Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Janelle Monáe and Stephen Colbert remember partying with the Obamas, dance on the Late Show desk

Stephen Colbert, Janelle Monáe
Screenshot: The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

With her third album, Dirty Computer, touching down on Earth this week, singer, actress, and high priestess of funky Afrofuturism Janelle Monáe sat down with Stephen Colbert on Friday’s Late Show. At least, she sat for a while, before accepting Colbert’s invitation to join him on his desk to recreate both her famous desk-dance on the old Late Show with David Letterman, and Colbert and Monáe first meeting, when they danced together at the White House at President Barack Obama’s 55th birthday party. “It’s an impossible story to tell without sounding like a jerk,” Colbert confided in Monáe, before name-dropping the other famous attendees (Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Ellen Degeneres, um, Usher) and explaining how thrilled he was when Monáe “like , three feet off the floor,” zoomed in to join him on the dance floor. Said Monáe, “There is nobody who knows how to party like my forever President, Barack Obama.”

Speaking of presidents, without ever naming the inexplicable current occupant of the White House, Monáe called the night she spent dancing there, “the end of the better days.” That segued seamlessly into a discussion of her work, where her lifelong, Twilight Zone-inspired love of science fiction has seen her spin gorgeously harrowing musical sci-fi allegories of dystopian oppression and revolution. Speaking of Afrofuturism, Monáe told Colbert, “It allows us as black people to see ourselves in the future and know that we make it. Know that we’re not the first people gone when something goes down.” Citing other black sci-fi writers like Octavia Butler and the recent film Black Panther as particularly inspirational to her work, Monáe—who later performed the hell out Dirty Computer’s rousing, anthemic “Americans”—also cited mentor Stevie Wonder for informing her dystopian visions with love.

Referring to herself as “a young black queer woman who grew up to working class parents,” Monáe explained that Wonder’s example is sometimes hard to follow when she tries to “love the people who you feel like that, as a woman, are trying to trample on your rights.” Starting out her performance of “Americans” on Colbert’s desk once more, Monáe sang and danced with her signature sparkling exuberance, even as her explanation of her album’s title echoed in the song’s brashly defiant lyrics. As she told Colbert, her brand of sci-fi futurism asserts that the marginalized (members of the LGBTQIA community, black women, immigrants) “don’t need to be reprogrammed or deprogrammed—we’re fine how we are. We too are American.”


Share This Story

About the author

Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.