Monae electrifies a diverse Boston crowd with an impressive show of choreography and vocal range—all while creating a welcoming environment for everyone.

7/21/18 – Blue Hills Bank Pavilion

Before Janelle Monae raised her hands up in the air in the a shape of a heart for one last time, she called out to the crowd: “We hope you feel seen. We hope you feel heard.” Somewhere amongst the shores of the Seaport, (ironically an infamously white and cultureless neighborhood) Janelle Monae created a safe space for people of all kinds.

Though the Dirty Computer Tour was a carefully crafted audio-visual display—a continuation of the choreographed entertainment of Monae’s ArchAndroid era—this android set aside the robotic distance of her performance to embrace an intimate, human side.

The change is an appropriate one: Dirty Computer takes a head-on, personal approach to addressing our world’s problems and, in particular, those of the minority communities to which Monae belongs. But this was more about empowerment than struggle. An onstage wardrobe change featured a huge golden mirror—which Monae checked to publicly approve of the image that looked back at her: a queer, black queen. On “Django Jane,” she took her throne, sitting high above the crowd as she rapped about the daily struggles of women and the powerful wonder of black girl magic, all while notably wearing a kufi cap as a crown, a hat traditionally worn by male elders or patriarchs.

Monae wrapped up her sprawling discography into a set filled with fists raised in solidarity, synchronized twerking, montages of protests, and slick moonwalking. (Seriously, this woman sings, acts, and moonwalks? What can’t she do?) Wardrobe changes and theatrical flourishes were all purposefully executed: smoke and silhouette shrouded the intro of “Make Me Feel,” with the dark shape of Monae dancing through a looped intro before the Prince-powered synths kicked in. And yes, she did whip out the famous vagina pants for “Pynk.”  

If Monae’s eclectic chops were to be captured in a single song, “Electric Lady” was it; one minute she was belting, the next, spitting verses. The female trombone and trumpet players blasted the audience with a grandiose sound that isn’t quite present in the recording of the song, and all the while, the crowd furiously danced—a rainbow of colorful hair, a spectrum of genders and ages, a fashion show of glittery sequins and overalls and dinosaur patches and drag. On “I Got The Juice,” what would have been a recording of Pharrell was replaced by a breakout dance session; she selected people from the crowd to join her onstage, and each of them performed an impromptu dance solo.

The stadium rang with affirmation—between songs and within them. “We celebrate all the things that make you unique—even if it makes others uncomfortable!” she stated. On “I Like That,” she crossed the stage and pointed out audience members: “Your T-shirt. Your green hair. Your Afro. I like that shit.” Later, she exclaimed: “Happy Pride forever! No matter how you love, you are welcome here tonight.” Throughout it all, flashes of Monae’s big, bright smile.

As the night came to a close, Monae called out to the Boston crowd: “This city started revolutionary. And I’m proud to be amongst so many of you like myself who want to see the world work for all of us—not just some of us.” With that, she captured the sentiment of the night. This wasn’t just entertainment. In some sense, the night was a rally, a wake-up call, a demand for action.

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