“Young, black, wild and free”, Jangle Monae sings as the spotlight falls on her at her Glastonbury set at the West Holts stage.
During her closing performance on Sunday night, Monae sings, dances, raps and pay homage to fallen and current black icons. There are influences of, for instance, artists as disparate as James Brown and Prince, which she manages to amalgamate into one performance – while also showing why she belongs in the same bracket as them.
Playing for nearly 90 minutes, Monae showcases her skills to certify herself as a modern-day great black artist. She initially plays tracks from her critically and commercially successful recent album, ‘Dirty Computer‘, but what really adds to the show was the precision of the choreography.
Every ounce of her energy goes into the performance. Starting with ‘Crazy, Classic, Life’, she flies into ‘Screwed’ and ‘Electric Lady’. Any time she needs an outfit change, her back-up five-piece band and five dancers take over comfortably, showcasing their own skills as artists. Monae consistently hands the spotlight over to those who share the stage with her.
“As a young, queer Black woman in America, I am honoured to be here,” Monae says. She then delivers an iconic performance of ‘PYNK’, wearing the costume from its renowned music video sensually, seducing the crowd while the warm lights reflect the mood at the West Holts stage.
It’s an electrifying set, further bringing the crowd into her ethereal world. All the lights are killed and her silhouette is illuminated. Se delves into another inspirational speech, stating, “We are unique. Whatever you want to do, you do it. However you want to dance, dance. Do it like your electricity is uncontrollable.” She then brings on four strangers onto the stage, asking them if they got the juice as they all dance in their own way: one twerks, one shuffles while another just floats about, soaking in their two minutes of fame.
The crowd riled up and ready, she cuts the lights. “I have a message from the future,” she says. One: you are the most amazing crowd here. Two: We must continue to fight to fight for the immigrants for the LGBTQI+ people. For the rights of black folks and black women. For the disabled people. For the working class people. Three we must impeach Donald Trump.” She then flows into her seminal song ‘Tightrope’, the one that burst her onto the cultural spotlight. Monae displays her incredibly impressive vocal range and skills. Cymbals crash all around her while the guitars and trumpets crunch, Monae scats and sings, hitting notesb efore she states, “I go by the name of Janelle Monae. I stand nine feet tall”, and walks fro the stage.
The crowd, wanting more hungrily ask for an encore. They get one with Monae walking back to the centre. “God, if you’re listening,” she says, “remind me through PMS that everything is going to be okay. And God, if you’re listening, let me remain a free ass-motherfucker.”
Slowly, Monae starts to take her boots off, followed by her coat, which she tosses to the side of the stage. Her tights come next and she walks over the barriers, into the crowd, parting the sea like Moses. The instruments start to build as she crosses nearly half the crowd and dances along with her fans, finally falling to the floor and getting her face and body covered in mud.
Barbara, an audience member who watched the performance with her two daughters, said it was “a very positive representation of Black women and the idea of seeing Black women dance with other Black women rathe than being objectified by men was very uplifting and positive.” Mami, from Doncaster, echoed her, stating, “It was exactly what was needed to be brought here [to Glastonbury], positive Black female representation. She definitely achieved that.”
Mami’s not wrong: watching Janelle Monae live felt, at times, like a religious experience, a kaleidoscope of emotions. She’s wild and free indeed.