Janelle Monáe Takes “Fluidity” Where Prince and Michael Jackson Couldn’t

Like the lovechild of Prince (the riff to “Kiss” most definitely comes to mind), Michael Jackson (you can’t say “The Way You Make Me Feel” without “Make Me Feel”) and, occasionally, Robert Palmer, one of Janelle Monáe’s latests songs and its accompanying video, “Make Me Feel,” takes the concept of gender fluidity to a new level for the mainstream and serves as something of an unofficial anthem for the shifting of guards that will allow Generation Z to do pretty much whatever the fuck they want, sexually.

Directed by Mr. Solange Knowles himself, Alan Ferguson, the video commences in a sultry atmosphere. Walking in the proverbial joint with Tessa Thompson (who you might recognize from Dear White People, among other films and TV shows she’s appeared in), Monáe at first establishes herself as a woman interested in the way Tessa makes her feel. As the two notice who else but a blond-haired Janelle performing at the center of space, they both become suddenly riveted by her energy–do I need to say it again?–the way she makes them feel.

Soon, Monáe has moved onto another man in the crowd, while the pop star-ified version of herself (the one with the short blond hair and the attitude) dances happily amid a sea of female legs. Volleying herself back and forth between her female and male objects of desire, Monáe appears not torn, but liberated by her freedom of choice–the ability to have emotions as they come. “An emotional sexual bender,” if you will. And with all this bona fide emancipation from the limitations of orientation (say that ten times fast), Monáe has done her forebears of gender-bending proud. For she has taken the concept and visuals to levels that certain icons, Michael Jackson most of all, never felt “free” enough to do, even for the sake of artistry. That Prince was a friend of Monáe’s and made an appearance on her sophomore album, The Electric Lady, with “Givin Em What They Love,” contributed to his decision to help with some of the material that would eventually become a part of her forthcoming Dirty Computer record.

And so it’s only natural that his influence would be so pervasive on “Make Me Feel,” all awash in allusive shades of purple in addition to the riffs that very blatantly pay their respects to “Kiss,” immortalized by Julia Roberts as Vivian Ward singing in the bathtub to it as it played on her Walkman in Pretty Woman. Wearing what’s tantamount to a chainmail headpiece and shimmering silver pants that look like a disco ball as she plays the guitar, Monáe also channels one of the stoic model girls in Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” video–except she is instead the dynamic centerpiece of the show, not one of the “chicks” relegated to the background. And in this new incarnation of the famous scene from that video, Monáe melds the genders as she herself doesn’t mind the company of either. As she states, “It’s like I’m powerful with a little bit of tender [though the way she pronounces it makes it sound like Tinder].”

And though the video might be drenched with the corporeal, in the twenty-first century, it’s not about bodies, it’s just about feelings. Or lack thereof.