Diversity, inclusion and representation are an integral part of Janelle Monáe’s persona, stage design and music, but her unapologetic attitude at her Amsterdam show stuns the crowd packed inside Paradiso, a former church and the city’s most iconic venue.
Not even the sexist insults, homophobic remarks and the chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” coming from a very small and highly intoxicated group of men on the side of the room can prevent the ecstatic crowd from forming a congregation; avid attendees to Monáe’s musical sermon. The theme is set early on with a sample taken from a speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., interpolating the Declaration of Independence to highlight the injustice of the treatment of marginalised groups in the US.
Following the narrative of her last album, the US star appears as Jane 57821, a citizen imprisoned and brainwashed into conformism, for the crime of being different. She is brought on stage on a futuristic medical stretcher before launching into a breathtaking rendition of the first half of her most recent album Dirty Computer. ‘Jane’ professes her desire to live “young, black, wild and free” and find someone who loves her. In a celebration of Eve’s transgression, she embraces her bisexuality in Take a Byte, invites the crowd to enjoy life and get Screwed and inserts James Brown’s most famous and subversive statement, leading the crowd to declare: ‘Say it loud! I’m dirty and I’m proud!‘.
There’s barely any time to take a breath before Janelle Monáe morphs into Django Jane, flawlessly rapping her black feminist statement from a throne onstage. Monáe’s confidence radiates on stage and illuminates the eyes of the few black women in the crowd, as the Kansas City native raps “Black girl magic, y’all can’t stand it”. It’s a stunning performance which has the grandeur of a stadium performance, packed inside the nave of the Paradiso church.
Following with Q.U.E.E.N and Electric Lady, Monáe is here to let us know that she is at the top of her game. She delivers an empowering message for all the women, people of colour and LGBTQ+ people in the crowd – “happy pride forever!” – before bringing her now famous vagina trousers for a rendition of PYNK. As she touches herself and invites the attendees to celebrate their bodies there’s a sense of authenticity and intimacy. It’s a feeling that comes up frequently – especially when Monáe interacts with the crowd, with freestyles about gig-goers clothes and haircuts during I Like That, and invitations to get up to the stage and dance during I Got the Juice.
The final blow comes when Monáe reappears for an impressive ’80s influenced lit by a single purple light. The reference is clear: it’s an homage to her former mentor, Prince. After all, Paradiso was the last Dutch venue in which he played, and Make Me Feel is most likely one of the last songs he co-produced. As she comes back onstage to sing Americans, Janelle Monáe delivers a heartfelt speech about love and resistance. Her dancers kneel during a spoken word bridge which rejects America’s gender pay gap, queerphobia, police brutality and classism. A fitting track to end a performance which makes clear that there is no place for hatred and intolerance in Monáe’s vision for America.