Janelle Monáe celebrates Black Girl Magic, fights food poisoning at Outside Lands

Caroline Smith/Staff
Caroline Smith / Staff

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Janelle Monáe arrived 12 minutes late to her Outside Lands set on Sunday — not that her fans seemed to mind, however. Once Monáe arrived on stage, the Electric Lady brought her charisma and energy at full throttle. Her shortened set was jampacked with hits off her latest visionary, acclaimed album and a handful of classic Cindi Mayweather hits.

But while one could describe Monáe’s performance style — her attention to detail and costuming, how each song’s live performance was sonically and choreographically distinct — nothing better encapsulates Monáe’s professionalism and utter devotion to her artistry than a confession she made to her audience at the very end of her set. She’d gotten sick with food poisoning earlier and was throwing up backstage up until the moment she went on.

“The love you showed gave me the strength to go on,” she told the crowd.

Confessions and revelations, in a way, are the M.O. of Monáe’s groundbreaking album Dirty Computer. Monáe recently came out as pansexual, which she addressed during the show: “You guys got to find out a little bit more about how I like to love. Happy Pride forever!”

The show was a celebration of queerness, women, Blackness and vaginas — the last of which was honored through Monáe’s now-iconic vagina pants in her hyper-femme pop bop, “Pynk.” Monáe’s backup dancers, who changed costumes for nearly every number alongside Monáe, were Black women, and they danced alongside her supporting band of Black instrumentalists. When Monáe sang, “Remember when they told you I was too Black for ya,” on “Crazy, Classic, Life,” the lyrics packed a visual punch.

Monáe’s music isn’t an artistic rendering of the Black-, queer- and women-led revolution; it’s a revolution in and of itself. It’s feminine and upbeat. It’s unapologetically sexy, but more than that, it’s sensual. When Monáe sings of the intimate relations between power and sex on “Screwed,” she pairs it with choreography that fluctuates between fast and slow to match the song’s tempo, culminating in a shell-shocking musical orgasm.  

Performing live, Monáe combines the dance moves of Michael Jackson with the vocal talents of Prince — after all, Prince provided Monáe with the synth line for the nostalgic “Make Me Feel.” While she may have been two acts before Janet Jackson’s headlining set on the Lands End stage, it’s only a matter of time before Monáe headlines Outside Lands herself.

Caroline Smith is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].