Janelle Monáe (she/they) brought the Age of Pleasure tour to The Anthem in DC for two nights of flower-filled fun. In an ambitious set spanning four albums, two decades, and at least six outfit changes, the Atlanta-born singer, author, and actor proved why they earn both popular and critical praise.
On this tour, Monáe is announcing the scope of their ambitions with the huge scale of the stage and the performance. Organized into six “chapters” which toggle between new and old material, the setlist demonstrates her ability to seamlessly weave between funk, pop, Afrobeats and RnB in delivering bop after bop. Her band, including four dancers and a full horn section, brought the songs to life with bounce and flair. And Monáe, perched atop a colorful pyramid wearing colorful cloaks and huge hats, held court like a queer carnal queen. Channeling the likes of Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Sister Nancy, she delivered an unmatched pop spectacle which cemented her status as one of the greatest performers of our time.
As the name implies, the Age of Pleasure tour is all about luxury and indulgence. “You are forbidden to think about the past,” Monáe commanded the audience upon her entrance, “You are forbidden to think about the future.” Given the catchy energy of the new songs, it was certainly easy to get lost in the moment. Recalling the bombast of Beyoncé’s marching band Coachella set, hits like “Haute” and “Know Better” had the crowd bouncing to the pulse of the horns, while slow jams like “Only Have Eyes 42” demonstrated Monáe’s impressive vocal range. Lucky members of the audience were even invited to dance on stage for the high energy groove “Paid in Pleasure.”
At the center of it all was Janelle Monáe, whose charisma and sexy swagger acted like a magnet for every eye in the room. Monáe ran through hit after hit, deftly balancing the cool bluster of “Float” with the breezy bounce of “Lipstick Lover” and the insane vocal acrobatics of “Tightrope.” A natural born performer, she easily inhabited her self-appointed role as ruler of pop music. Given the sex and confidence she was oozing on stage, it was almost unsurprising when she flashed some titty on the iconic line in “Yoga”: “You cannot police me, so get off my areola.”
The sheer joy of the performance was matched by an intense attention to detail. The stage was a riot of colors, decked in flowers and spangled with slogans reminding the crowd that “pleasure is a state of mind” and “pleasure is an abundant resource.” Monáe’s outfits paired perfectly with each song, ranging from a sexy black catsuit for “Champagne Shit” to a red swimsuit for “Lipstick Lover” and the iconic labia pants from the “Pynk” music video. Even the stage hands were dressed as beekeepers to fit the themes of growth and abundance. The result was a feast for the senses which enveloped the audience in Monáe’s indulgent, lustful fantasy world.
The peak of the performance came when Monáe returned for an encore with her Dirty Computer single “Make Me Feel.” Dressed anew in a glittery black coat and wide brimmed hat recalling Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” music video, Monáe sauntered, leaned and moonwalked her way through the catchy funk beat which one Twitter user once called “the most f*cked-to song of 2018.”
The skill and spectacle of the Age of Pleasure tour conveys the possibilities for joy and abundance when Queer and BIPOC people are given space to thrive. Monáe emphasized multiple times that she was creating a “safe oasis” for all of her fans. Before ending the night with her first single “Tightrope,” she laid out her philosophy explicitly: “This is not a response to hate, it’s a response to love: love for ourselves, love for each other.” The crowd clearly responded to this call. It seemed that all of DC’s hottest and most stylish people showed up for Janelle Monae, and the crowd was awash in a sea of lace, rhinestones, and vibrant colors. Monáe’s radiant joy on stage was reflected by the audience, who smiled, embraced loved ones, and danced. With this tour, Janelle Monáe has delivered a powerful thesis on the liberatory power of pleasure.
Photos by Erin Prejean