In pop music, there is this myth of the triple threat. A singer, usually a woman, is expected so sing, dance, and act to be considered a superstar.
To be a woman in pop music means always being asked for more. So she can sing, but can she dance? So she can dance, but can she act? And when she proves herself in all arenas, she is expected to do it all over again by reinventing herself every few years to keep us interested. There is always another finish line for a female celebrity to cross to legitimize herself, whereas society often lauds men for putting on a shirt and showing up at all.
And then there is the new crew of women rewriting the rules, one song at a time. Among them, Victoria Monet. She is a name that you know, even if you think you don’t. Monet has already checked off the boxes that pop music demands of women, and then some. Singer, songwriter, dancer, producer—the list goes on. Not only has she written and contributed to tracks by industry icons like NAS, T.I., Lupe and Ty Dolla, but she’s also written and produced for most of today's top hitmakers, such as Fifth Harmony, Chloe x Halle, and Brandy. She's also written on every Ariana Grande album to date, including penning the biggest song of 2019: the Grammy nominated and absolutely inescapable “7 Rings.”
After writing and producing songs for other pop stars, Monet is finally is about to open the cage and unleash her own new album, Jaguar, into the world on August 7th. The lead singles have teased Jaguar as R&B lacquered with a heavy '70s disco influence. An airtight blend of old-school sounds and shiny production that is a fully realized—dare I say, perfect—blend of ‘70s sounds, ‘90s vocals, and a production that somehow sounds futuristic.
I caught up with Victoria on Zoom amidst a New York heat wave (me) and a pleasant L.A. summer (her). She explained how Jaguar came to life, showed me that she’s already much more than just a triple threat, and—if her plans are any indication at all—how she’ll be adding even more talents to her resumé in the very near future.
How did Jaguar come to life? I know it’s been a while in the making.
I recorded the song “Jaguar” in December 2018, and it was the first song where I felt like, “This is the direction, this is exactly what I had in mind.” Something felt new and fresh about it. The project is a combination of collaborations and friends having fun and exploring sounds. I got to have some fun as far as bringing live instrumentation and being able to direct and produce and just create my own little world.
Tell me about your musical influence for Jaguar. It seems that from the first single, “Ass Like That,” all the way to the latest release, “Experience,” there’s a real heavy ‘70s sound mixed with R&B and pop. Was that intentional?
That was something that I wanted to be distinguishable about my sound. This is just me digging deeper and discovering what it is I love about music.
Originally, I really wanted to attack what I love about ‘90s music. I tried to dig through the musical archives and go to the root of what inspired people that I’m inspired by. Also knowing what my family loves and the music that I grew up on. It’s in my blood to admire Motown, admire the ‘70s, admire these nostalgic records that bands and groups would have. I think that, mixed with the ‘90s R&B influence from our day and age, is what we’re inspired by.
How do you strike this balance of something that feels referential but not derivative?
I didn’t necessarily have that plan when I was making it. I knew that I wanted to attack the ‘70s, and in my head I was really going there. But then listening back, I was like, “The top line is low key a ‘90s R&B influence” with those Janet Jackson harmonies that you love, and then the soft vocals that you would hear in an Aaliyah song, and the juxtaposition of the live, heavy instrumentation that’s so thick and big.
What makes something feel new is a mix of something old with new ingredients. You’ve seen all of things before but when you put them all together it makes a new dish, so I think that’s what the music has done; it’s presented a new dish to people. It’s familiar and nostalgic enough to be like “oh, I can hear this and hear that," which I think it’s helpful—for someone to hear something that they’ve heard before but then connect nuances to it that feel fresh.
What was it like realizing the whole world was about to go into an indefinite lockdown before you were meant to release an album?
When lockdown first happened, we all thought, “Okay, two weeks, we’ll be safe, and then everything will go back to normal.” I was going to release the project on my birthday, May 1st, but when that started approaching, we realized that this was a little more permanent than we anticipated, so that’s when we started to push.
