Friday, March 9th, 2018

Janelle Monáe – Make Me Feel

Welcome to the sidebar, Ms. Monáe, and also Prince!


Julian Axelrod: I don’t love the idea of an exciting young talent previewing her album with full-on Prince cosplay in 2018. But if you’re going to pay homage, you can’t do much better than this: a full-bodied, outrageously infectious funk jam that only breaks eye contact to shoot a flirty wink. It’s the kind of expertly calibrated, relentlessly catchy pop song that’s easy to nitpick, but hard to resist. There are a million perfect little details in here, but I’m obsessed with that ominous synth on the pre-chorus. It perfectly captures the mix of dread and excitement that comes with a creeping infatuation, like the horny equivalent of reaching the top of a rollercoaster. If my score seems a little high, keep in mind that I’m factoring in the instant-classic queer fever dream music video and the grandmas I’ll see dancing to this at countless weddings to come.

Katie Gill: When Prince passed away, all his esoteric love energy flew RIGHT into Janelle Monae. So many artists have done a ‘try to do Prince’ phase but only Janelle Monae has succeeded at it. And yet it still sounds like Monae! You can straight up trace this back to her earlier work with The Archandroid saga even with the obvious Prince influences. But this song! It sounds amazing! That guitar, that beat, the way Monae’s voice lilts and falls over each phrase, it’s all beautiful. She sounds amazing and she sounds like she’s having such a good time. But most importantly, this song’s sexy as all hell. If you’re going to do a song like this, you can’t half-ass it and Monae goes above and beyond the sexy call of duty.

Alex Clifton: “Make Me Feel” has it all. It’s slinky, it’s sexy, it’s both intimate in the verse with the isolated vocals and the clicking percussion while going hard for the chorus. The Prince comparisons are inevitable and well-earned; the Purple One is in heaven dancing to this, I just know it, smiling down on Ms. Monáe with real joy. I’ll have fun partying to this on earth for the rest of the year. Happy 20gayteen, y’all.

Thomas Inskeep: She’s flirted with Princely territory before, but never so explicitly (pun intended). The more you play this, the more you hear his influence — but yet, it’s simultaneously all Monáe. This stripped-down funk workout (think a slightly embellished “Kiss”) might well be the best thing I’ve ever heard from her. 

Jonathan Bradley: Monáe has done Prince pastiche before, but never so artlessly, so bereft of intent. The inert funk resists movement entirely, like one of those dreams where you try to run but are frozen in place. “I’m powerful with a little bit of tender/An emotional sexual bender” is telling-not-showing, a product pitch that refuses her opening instruction: “Don’t make me spell it out.” 

Katherine St Asaph: Here, finally, it is: after years of “homages” suggesting our Prince might forever remain in another castle, a track that invokes him not via vague funk and dutiful sexiness but through virtuosic glee in musicianship and uncontained, full-throated libido. And unlike too many inferior homages it doesn’t rely on its pastiche; the squelchy track, like soap on rubber, Monae’s sly chromatic verse-endings and the bridge breakdown would be revelatory even for someone who hadn’t heard a note of Prince. In a just world “Filthy” would slink away from the universe in shame.

Rebecca A. Gowns: Prince would love this. No ripping off here; it’s a total homage. On top of the production, the slinky vocals, the guitar riffs — all lovely — Janelle Monae adds more than a few cherries on top, like the tripping-down-the-stairs notes in the pre-chorus, and all the funky stuff happening in the chorus in the last third of the song. Love it.

Stephen Eisermann: Leave it to Janelle to show JT just how to properly honor Prince while remaining true to your own artistry. On “”Make Me Feel,” Janelle’s swag is dripping off of every word she sings and the production is so funky that it’s easy to look past the pretty elementary lyrics. Her voice and the wub-wubs work in tandem and it’s all so delicious.

Will Adams: A lot of the attention to “Make Me Feel” has focused on the Prince influence, but it’s hard for me to look past the looming specter of Tranter, Michaels, Mattman & Robin. Their formula of close mic’d whispers and clicked percussion — most prominently displayed on “Hands to Myself” and “Bad Liar” — can be effective, but at this point it’s been done, and I wonder if its strong presence here was at the expense of Janelle’s imagination. The beat acceleration in the middle eight offers a glimpse of that full catharsis she sings about, which just shows how relatively pulled back the rest is. 

Alfred Soto: Still projecting a labored perkiness that reduces her to the unkindest definition of her ArchAndroid moniker, Janelle Monae tightens her funk moves in this exercise in dancing her way out of her constrictions. She remains an android and is still arch about it, but I hear the title of “Make Me Feel” as a prayer. 

Nortey Dowuona: Slippery plasticine bass girds the slight, twinkling guitar and glittering synths while Janelle tiptoes on the ropes with an acrobatic swing.

William John: Sexuality has always been an inscrutable subject for Janelle Monáe. “Make Me Feel” isn’t exactly Cupcakke – as with any moment of Monáe looseness, it’s done scrupulously – but there’s candour here that builds on the inquisitive Sapphism of 2013’s “Q.U.E.E.N.”, expressed with an infectious delirium. The video, full of synchronised legs and fast cuts, is angular and imposingly regal; but the second chorus’ cascading drum, the sine-wave movements of her voice just before each chorus, and the ecstatic ghost of Gloria Ann Taylor manifesting when she hits a big note all suggest the proficient, giddy delight of a somersaulting floor gymnast in full flight. 

Anthony Easton: The overwhelming pushing pleasure of it, from the mouth clicking, to the tidal synths, and the stabbing horns–plus all of the ways her voices work–the whisper and the belt, has a polymorphous quality that is not quite perverse. When she sings about being a “sexual bender”, all of this pleasure centers into a very queer channel. I keep thinking about that idea of bender, and kids these days–their identities more labile, children who refuse the binary, and see someone like Monae, who is butch/femme in ways that are ever blooming, ever variant, and am so overjoyed a hero exists, and is making music about that which cannot be defined. There is a lot of talk about this inheriting Prince, which is inarguable, but it’s as much that as James Brown, Little Richard, Sylvester, or Gladys Bentley.  The music slaps and tickles through a century of black gender variant weirdness, making formal statements about the liquidity of queerish pleasures, but makes sure that one can dance. This is a movement, but one that moves indefatigably through every dance floor it can conquer. 

Reader average: [8.1] (56 votes)

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6 Responses to “Janelle Monáe – Make Me Feel”

  1. Not sure how many 7.0+ scores we need before starting up the sidebar but we officially have 10 for 2018 as of this song

  2. watch the sidebar in the next 24 hours, dear joshua

  3. *look of horror on realising that the reading of “there’s nothing better” that I can’t initially place is Robin Thicke*

  4. where have all the mid-range 7s gone

  5. doot-do, doot-do-do, doot-do-do, doot-do-do…

  6. Prince was actually actively involved in the making of this album: