By Joshua Mellin
Last week, Janelle Monáe, the Q.U.E.E.N. of Wakanda herself, touched down for an exciting run in the United Kingdom, conquering Glastonbury, twerking with Lupita Nyong'o onstage at London's Wembley Stadium, and ruling over the Manchester International Festival at the city's storied Castlefield Bowl.
Monáe's inclusive, Afrofuturism-enriched set at the fest on July 4 immediately followed a gathering in Manchester's Cathedral Gardens envisioned by Yoko Ono called "Bells For Peace," in which thousands gathered in the square to ring bells in unison, led by Ono on giant screens. With the peace bells cascading across the city, the ringing seemed to manifest Monáe across town on stage in a swirl of purple smoke. Then, she launched into a career-spanning set that dove deep into her celebratory Dirty Computer era.
Below, experience all the highlights from Monáe's dazzling set at Manchester International Festival.
Monáe emerged like a Terminator sent from the future with clear shade glasses denoting her as "JANE-57821," referencing her futuristic alter-ego Cindi Mayweather's android number. She has explained that her third album, Dirty Computer, is a prequel to her prior releases, The ArchAndroid and Electric Lady, placing it in a more contemporary setting than the rest of the sprawling, futuristic Metropolis Saga.
You Got The Juice?
A set from Janelle Monáe, as an artist and activist, can at times play more like a political rally, with the primary message of her performances being acceptance and positivity. After some controversy where a woman almost lost her accessible seating, Monáe ensured the festival changed policy ("She will have a seat along with every other human with disability," she tweeted) and went out of her way to make sure everyone was recognized at the show. She called for the acceptance of LGBTQ+ community, those in lower-class working areas, and particularly the disabled, inviting several fans — including those from the accessible section onstage — to answer the all important question: "You got the juice?" They all enthusiastically answered "yes!" before getting a dance break alongside Monáe herself.
The Q.U.E.E.N.'s Coronation
The song "Q.U.E.E.N." saw Monáe go through a regal coronation, donning a Kufi cap crown (a traditional African hat) that matched her Queen of Diamonds-designed Dashiki. Embodying the visage of a modern female ruler, she instantly commanded the crowd as her subjects, spitting verses like proclamations.
Return of The "PYNK" Pants
Her 2018 song "PYNK" took a literal turn, with Monáe busting out her custom designed vagina pants that have been a fan favorite. While it took the audience a minute to catch on, the crowd-pleasing fluorescent-lipped knickers still managed a collective giggle from the polite British crowd.
"If you look in the video, there are different types of pants, different styles," she told MTV News in 2018. "We come in so many different varieties as women and those who identify as women and those who were born as women."
Busting out a sea-foam Fender guitar for "Make Me Feel," Monáe's mentor Prince's spirit was on full display, presenting sounds they had "collected" for Dirty Computer before his untimely passing. "He was a free ass motherfucker," she said in 2018. "There were times that when I ever felt confused on what direction I should take, or if my ideas were too big for the music industry... I knew that was the one person who understood where I was trying to go."
Stripping the Hardware
After taking on her Django Jane Western persona for the duration of the set, Monáe finally stripped away her costumes and personas to end the show, literally undressing down to her tights. She crossed the stage into the crowd and joined the audience as her purest vision: herself, an international superstar, on a mission of humanity.