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Photo Essay by Andy Witchger: Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer Tour at Minneapolis’ State Theatre

Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer is an homage to the marginalized: women, people struggling with their sexuality, black Americans victimized by racial violence and police brutality. While those themes permeate her earlier output and more recent public activism, they’ve often been the subtext, or presented by Monáe’s alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather.

Fittingly, for the first time in Monáe’s storied career, the subject of her most recent work is herself. “A lot of this album,” she told Rolling Stone, “is a reaction to the sting of what it means to hear people in my family say, ‘All gay people are going to hell’… I want young girls, young boys, nonbinary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you.”

On July 3, Monáe channeled those feelings of vulnerability and ostracization into a tour de force at the State Theatre in Minneapolis. She tore through a decade’s worth of hits, while flexing powerful vocals, tightly choreographed dance moves and her singular visual style.

Monáe has graced stages in Minneapolis many times before, but never to this sort of reception. She paid her dues playing smaller clubs and half-filled venues over the years, never failing to deliver a captivating performance. This time, the historic theatre’s seats were barely touched by a sell-out crowd that danced in the aisles through the final encore.

Monáe paused throughout the night, using her platform to voice increasingly confident calls to political action. “We fight for women’s rights. We fight for minority rights. We fight for poor folks’ rights. We fight for immigrants’ rights. Most of all, we fight for love.”

Despite the celebratory atmosphere and the crowd’s raucous enthusiasm, it was clearly an emotional night for Monáe. Tears mixed with sweat as she reflected on the fact that, for the first time, she was performing in Minneapolis without her collaborator and cheerleader Prince in attendance. “There’s so much love in here tonight. This place means something so special to me,” she shared, as the final notes of “Electric Lady” pulsed through the room. “Our hero, Prince. Always and forever.”

Setlist:

“Dirty Computer”

“Crazy, Classic, Life”

“Take a Byte” with “(Not Just) Knee Deep” Outro

“Screwed” with “Say It Loud” Outro

“Django Jane”

“Q.U.E.E.N.”

“Electric Lady”

“PrimeTime” with “Purple Rain” Outro

“Pynk”

“Yoga”

“I Like That”

“Don’t Judge Me”

“Make Me Feel” with “I Got the Feelin'” Outro

“I Got the Juice”

“Cold War”

“Tightrope”

Encore:

“So Afraid”

“Americans”

Andy Witchger (@andywitchger) is a naturalist, photographer and concert junkie from Minneapolis. You can find his work in City Pages, The Current and on his mom’s refrigerator.

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