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At Lollapalooza, Janelle Monae a hotshot, a heroine and (oddly) not a headliner

Provocative set is full of engaging video reels, five costume changes and fancy foot choreography.

Janelle Monae performs on Day 2 of Lollapalooza in Grant Park, Aug. 2, 2019.
Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

There was only one flaw in Janelle Monae’s perfect, indulgent, provocative Lollapalooza set on Friday night — that she wasn’t a headliner. With all the flak that national festival organizers have received for not booking more female talent in the finale spot, Lollapalooza had the perfect chance to do so with Monae, who easily performed the best show of the weekend so far.

Filled with geometric staging, engaging video reels, five costume changes (including Monae’s fabulous vagina pants from her “Pynk” music video) and fancy foot choreography, the set was — like Monae herself — next level.

But it also had a purpose. Opening with “Crazy Sexy Life” into the double entendre hit “Screwed,” Monae’s set was classic anthemic pop with a side of social justice. “We are fighting for the rights of women, for trans women, for reproductive rights, for the LGBTQ+ community, for those with disabilities, for working-class folks, for black folks,” she said, after a few lines of her emotional number “Cold War,” her heart audibly in her throat.

“This is from a proud queer black woman from Kansas,” she continued, before declaring President Trump be impeached. Monae’s set was not only daring, it was a safe place and a chance to “celebrate the weirdos.”

The multi-talented performer has come a long way from her “android” days to the vision of an idealist future as an independent performer with a strong voice, a successful business owner (Wondaland Arts) and an award-winning actress (“Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures”). If that doesn’t scream headliner, we’re not sure what the qualifications are anymore.

“I wish I had more time with you,” she said as she jumped down to the crowd level during the hair-raising set ender “Tightrope.” We wish she did too.

Selena Fragassi is a Chicago freelance writer.