Victoria Monét’s speaking voice is incredibly soft. So soft that when we met at a rowdy Soho coffee shop back in February, we had to ditch our table and move to a quieter restaurant around the corner. With bronze shimmer cream dancing on her chest, and baby hairs swiveling up to her slick ponytail, she literally glowed against the drab decor. To meet the demure, laid-back singer in person explains part of why her journey from writer to performer has been a steady, but slow build.
For the better part of a decade, she’s been the magic behind major acts like Dirty Money, T.I., and Fifth Harmony, but now, the sought-after songwriter is ready for a reintroduction — and to focus on her own music.
In the months approaching the would-be release of her highly anticipated EP, Jaguar (originally set for May 1, which also happened to be her 27th birthday), much of the world is shuttered up inside, time blind and struggling toward some semblance of normalcy.
But the sunny singer-songwriter is calm amid the chaos, and took a break from labeling all of the items underneath her kitchen sink to catch up with me on FaceTime from her Los Angeles home. Judging by her perfect brows and pink-nude lip gloss, and weeks into a fruit and vegetable detox, it’s clear that Monét’s has been using this time of productive nesting well. “I bought this wig on Amazon,” she laughs, stroking her blonde tresses on the camera.
She’s had big years before, writing songs for industry titans like Diddy and Nas. And most recently, Monét earned her first four Grammy nominations for writing the hit single, “7 Rings” for her longtime collaborator and best friend Ariana Grande’s No. 1 album, thank u, next. But this past year, Monét has had a momentous flow of releases all of her own: R&B loosies like “Ass Like That,” the slinky, sexy “Moment,” and the 2019 bop “Monopoly,” and a new pleasure-fueled single “Dive.” And now, the forthcoming studio project (it’s finished, and the release is delayed partly due to the pandemic, so now she can’t stop fiddling with it).
With the extra time on her hands, she’s trying to discover more about herself. “I’m just trying to be a better me and look internally since I can’t go outside,” she says. “I’ve been asking myself questions like, What am I afraid of about myself?” Accolades like the ones she’s been awarded so far are often bestowed on artists at the peak of their careers, and while Monét’s been independently dropping music for years, including four earlier EPs, she’s really just getting started.
In 2009, she left her hometown of Sacramento to move to L.A. and join the girl group Purple Reign, put together by producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, but they were dropped from Motown Records before they could even release any music. “I promised myself, When I move to L.A., I’m not going to spend time at a job that I don’t like,” she tells me. She rebounded quickly and found a real footing in songwriting, and has been in steady grind mode ever since. So far, she’s flourished in the comforts of collaboration, but she’s still got eyes on a solo singing career. It’s rare that an artist can maintain both, but Monét thinks she can make enough music to go around. “This moment feels different,” she says. “The light is definitely on.”
Growing up, Monét clung to dance — unlike with singing, she didn’t have to speak up, and she could stay in a group. “I’m not the center of attention,” she says.
Monét’s laugh flashes the tiny diamond crystal gems on her side teeth, as she describes her fidgety, younger self. “I was the kid who was always doing choreography, like, small movements, so it’d look like I’m twitching,” she recalled. “My mom was like, ‘Relax.’”
She finally built up some confidence in high school — she jokingly compared the strain of a rigid private Catholic education and stolen time for the arts to the movie Sister Act II. “I was seeing nuns, but I also wanted to do hip-hop.” And sort of like the movie, she spent too much time at dance rehearsals, often to the ire of her mother. “I would stay in rehearsals until 2 a.m. and my mom was so mad at me she’d kick me out of the house,” Monét said. “I was like, ‘Mom, it’s not like I’m going to get pregnant. All my friends are having sex and doing all this stuff. I’m just trying to dance!’”
She didn’t start out so fearless with singing. When she first started singing, Monét would sometimes have to turn her back to the audience in order to quell her anxiety. It took years to overcome her shyness and write her first song, “Give Me All You Got,” which advised a lover to step up to the plate and get some pleasure. She’s been making flirtatious, sex-positive anthems ever since. Suddenly, her eyes light up when she connects the early sensuality in her first tune with the same sentiment in her recent songs. “Wow, fuck me up. I’m literally the same person, I haven’t changed,” she says.
Monét’s music is a well of tender feels. It affirms the listener with ease and celebrates women having agency, especially in the bedroom. Her songs center intimate relationships of all kinds — it doesn’t matter if the anthems are about self-love, close friendships, or sex, Monét’s dulcet tone and power-packed vocal range feels like it reaches back and pull vibes from pivotal R&B eras of the ’70s and ’90s.
