Janelle Monáe released their fourth studio album entitled The Age of Pleasure this year at the beginning of June. Just in time for summer, the 14-track album embodies what it means to enjoy the fullness of life. The Age of Pleasure seems to mark a new era for Janelle as they embrace what it means to be a self-titled “free-ass motherfucker.”
The Kansas-native started their career on Myspace in 2005. During that time, Janelle collaborated with major Southern hip-hop artists such as Outkast and was eventually signed to Bad Boy Records. Janelle has solidified themself in the music industry with their iconic style from their black and white suits to their overt references to Afrofuturism. Janelle’s sound transcends genre and draws musical inspirations from varied artists such as Prince, James Brown, and Erykah Badu. Janelle is a multifaceted performer, starring in Oscar-winning films, pushing the boundaries of fashion, and even starting their own record label, Wondaland Records.
Janelle is a multifaceted performer, starring in Oscar-winning films, pushing the boundaries of fashion, and even starting their own record label, Wondaland Records.
According to numerous interviews, Janelle gained inspiration for The Age of Pleasure through extravagant parties thrown by the Black collective Everyday People. Everyday People is a live music event experience and cultural platform that celebrates Black creativity, global diversity, and safe inclusive space. During the pandemic, Everyday People would host their colorful day parties at Wondaland studios. Janelle wanted to encapsulate the spirit of those parties, particularly the safety in which Black individuals from all walks of life could express themselves freely. The Age of Pleasure serves as a memoir to that moment in Janelle’s life.
The album starts off with “Float,” which was also the first single off the album. “Float” sets the tone, exuding a powerful gesture of confidence in the jazzy trap beat and liberating lyrics. Janelle taps into their hip-hop roots as they rap on this record, which is accompanied by triumphant horns. Their cadence is relaxed and assured, which is fitting given the message of the song. The first verse of the song ends with “I used to walk into the room with my head down. I don’t walk, now I float.” In this line, Janelle expresses that they have reached an apex of self-esteem and self-awareness of their identity that they no longer walk in self-doubt or insecurity, but rather they float in their greatness.
The album is reminiscent of Beyoncé’s Renaissance in its structure, where the songs transition into each other. Prince, who is one of Janelle’s idols, also has an album in which every song transitions into each other. Starting with the second track “Champagne Shit,” the album flows to “Black Sugar Beach,” “Phenomenal,” “Haute,” and then “Ooh La La.”
This section of the album emulates a DJ set that you would hear at a rave or disco. “Champagne Shit” has a beach-music inspired trap beat which is followed by “Black Sugar Beach” which has an Afro-Caribbean vibe with its melodic guitar and rhythmic drums. “Phenomenal” and “Haute” both bring a groovy, upbeat energy both sonically and lyrically. Janelle seems to be feeling themself and their self-confidence and it is blatant in the music. This section concludes with the interlude “Ooh La La”, which features the icon Grace Jones.
The second half of The Age of Pleasure begins with the second single called “Lipstick Lover.” The first half of the album preaches about self-love, self-confidence, and being secure with your identity. The second half feels more intimate and emphasizes the expression of sensuality and sexuality.
Janelle, who has been open about their gender identity and sexual orientation in previous projects, is more assertive on this album about their identity, with “Lipstick Lover” being a prime example.
Janelle, who has been open about their gender identity and sexual orientation in previous projects, is more assertive on this album about their identity, with “Lipstick Lover” being a prime example. The song boasts a smooth reggaeton sound and a slightly slower tempo compared to the tracks at the beginning of the album. Janelle released a music video for “Lipstick Lover,” which depicted a Black Sapphic pool party, featuring some nudity and even sex toys.
Janelle has received a bit of backlash for their outlandish provocativeness, which is a complete 180 compared to their conservative tuxedo look they had at the beginning of their career. Critics claim that Janelle has become a sellout and a hypocrite by showcasing their body and sexuality.
Two things can be true at the same time: Janelle can have a traditional appearance and also adopt a risqué persona. These two contradictory ideas do not have to cancel each other out as they both embrace the fullness of Janelle’s style and identity. The Age of Pleasure era is less about selling sex and going viral for being provocative and is more about the celebration of being comfortable in one’s own skin.
The next song that follows “Lipstick Lover” is “The Rush,” which features Ghanaian-American artist Amaarae and Hollywood actress Nia Long. “The Rush” sets an intense sensual tone with its deep melodic bass and Nia Long’s voice serenading the chorus.
Two things can be true at the same time: Janelle can have a traditional appearance and also adopt a risqué persona.
“Water Slide” is another erotic anthem which offers sexual innuendos to female anatomy and even masturbation. The end of the album never threatens to lose momentum with songs like “Know Better” and “Paid in Pleasure” which are high energy dance tracks with Afro-beat influence. In the second to last track, “Only Have Eyes 42,” Janelle talks about a polyamorous situation with two other individuals. The last song on The Age of Pleasure is “Dry Red,” which closes out the project beautifully with its breezy acoustic guitar and Janelle’s soft vocals.
The Age of Pleasure is a cohesive, well-produced project that truly captures the spirit of the summer time. As a long-time fan of Janelle Monáe, I felt an immense sense of pride to see Janelle’s personal growth shine on this project. The level of self-expression and self-assuredness that oozes from the album is a testament to the evolution of Janelle’s style and own comfortability within themself. The Age of Pleasure serves as an encouragement to everyone to be true to oneself and live life to the fullest.
© Courtney Stanley (8/7/2023) Special for FF2 Media
LEARN MORE / DO MORE
To learn more abou the Everyday People collective, visit their website.
Check out a recent Janelle Monae interview on YouTube.
Watch the Lipstick Lover music video.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo & Middle Photo: Photo by Mason Rose. © 2023 Atlantic Records. Provided by Atlantic Records in their EPK.
Bottom Photo: © 2023 Atlantic Records. Provided by Atlantic Records in their EPK.