It’s pretty standard for an R&B singer to go through a slew of costume changes during a performance, and during her hour-long set at the Green Stage Janelle Monae did a slew of them. But there was a definitely thematic pattern: from Nutcracker-like military drag to African monarch to embodiment of female sexual agency there was method to her sartorial madness, and as in the great tradition of the soul revue everything flowed from one song to another. Monae’s computer sex metaphors and robotic dance moves notwithstanding, it was a thoroughly human show, steeped in black-queer consciousness and a wry understanding of the theatrical.
“I’m tired of Republicans telling me how to feel,” she said at the end of a particularly potent rap-rant, underscoring her need to be in the moment, and she was definitely cognizant of Fuji’s charms, effusing about the fact that we was not just in Japan at last, but that she was in this “magical place,” which wasn’t just a reference to the green mountain in front of her, but the hordes of people holding their cell phones aloft, creating that canopy of stars she sang about. “Love is light,” she said, before breaking in “Electric Lady,” a singalong with maybe the easiest chorus in the world, but it said something that the crowd raised their collective voice in tribute. Monae, it should be pointed out, has one of the most infectious smiles in show biz.
“Memories are tiny, but then they are stacked on each other,” she said in a way to express how this performance would become part of the fabric of her life. During “Pynk” she flaunted her feminine queerness in no uncertain terms and demanded afterwards that marginalized people be allowed their happiness (which seemed dependent, she stated, on Trump’s impeachment).
But she didn’t forget what people were there for and did “”The Way You Make Me Feel” by her mentor, Prince, and finished up with a JB-worthy rendition of “Tight Rope” that had approximately 23 different endings. I looked around and saw everyone dancing, but especially women. She was theirs.