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Janelle Monáe’s new music video, “Make Me Feel,” opens with the singer gloriously decked out in ’80s apparel, walking into the kind of club that exists only on TV screens. She looks nervous. The lights are low, and the synth is pulsing in anticipation. The tension is palpable. Then Monáe runs into her water-gun wielding alter ego and the lyrics start—that’s when “Make Me Feel” starts to get interesting.
The rest of the music video is a montage of explicitly Prince-inspired clips, each one brighter and more surreal than the last. There’s a scene where Monáe dances in sheer rose-covered pants among girls doing aerobics. Later, she writhes under a clingy bubblegum-pink sheet. It’s all very sexy, very ’80s, and very Prince. For a video about raw emotion, “Make Me Feel” is surprisingly composed—often Monáe is the only one moving, working around her dancers’ bodies like they’re a set of neon props. The video has an exhibitionary quality to it, with Monáe playing a charming explorer-guide to ’80s sex appeal.
What “Make Me Feel” is not, however, is objectifying or derivative. Monáe takes some risks (the direct allusions to Prince, the sexual physicality) and owns them completely. She is treating bodies as objects, and she is borrowing overtly from previous artists. Instead of coming off as crass, the result is fresh and alluring. At least in part, this appeal stems from the video’s sexual politics. Monáe is a girl who places herself in romantic situations with both girls (or one girl, actress Tessa Thompson) and men. The top YouTube comment for “Make Me Feel” says it all: “BI ANTHEM.”
Monáe is also simply too powerful a presence to come across as subservient or unoriginal. This is not a video about girls, for boys—it is a video by and for girls alone, especially girls who are outside the confines of the white feminine ideal. This is a song about liberation, where “liberation” means empowerment instead of lowered inhibitions. Throughout, Monáe remains masterfully in control of her image. “Make Me Feel” is less explicitly robotic than the artist’s earlier efforts—her debut album was titled “The ArchAndroid”—but it retains a touch of mechanical composure. Her gestures are often subtle, mirroring a video where the chorus fades into an understated, raspy mutter. In short: Monáe runs this song. Especially when coupled with her other recent single, “Django Jane,” it’s a masterclass in black female empowerment.
But the single best thing about “Make Me Feel” is how fun it is. Monáe is no musical lightweight, and her newest video feels like a talented artist out to have a good time. She wears skin-tight silver pants. She slinks around her backup dancers’ thighs. Possibly the video’s strongest scenes are when Monáe, wearing an oversized suit jacket and black tights, dances around an empty stage like anyone else might in the safety of her room. It’s funny. It’s infectious. And if the video rises to prominence in the coming months, this will be why. In “Make Me Feel,” Janelle Monáe has created something feel-good, and watchable, and incredibly fun to watch.
—Staff Writer Iris M. Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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