sense of joy, and this is actively showing through in their artistic output.
According to Musiio by SoundCloud data, The Age of Pleasure is their most positive album yet.
Monáe’s first album, The ArchAndroid, is predominantly neutral in mood (as measured by Musiio’s Mood Valence classifier). However, over their career, their music has gradually become more positive.
By their third album Dirty Computer, we can detect no negative mood valence in their songs. The Age of Pleasure follows this journey of optimism by becoming Monáe’s first album to have an overwhelming majority of positive mood valences.
It’s no wonder, then, that their music provides the perfect soundtrack for summer antics, introspective joy, and communal freedom.
Another theme on Monáe’s new record is confidence. They admitted in a recent interview to not feeling safe as an artist earlier in their career. They told radio station HOT 97, “when I don’t want to let people in, because I don’t feel safe, I’ll make records that don’t let people in.”
Monáe described Dirty Computer as the first time they started to become more vulnerable with their audience. This is reflected in the data. When analysed with our tagging AI, ‘Confident’ is the album's second most common mood tag (see chart below).
On The Age of Pleasure, Monáe declares a new sense of self-assurance in the opening track: “I used to walk into the room head down // I don't walk, now I float”. The data supports their conviction. ‘Confident’ is again the second most prevalent mood on the album.
Monáe’s self-assurance manifests as sexual confidence too. Monáe has experienced a growing sense of comfort in their own skin, coming out as pansexual prior to the release of Dirty Computer and recently identifying as non-binary, too.
Since 2013’s The Electric Lady, the ‘Seductive’ (aka Sexy) mood tag has become more prominent in their music. And even if we just take The Age of Pleasure’s album art, it’s self-evident that Monáe is happy to express and celebrate their bodily autonomy.
A New-found Calm
Finally, communal identity has given Monáe a sense of calm.
Compared with the narratives of struggle in their previous work, The Age of Pleasure has a conspicuous absence of conflict. Monáe clarified the safety that community has created for them, explaining: “This project is not about a fight”.
The stories of conflict and resistance in their previous music meant that the music videos Monáe produced often resulted in choreography that was energetic, fast, and characterised by a frenetic energy. You can witness this in the music videos for ‘Tightrope’ from The ArchAndroid or ‘Dance Apocalyptic’ from The Electric Lady.
In contrast, Monáe hardly moves in the music video for The Age of Pleasure’s ‘Lipstick Lover’; when they do, it’s slow, graceful, and considered.
That serenity is reflected in the new album’s mood tags, of which ‘Calm’ is prominent – a significant change from previous releases. Clearly, the sense of composure created by freedom, confidence, and safety has pervaded Monáe’s artistic output.
So what can we expect from their next record?
Will it drive further into the positivity, sexuality, confidence, and calm of The Age of Pleasure, or will Monáe pivot in tone again?
Wherever their career goes next, hopefully, Monáe’s music will continue to reflect the self-love they found creating their latest record.
Did you know Janelle Monáe recently released an Amapiano remix of their track ‘Float’? Find out more about Amapiano by reading our recent blog post exploring this trending house music subgenre.
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