Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (Case Study)

Authored by: Christine Capetola

The Routledge Companion to Cyberpunk Culture

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9780815351931
eBook ISBN: 9781351139885
Adobe ISBN:


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This case study traces how the cyberpunk visuals and 1980s-inspired pop music sounds in the emotion picture accompanying Janelle Monáe’s album Dirty Computer work as a source of political-aesthetic power. Through unpacking how Monáe mobilizes these cultural references in an imagined future world, it also situates Dirty Computer within a tradition of Afrofuturism that moves between the past and future in order to comment on the present. By following the journey of Jane 58721, a pansexual android who rebels against this future world, this case study demonstrates how Monáe’s emotion picture challenges any easy lines of separation between “human” and “machine,” along with accentuating the racialized, gendered, and sexualized dimensions of these demarcations. Through highlighting the aesthetical and historical resonances between the 1980s and the 2010s in Dirty Computer, this case study calls for an increased attention to vibration as a means of understanding sound, identity, and history.

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