On Friday, April 27, 2018, Janelle Monáe unveiled the Emotion Picture “Dirty Computer” along with the accompanying album. The visual portion of the album begins with Jane57821, played by Monáe, being carried into a large room. Behind a pane of two-way glass, in front of a holographic panel, sit two operators, called cleaners. A female voice commands Jane to repeat the phrase, “I am a dirty computer. I am ready to be cleaned.” When she refuses, a gas called Nevermind is released, filling the room and rendering Jane unconscious. The cleaners then begin sifting through and deleting all memories.
The first memory occurs on the backdrop of the album’s second track, “Crazy, Classic Life.” The visuals show an array of people, who in this setting are called “computers,” in celebration together despite their differences. The celebrations are interrupted by the police who, like the government of this narrative, view anyone deviating from the status quo as “bugged,” in need of cleaning.
After the first memory is erased and the Nevermind wears off, Jane meets MerryApple53, played by Tessa Thompson, whom she never thought she would see again after being captured by police. She is subsequently horrified that MerryApple does not have any recollection of her.
“Take A Byte” is the theme of the next visual, in which we see more of what is involved in the cleansing process. This results in Jane being more willing to be cleaned, even if it is subconsciously against her will.
The next memory we see is of Jane waking up on a rooftop with a small group of people that were present during “Crazy, Classic, Life.” Shortly after waking, they realize that the government has spotted them using a “robo-cop.” The appearance of the police cues the beginning of the next song “Screwed,” featuring Zoë Kravitz. The song details the anger and hopelessness the group feels as they continue to run from the authorities. MerryApple is captured, much to tJane’s horror, who has to be held down as MerryApple is carted away.
The next scene the cleaners watch is set against the backdrop of the first lead single, “Django Jane.” This is where the tone of the album changes from angry and hopeless to celebratory. The lyrics are of interest to note here. It is a direct statement of why women are powerful in their own right as well as a reminder that they can own that strength alone and as a unit.
After this scene plays, one of the cleaners, played by Jonah Lee, recognizes that what he has just seen is not a memory. He questions if it is a dream. The content is actually a belief. The younger cleaner is hesitant to delete this but does so under the direction of his superior, played by Dyson Posey.
It is then revealed that Jane is in The House of the New Dawn. The bugs or dirt being removed were the qualities and beliefs that made each person unique. To ensure the process was thorough, and all traces of personality were deleted, there was ample use of the Nevermind.
“Pynk,” another song synonymous with the celebration of the woman, plays during another segment of Jane’s memory. This is quickly followed by “Make Me Feel,” the album’s second lead single.
The deletion of this memory confirms the suspicions that started to appear during “Django Jane.” The House of New Dawn strips away the very essence of all the “dirty computers” that end up there.
Jane then confesses to MerryApple that she knows she is losing herself, and she does not want that to happen. MerryApple tries to comfort Jane by encouraging her to accept the process. When Jane resists, MerryApple states that she has no choice. At this point it is apparent the conversation, as well as the tattoo that adorns Jane’s right wrist that she discovers during an examination after a cleaning session, has triggered something.
The following scene plays to “I Like That.” The visuals and the lyrics scream a self-confidence that is not easily rocked. It is a celebration of differences and uniqueness.
Again, the younger cleaner questions whether to delete what he sees or not, as he definitively knows that this was not a memory. This is a personality trait, again confirming the stripping away of the essence of the computers. The older cleaner is more forceful this time in getting his subordinate to delete everything.
We also realize that MerryApple’s, who we find out is actually named Zen, cleansing is starting to wear off. She confesses to Mother Victoria, who runs the House of New Dawn and is played by Michelle Hart, that her conversations with Jane are triggering memories long since erased.
In the next of Jane’s memories the cleaners reveal that Jane’s own memory is resurfacing, as the younger cleaner says, “I thought we deleted this beach stuff already.”
After the deletion, we see Zen stroking the tattoo she placed on Jane, who wakes up and realizes that Zen remembers her.
The next scene is what is called The Walk, the final step to becoming “clean” and ascending to the role of Torch, much like Zen is as MerryApple. She falls, and Zen aids her into a chamber that fills with what looks to be Nevermind but does not enter her system like usual.
The following scene shows the man from Jane’s memories, named Ché, played by Jayson Aaron, waking up from his first Nevermind and memory deletion session. He instantly recognizes Jane, who now calls herself MerryApple54.
The post credits scene reveals Zen has rigged the recovery room to fill with Nevermind. She tosses Jane and Ché gas masks to protect them from the effects of Nevermind. When everyone is asleep, they make their way out of the facility to the anthem of the last track, “American.”
This emotion picture was a master class on social commentary. The visuals and lyrics were directly related to many issues such as gender equality, race relations and racial equality and the strength of the woman. The finesse here is that it does not aim to name individual offenders but also does not make sweeping generalizations of any group either. It is done from a specific perspective, that of Janelle Monáe, as she relates her views on the current state of affairs that the world is facing.