It's hard not to feel the specter of Pharrell's "Happy" looming over "What is Love," the new Janelle Monáe song from the soundtrack of the animated film Rio 2. Like the current No. 1 song in the country, "What is Love" is a blindingly optimistic bit of funk, meant to appeal to anybody who aims to feel good.
Similar to "Happy" on P's new album G I R L, "What is Love" is a bit of an outlier in Monáe's catalog, even with her recent album The Electric Lady streamlining her sound. "What is Love," if anything, is a fleshed-out version of that album's itchy "Dance Apocalyptic," with some drum-circle percussion thrown in to emphasize that this is a song for a movie about a rainforest.
But "What Is Love" has a winning chorus and an uplifting breakdown. It might be "Happy" redux, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.