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Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024
The Observer

‘The Age of Pleasure’: A raw celebration of the self

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You might’ve been in your Taylor Swift era this summer, but I’ve been in my “The Age of Pleasure” era since the album’s release June 9. Artist Janelle Monáe — whose last album “Dirty Computer” was nominated for Best Music Video (“Pynk”) and Album of the Year at the 61st Grammy Awards — might not take up as much space in today’s celebrity spotlight as comparable artists, but she’s just as deserving of a spot on your summer playlist as any other.

In “The Age of Pleasure,” Monáe is unapologetically themself and unreservedly honest about who they want to make music for.

In an interview with Apple Music, Monáe said their music “centers around protecting [the] communities that [they’re] a part of, from the LGBTQIA+ communities to being Black to all of that.”

The tracks “Float (feat. Seun Kuti & Egypt 80)” and “Haute” showcase Monáe’s unmistakable confidence, while “Champagne Sh*t” and “The French 75 (feat. Sister Nancy)” give us a glimpse into who she is around her friends. Speaking of friends — Monáe collaborated with a whole entourage of other noteworthy artists to produce “The Age of Pleasure.” With this new album, Monáe unmasks their Bowie-esque persona in previous LPs to reveal a much more raw celebration of the self.

This revealing nature of Monáe’s “The Age of Pleasure” might shock you. “The Rush (feat. Nia Long & Amaarae)” and “Water Slide” provide some water metaphors that would have me turning red in the wrong crowd, but if you’re willing to embrace the unashamed sensuality of the album, you can melt right into a masterful blend of jazz and reggae rhythms. Monáe fuses influences from the Pan-African diaspora to create grooves that will play in your head on repeat all summer. It took me some time to get used to the provocative lyrics of tracks such as “Lipstick Lover” or “A Dry Red.” Similar to getting into a pool, the original shock lasts only a moment before you find yourself relaxing into a cool summer escape. After you get used to the shallows of suggestive lyrics and explicit imagery, you can swim deeper into themes of authenticity, finding community and creating safe spaces for the ones you cherish most.

So give it a try. Let “The Age of Pleasure” be your era of powerful vocals, smooth sounds and summer spirit. Like the little summer we have left, “The Age of Pleasure” is short. The LP is made up of 14 songs spanning only 32 minutes. If you only have time to dip your toes in the water, at least give “Haute” a listen. You’ll thank me for it when you’re gassing yourself up for your first exams of the year. Or, if 32 minutes of summer isn’t enough for you, I highly recommend checking out Monáe’s music video for “Lipstick Lover” — and make sure to watch the clean version, too. Then, look up Monáe’s mom reacting to said music video (it’s priceless). If Monáe’s mom approves, I think you will too.