Janelle Monae Credit: Courtesy Atlantic Records

After Rolling Stone published its April cover story on shape-shifting pop musician and actor Janelle Monáe on the release of her third album, Dirty Computer (Wondaland/Bad Boy/Atlantic), it felt like every traffic-hungry news outlet cherry-picked the quotes where she opens up about her sexuality. Monáe’s transparency about being pansexual is well and good, but in the midst of stories that boiled her statements down to one cheap talking point—for example, the Washington Post piece headlined “Janelle Monáe comes out as ‘pansexual’—what does that mean?”—a lot of the nuance of the record was lost in the mix. That’s unfortunate, especially with an album that far transcends any one narrow focus. I found it particularly enlightening to learn that Monáe’s roles in Moonlight and Hidden Figures—both critically acclaimed films that examine untold stories about black life in the U.S.—inspired her to open up about her personal life. Monáe knew how to make art that reflected humanity long before she began her acting career (even when she cast herself as a humanlike robot for her debut full-length, 2010’s The ArchAndroid); now, by drawing on pieces of her own narrative, she’s given Dirty Computer a more vivid sense of real-world life. That vibe comes through in the music as well: throughout the record Monáe and a wide cast of contributors—members of her Wondaland Arts Collective, plus Mr. Hudson, Brian Wilson, Zoe Kravitz, Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder—blend hip-hop, neo-soul, modern funk, tropical pop, and anything else that can make music feel as real as flesh. That’s the case with the minimal-funk bounce of the Grimes-assisted single “Pynk,” on which Monáe makes no bones about her sexuality but also doesn’t trap herself within one idea either.   v