Janelle Monáe @ Castlefield Bowl (photo: Priti Shikotra)


Janelle Monáe is an absolute, proper-off-the-scale pop star. She’s untouchable, standing there oozing pop star-ness as we all look up to her, basking in the glory of someone who’s one role in life is to be an absolute fucking mega star, and we love her for it. In the age of ‘relatable’ pop stars (read: lads in woolly hats with tats and a guitar, stars who dress like you and I in a t shirt and jeans), she’s someone who makes an effort, puts on a show, someone who’s sole purpose on stage is to entertain and wow you, not be ‘relatable’. I don’t want my pop stars to be like me, I want them to be bat-shit-Gaga-crazy, doing stuff that makes you wonder how the hell they do it, why the hell they do it. I once saw Gaga play Radio 1’s Big Weekend and she came on in a bloody coffin carried by several topless male dancers, then emerged from it to do ‘Bad Romance’. No idea why, but wow it was thrilling. Sigrid is not doing that any time soon.

Anyway, I digress slightly, but the point is that I want to be entertained by a pop star, and Janelle Monáe delivers that tonight and then some. Here as part of the opening night of the Manchester International Festival and off the back of a rapturously received Glastonbury set, a pretty simple stage set up consisting of white stairs in the middle of the stage and not a lot else, Monáe sets about showing us why she’s edging towards stadium level glory. Emerging at the top of the stairs dressed in some Queen of Hearts Alice in Wonderland red, white and black checks, she kicks into Dirty Computer’s ‘Crazy, Classic, Life’ quickly followed by ‘Screwed’ and ‘Django Jane’, an anthem for queer women, black women, anyone who proudly lives how the fuck they like. It contains the immortal lines, “we gonna start a motherfuckin’ pussy riot, or we gonna have to put them on a pussy diet” and “hit the mute button, let the vagina have a monologue”, both of which are shouted back to her with glee by the sold out crowd ranging from 12 year old kids to 60 year old couples. She raps a lot of the song, and I watch with a huge grin plastered on my face thinking that she’s possibly the most talented pop star I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing live, and that she should just release an entire rap album and show Nicki Minaj how it’s done.

Janelle Monáe @ Castlefield Bowl (photo: Priti Shikotra)

She has four dancers with her who perform perfectly synchronised moves sometimes with, sometimes without Monáe, always beguiling and glorious. At one point she sits on a throne atop of the stairs, looking like the absolute queen she is. There are costume changes galore, the incredible vagina pants from the ‘Pynk’ video make an appearance for an electric version of the track, and at one point she emerges dressed head to toe in a black almost military get up, looking like Janet and dancing like Michael, moonwalking across the front of the stage. Twice she wears different outfits with her own face on the front, and still makes them look absolutely bad ass. Her debt to her late mentor Prince is worn proudly on her sleeve, with the guitar solo from ‘Purple Rain’ making an appearance at the end of an epic ‘PrimeTime’, and the no bass funk of ‘Make Me Feel’ compelling the crowd to get their collective groove on. She tells us how proud she is to be a queer black woman, and urges us to be ourselves and fuck Donald Trump in a rehearsed but no less powerful for it monologue towards the end of the set, before the epic ‘Tightrope’ from her magnum opus The ArchAndroid brings proceedings to an raucous end.

Not quite done, she returns, new costume of course, to do ‘Come Alive (War of the Roses)’, in which she gets the entire crowd to crouch on the floor whilst she dances amongst us on the concrete of the bowl, a superstar amongst mere mortals who can only look on with pure adulation. Janelle Monáe is a proper pop star, and we’re lucky to live in her world.

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