Some artists would have been deterred by the pace of the budding star’s career. For Monét, songwriting was a way to make money in an expensive city after a dissolved girl group left her with no 9-to-5 or side hustle. While she enjoyed it — and found success relatively quickly — going all-in on writing for other artists was always meant to be a pit stop on her way to establishing solo stardom. “My artistry has always been about survival, but it was always secondary because songwriting took off faster for me,” she told The Fader last year. “One of my goals was to write like a really big song and once ‘7 Rings’ came, I think it allowed me to feel more comfortable to take time off of writing for other people and spend a month straight making my own songs. I’d never … taken the time to dive into what I actually love about music.”
In an industry that often makes artists see each other as competitors, Monét believes she’ll always be able to create enough music for herself and others, although there were records that were harder to part with than others. Watching someone else perform your song is an understated sacrifice of songwriting, and in the past, Monét has had to face the reality that some industry executives are less likely to take a chance on debuting a song with an emerging artist.
“If [the new artist] writes a great song, how do the execs know that they’ll be able to make any money off of it? Unless you give it to a superstar or someone who has a team. So there were some moments where, actually, I had to swallow that, which ended up being for the best, because I can always write another song, you know?”
And then along came Ariana Grande. The two met as Grande was transitioning out of what Monét calls Grande’s “Nickelodeon era.” After collaborating on Grande’s 2013 debut album Yours Truly, the two artists grew to call each other “soul-friends” and have been working together ever since. There’s a nice mix of playfulness and deep transparency that the two showcase in their music together, which tend to be sultry bops and teary ballads about dating and heartbreak. In the studio, they try to keep the reminders of massive fame to a minimum and allow their chemistry to just flow. “It feels very conversational and free. For Ari, if the song comes it comes. The first idea is a great idea,” she tells me.
A few weeks before we met in February, Monét sat in the audience at the Grammys, perched next to Grande in a tangerine-colored gown with a hip-high slit. Both left without a win. “It’s kind of a tease,” she says thinking about the show. She sees the Recording Academy nods as stepping stones to what’s to come, and while she’s gracious, she doesn’t want to settle for just being in the room.
Monét beams as she describes her new tunes on Jaguar as, “Living in a funky ’70s world that’s very black, very sensual, and honest. The theme is women owning their sexuality.” On “Ass Like That,” an assertive single that she dropped late last year, Monét takes what could have been just a poppy workout track, and adds explicit lyrics (read: lots of references to her booty) with a delicate, chilled-out melody.
And she didn’t waste much time moping after the Grammy’s before dropping “Moment,” a sexy groove that previewed the grown-up and elevated sound that defines her upcoming project. As an independent artist, a lot of Monét’s previous releases were sporadic because she had to use the money she made from writing to fund her own music alone. “Dive,” her latest single, feels like a return on her investment.
“This song is for us,” she tells me with a smirk. “It’s about getting head.” Making brash songs about sex is a popular formula. Monét is following in the footsteps of female artists — from Megan Thee Stallion to Rihanna, Cardi B, and Lizzo — who all display a similar sense of empowerment and braggadocio.
“This is our version of pleasure and it celebrates and invites someone to do that, whether it be male or female — however you play. This is the anthem for that,” she explains. “Whether it be talking about how I feel about women or saying exactly what I want sexually. I want that [fierceness] to resonate with a lot of women.” In 2018, Monét came out as bisexual. After addressing her relationship status after a major breakup, she sent an impromptu tweet with the closing line, “I also like girls. Thank U, Bye.”
Jaguar was set to come out in early spring, but now Monét can’t stop polishing it. She’s holding onto her music, and hopefully, when it’s released, people will still be ready to anoint their songs of the summer (if there will be a summer, what are seasons anyway?). She’s been getting a lot closer to the guy she’s been dating during quarantine, and says she’ll likely end up writing a song about him. “We were dating before, but this is making it a little more serious. It’s low-key like, Wow, you’d risk your life for me?” she laughs.
When I asked her how she chose a name for the project she said, “There’s such a sex appeal about it and such a hunger, but also strategy. They move with such purpose when they want something and they’re also easily camouflaged.” For Monét the connection to the jaguar is a sort of hoped-for alter ego, a symbol of the transformation she wants to make — soft-spoken songwriter to beautiful beast. “They’re not always in the limelight, but they’re there. That’s how I feel as an artist and a songwriter in this music world. I’m more in the background. But then if I want something, I really learn and transform into that beast that’s focused and centered and wants to go get what I’ve had my eye on.” She’s not-so-subtly marking her moment.