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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

Janelle Monáe embraces self-love at MGM Music Hall

The artist stunned during the Boston leg of her “Age of Pleasure” tour

Janelle Monáe is pictured performing at the Roskilde Festival in 2012.

Janelle Monáe is pictured at the Roskilde Festival in 2012.

Janelle Monáe’s new album couldn’t have come soon enough.

After her third album, “Dirty Computer” (2018), released to critical acclaim, Monáe (who uses she/they pronouns) took a break from music to focus on other projects, including film, television and a book of short stories just last year. While her work in acting and writing has only cemented her multi-hyphenate status, it was a joy to see Monáe return to music with “The Age of Pleasure” (2023). Released in June of this year, Monáe’s fourth album is an unabashed celebration of queerness and pan-Africanism with a tracklist that celebrates self-love, pleasure and the liberating power of music. While it may lack the complexity and storytelling of some of Monáe’s earlier albums, the Afrobeats- and reggae-inspired music is a delight to listen to.

Monáe recently embarked on a tour to support the album, and on Sept. 17, they performed to an enthusiastic crowd at the MGM Music Hall in Boston. In a nearly two-hour set, Monáe sang most of the tracks from their latest album, along with several from their earlier work.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Monáe shared her thoughts on the tour.

“I know if you come into the show, you’ll love the songs. But hearing them live is a different experience, especially when you’re putting them with songs from previous work,” Monáe said. “We’re basically just putting a show together based on what we feel is good. Sometimes you just don’t know until you get on stage.”

Following an energetic opening act from internet-famous hip hop duo Flyana Boss, the stage’s curtains opened to reveal amphitheatre-style steps flanked by a stack of oversized speakers and an array of flowers and colorful lights. After making a dramatic entrance in a floral cape and headpiece, Monáe introduced her seven-piece band and four backup dancers, whose energy matched her own throughout the evening.

Monáe opened with their new album’s first single, “Float,” a soulful celebration of self-love backed by Monáe’s powerful three-woman horn section, with lyrics like “I used to walk into the room head down / I don’t walk, now I float.” The first act of Monáe’s set continued with hits from their new album, including the groovy, horn-filled “Champagne Shit,” the uplifting “Phenomenal,” and the bouncy Afrobeats track “Haute.”

The concert was broken up into five chapters, each with a distinct theme and style. After the first chapter, titled “A Thousand Versions of the Self,” the concert transitioned into the second, titled “Now or Never,” as Monáe and her backup dancers re-entered in berets and sunglasses. In this section, Monáe reached into her back catalog of hits, culminating with the show-stopping “Electric Lady” (2014). In this song of female empowerment, Janelle Monáe showcased her full singing, rapping and dancing abilities while engaging the audience in a joyful call-and-response.

In chapter three, titled “(T)high Vibrations,” the stage transformed into a summer beach as Monáe and their dancers changed into beachwear and straw hats. This portion of the concert was the most successful in capturing the carefree, sunny energy of their latest album, as Monáe slowed down the tempo for some of their new tracks, including “Lipstick Lover” and “Water Slide.” During the reggae-inspired “Paid in Pleasure,” they even invited several fans onstage to dance with them, reminding the audience of Monáe’s fierce dedication to their fanbase.

The final two chapters of the concert were a mix of songs old and new as the concert reached its  conclusion, including “Only Have Eyes 42,” a doo-wop inspired ode to polygamy, and “Pynk” (2018), another song of female empowerment — complete with Monae’s now-famous pants. After the final chapter wrapped up, Monáe returned for a lively encore that featured some of her biggest hits: she showed off her electric guitar chops on the Prince-inspired funk song “Make Me Feel” (2018), displayed her incredible range on “Tightrope” (2010) and closed out the show with a high-octane rendition of their 2009 hit “Come Alive (The Wars of the Roses).”

Although “The Age of Pleasure” may not be as complex or stylized as Monáe’s previous albums, it is certainly her most joyful, and it has allowed her to fully embrace her identity onstage. During the encore, Monáe took a moment to speak directly to her fans, encouraging them to embrace self-love, look out for each other, and fight back against racism, sexism, and homophobia.

“That’s what the age of pleasure is about, using your space to create something special and magical for the people around you,” Monáe said. “We’re not responding to hate, we’re responding to love.”