The most original new piece of science fiction this week might not be a major motion picture or a television show. Pop artist Janelle Monáe has a new “emotion picture,” concept album and its playing before some screenings of Black Panther.
On Friday, Monáe released a trailer for her new project — “Dirty Computer” — a mash-up of a short film, music video and concept album. Co-starring Westworld and Thor: Ragnarok actress Tessa Thompson, the trailer imagines a bleak and arresting dystopic science fiction future. In it, it appears that certain characters minds are either being erased or uploaded into some kind of Black Mirror-esque dream world.
The entire “emotion picture” is playing ahead of some Black Panther screenings, and is expected to have a larger release very soon.
Sci-fi concept albums are, of course, nothing new. From the Alan Parsons Project record I, Robot, to almost everything put out by Daft Punk, blending futuristic concepts with edgy music often results in explosive and interesting projects. But, what makes “Dirty Computer” feel new is that it blends an old-school Eighties cyberpunk vibe, with a kind of emergent Afrofuturism.
Putting “Dirty Computer ahead of Black Panther* makes sense, too. Though the latter is way more upbeat and optimistic than “Dirty Computer,” both are sending a strong message about the future of visual science fiction: Afrofuturism is clearly here to stay, and the various forms it takes are poised to be extremely diverse and unlike nothing sci-fi fans have seen before.
Black Panther is out in wide release. “Dirty Computer” has yet to be released in its entirety online but is expected very soon.