LIVE REPORTGREEN STAGE7/26 FRI
From protégé to Queen
Janelle Monáe made her debut at this year’s Fuji Rock and in the process probably achieved a few other firsts: for one, she may well be one of the first openly queer woman to play the main stage at the festival, and certainly a act which featured the largest number of black female performers on the Green Stage.
Appearing on a stepped white podium the strains of “Space Odyssey”, Monáe rocked a red white and black PVC jacket and round sunglasses, a get-up that together with robot-esque dance moves was the first in a set that nodded openly to the influence of Michael Jackson.
Meanwhile, opening song “Dirty Computer” signaled that the funk of her earlier career was going to take a backseat to numbers from her acclaimed 2018 album “Dirty Computer”, at least for the first few songs.
The first act was a slick glide through “Dirty Computer” highlights including the eponymous first track and “Crazy, Classic Life” followed by “Screwed”, a number that echoed many a punter’s feeling that they “wanna get screwed at a festival”. Backed by an all female band, it was pop at it’s best: well-polished, yet simple catchy riffs, founded on effortless complexity and some serious musical chops. Monáe herself possesses a powerful and fiery voice that is the perfect instrument with which to launch her call-to-arms through a mix of soaring vocals and rapped lyrics.
Changing outfits for the second act, Monáe sang “Q.U.E.E.N” from a golden throne atop her podium and the show then dove into the Prince-inspired 80s synth and clicks of earlier songs like “Electric Lady”, where Monáe was flanked by her horn section. In one of many nods to collaborator Prince, the act finished with the guitar solo from “Purple Rain”, sending chills across the early evening Green Stage crowd.
The next costume change saw Monáe and her dancers return to the stage wearing the pink pussy trousers from her video for “Pynk”. Given the dim view that Japanese obscenity laws take of female genitalia, one wondered how closely Monáe skirted a slap on the wrist with this move. Perhaps though, things were just astute enough, after all, she wasn’t creating a canoe base on 3D renderings of her vulva. The vibe in this midsection was playful, celebratory and sexy with “Yoga” asking us to reconsider all those vinyasas and tree-poses going on at the Pyramid Garden stage every morning.
Bringing as she does a championing of female empowerment and an agenda that promotes equality in race, gender, sexuality and ability, Monáe’s open celebration of femininity was refreshing and fun, especially in a country which languishes low on international measures of such things.
Ending the set with songs including “Make Me Feel” and “Tightrope” Monáe threw in some final musical references: the guitar riff she played on “Make Me Feel” a thrilling Prince riff, Moonwalking across the stage with her dance troupe and the wind section throwing in some James Brown for good measure. She basked in her finale, pulling out the final notes of “Come Alive” as she struck a pose with her microphone.
Janelle Monáe was a striking addition to the Friday line-up, a performance that was consummate pop entertainment – visually striking, musically spectacular and unlike much else the Green Stage has seen for quite a few years.