It’s bigger than me. The world needed that time to humanize and address certain things and really have certain conversations that needed to be had.
I think it allowed us a level playing field to take some time to yourself without the guilt. I think we’re so used to waking up, going to get it. That’s the hard-working way. It’s like, if you’re not working, then you’re lazy. But the point of life is happiness—it’s not work.
I think my project is coming out when it’s supposed to come out. As hard as it was for me to be patient about, I believe it’s coming out at the right time. It’s really God’s plan. I have no control. This has been a humbling experience for all of us. Like, you thought you had a plan.
You’re known as a songwriter and a performer, but many people don’t know that you also vocal produce as well. Can you talk about being a young woman wearing multiple hats in the studio?
It’s really cool. Well actually, I guess I should say it can be a good and a bad thing that guys are surprised you hop behind the computer and are running Pro Tools. It’s like, I know what you’re doing and I can do this, too, fine. But it’s unfortunate that it’s a surprise, because I guess just means that it’s not normal.
It definitely has made me appreciate an engineer more because there are so many things that I still can’t do, and so many troubleshooting issues that I wouldn’t be able to solve without somebody’s help, so that makes me appreciate what they’re doing. I think it’s important for people to switch roles and understand how hard and important each person’s job is.
Does writing songs for other people make writing for yourself from your own perspective intimidating at times?
When it’s your music, the release night hits different. There’s a little more anxiety than celebration until you see a couple nice comments and then you’re like “okay, fine, they like it.” You know?
I guess it’s just a form of vulnerability when you’re writing for yourself. You’re not the Wizard of Oz hiding behind the curtain anymore, you’re the little man that comes out asking, can you love me for me?
Now that your record is here, what’s next?
It’s interesting. I have a Part 2 and a Part 3 completed already, so when I’m working on new music, it’s gonna be for a project that’s even after Jaguar.
But I’m always working and wanting to do the next thing, so there’s something in me that really knows the value of momentum, and I don’t ever want to be in a place where I put out a project and I’ve exhausted all music. I want to always have the next thing ready.
As a Black queer woman, do you feel like you had role models when you were younger? And people you could see yourself and say “that’s what I want.”
I think growing up, I didn’t. I wasn’t really exposed to any of that, and you didn’t really hear it talked about openly unless was non-Black. I didn’t really hear it in my community. It was kind of frowned upon. Church was a strong barrier, too, to be honest.
Coming to L.A. was kind of a shift for me. Going into the music industry, opening my eyes and having friends that represent the same things, and learning later that some of my favorite people identify as queer—I wish I would have known that, because I think that would have helped me come out sooner. But I can’t really blame or judge someone for what they were or were not comfortable doing. We don’t know what their position was.
I just want to be brave enough to be that for someone else. I don’t want that to be the headline, or something that necessarily defines me, but I feel like I have to talk about it until it’s more normalized, so that when they come across me, they’re more clear on that. Just so they can see themselves because I feel like that doesn’t necessarily define me and my music. Looking at heterosexual people, they’re not out there announcing their sexuality, but until it’s normalized and until you see us in higher places of power I feel like it’s important for us to shout this out so the next conversation feels safe and comfortable.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I feel like I have so much to achieve but really my focus right now is getting to a place of representation where people who are Black women in the LGBTQ+ community can see someone who looks like them and feels like them in a really successful place. And happy. And able to fight through any negativity thrown their way. So I think that’s my first check mark. And I don’t know that that’s a check mark, to be honest—I think that’s a forever fight.
I also want to be in a position where I can reach people and bring them up with me and put them in positions of power. I feel like that comes from being fulfilled yourself, so you can have that leverage and that ability to help other people.
But beyond music, I do see a career in film, a career in beauty, even in the future, probably having a family and doing children’s music, and family books, and all kinds of other things that music would be necessary for. I even want to score a film, and I could possibly do that when I’m 40 so things that aren’t as pressing as being on stage performing. So I think my first step is to have this be a really successful window for me to lead to other opportunities, maybe in film, or things I don’t have to break my bones for.