Song of the Week: Janelle Monáe Designs a Sensual Utopia on “Lipstick Lover”

Song of the Week delves into the fresh songs we just can’t get out of our heads. Find these tracks and more on our Spotify Top Songs playlist, and for our favorite new songs from emerging artists, check out our Spotify New Sounds playlist. This week, Janelle Monáe gets sensual with the reggae-tinged “Lipstick Lover.”

Janelle Monáe has been waiting for this moment. In the five years since the singer, songwriter, and actress released her highly conceptual third album Dirty Computer, she’s starred in TV shows and high-profile films, performed at the Academy Awards, and published her own book. Now, she’s stepping back up to the microphone for her upcoming fourth album, The Age of Pleasure, set for release on June 9th.

The second single off The Age of Pleasure is “Lipstick Lover,” and it’s a bubbling, sensual turn from Monáe. The laid-back reggae groove suits her silky voice and creates a slow-motion feel that entrances and seduces. As always, Monáe demonstrates her vocal prowess whenever necessary, zipping through expressive pre-chorus runs and letting her aching alto stretch out like taffy. “Lipstick Lover” feels designed for a summer evening spent in a jacuzzi; smoke and steam rise to form dazzling shapes, the person you feel most connected to inching closer and closer.

Much of this is also due to “Lipstick Lover”‘s pleasure-filled, NSFW music video. Throughout, Monáe sings directly to a woman’s bare butt, poses topless with a cigar in hand, is showered with a barrage of vibrators and dildos, and participates in bacchanalian activities. There are luscious fruits, bright flowers, crystal blue pools, and lots of kissing. It all melds perfectly with Monáe’s mission: there is liberation and comfort in the expression of queer desire, a Black utopia that prioritizes safety and euphoria, exploration and release.

It’s a logical continuation from Dirty Computer, which felt both nostalgic and futuristic all in the same breadth. But “Lipstick Lover” is less concerned is much more languid, hazy, and warm, surrendering to the present moment and relishing in immediate pleasure. If “Lipstick Lover” is any indication, she knows exactly how to satisfy her audience — and her lovers — to keep them coming back for more.

— Paolo Ragusa
Associate Editor