My album for the summer is most definitely The Age of Pleasure by Janelle Monáe. My (scalding) hot take and unpopular opinion is that it is better than Beyoncé’s Renaissance, which was amazing, but I think Janelle did it better. Janelle as a queer artist making queer music puts The Age of Pleasure in a tier above Renaissance.
As someone who struggles with feeling queer enough as a bisexual person, I really connected to this album and Janelle’s unapologetically Black queerness. I always feel so empowered listening to it. Put simply, The Age of Pleasure is the Queer Anthem I didn’t know I needed.
Unapologetic feeling yourself
The first song on The Age of Pleasure is Float, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album.
No, I’m not the same, n*gga (not the same, no)
I think I done changed, n*gga, uh
See somethin’ not the same, n*gga (not the same, no)
I used to walk into the room head down
I don’t walk, now I floatJanelle Monáe, Float
Society tries to pressure queer people to shrink themselves to fit in boxes, holding their heads down as they enter a room to keep the attention off of them, oftentimes for safety purposes. I felt the same way for the longest time. Before I felt comfortable using the terms bi, pan, or queer, I referred to myself as “passably straight”. I used that to hide from the world.
Floating draws attention to you. Floating implies lightness. Like the great Toni Morrison said, “If you wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
Janelle mentioned in an interview that she has changed her whole lifestyle. This album embodies giving up the shit that weighed her down. She has inspired me to be my authentic self in everything I do so I, too, can float.
Unapologetic sexual energy
People have been trying to police Janelle’s sexuality for years, questioning her queerness through her dress. Singer India.Arie pushed harmful respectability rhetoric when she recently called out Janelle for being overly sexual on stage at the Essence Fest by flashing the crowd her breast (there was a pasty!). This is another example of the double standard of demonizing Black women claiming their sexuality on their own terms while praising white women who do the same thing like free the nipple.
Throughout The Age of Pleasure, there are overt sexual references, as well as innuendos. This raw celebration of sexual energy feels different from the likes of Meg (see Ashley’s discussion of Meg here) and Cardi’s sexual energy, or even Beyoncé’s; that energy still feels hinged on the male gaze and performance. Janelle’s feels sacred, rooted in intimacy and a genuine pursuit of pleasure. I feel like I can connect to this energy more as someone who also feels like they belong somewhere on the demisexual spectrum.
Above all, The Age of Pleasure just gives me so much joy. The news is so depressing when we see politicians systematically strip the rights of queer and trans people. There is so much all around telling us that to be queer is to be a tragedy. But the very essence of queerness is freedom from societal expectations and boxes. It is the absolute freedom of the endless possibilities of authenticity.
I can shake, bounce, twerk, and everything in between to this album. The very sound of this album feels like joy. Janelle shares all of her contagious liberation with us. I love me a good sad album, don’t get me wrong, but there is something so beautiful about having something joyfully queer.
I’ll end this post with the call and response from the end of the song Float:
To the lives we lead
To the dreams we chase
To the moments that we make
And the fucked up shit we can’t erase