Victoria Monét: “My music could be put on a coffee table to start discussions”

Jenessa Williams meets the LA songwriter-cum-soloist who is set for big things.

As someone who has been hard at work for a decade, introducing Victoria Monét feels like something of a strange exercise. Even those not familiar with her name will know her work; as one of the US’s premiere songwriters, her talents have provided hits for the likes of Ariana Grande, Fifth Harmony and Nas, giving her the confidence to finally take the spotlight for herself.

With her first-full length project ‘Jaguar’ set for August 7 release, we caught up with Victoria to chat star signs, sexual confidence and knowing when to step aside for a Lioness…

Let’s take things all the way back to your first musical beginnings – who was the first artist to really pique your interest in performing?

I truly felt like Michael Jackson was mine. We didn’t have cable to watch, but one of my uncles sent me a tape of his show and I completely coveted it, just watching one of his tours over and over. My mom was a single mom working really hard so I spent a lot of time with my grandma, and one of her songs that I really connected to was ‘My Girl’ by The Temptations. I was also born in May, like they say in the song, and it just made me feel really good. I’ve always had a place in my heart for oldies music and vintage things, but also someone who is a strong performer. People who can sing and dance – you know, just all-round entertainment.

That May birthday – would you say you’re a classic Taurus?

I think so. It always makes me laugh when people bring up our first trait as stubbornness, but I kind of like to look at it as being strong-willed. A lot of the traits definitely apply to me – the loyalty and the warm, loving energy, just wanting to cuddle all the time, but also being really focused and determined. When a Taurus wants to do something, they’re gonna make it happen!

You started out as a teenager, moving to LA to join a girl group before you found your way into songwriting. It’s a ruthless industry at the best of times. How did you develop the confidence to stick your vision?

With the girl group in particular, it was really necessary for my first experiences in the studio to be with other women, like a sisterhood. They were older than me and more experienced singers, so I learnt a lot about harmonising, singing better runs and getting used to living with other people. Working with LaShawn Daniels – rest in peace – he worked with Michael Jackson, he worked with Brandy on ‘Full Moon’… all of those harmonies and the way he produced vocals still stands to this day when I vocal produce other people and myself. On the business side of things, I’m blessed to have gotten out of that, but as far as an experience, I really think it was a strong growing point for me.

People might not know that you’ve always been making music for yourself as well as for other artists, but why do you think now felt like the right time to go-full pelt towards being a soloist in your own right?

This is the first time where I’ve had the confidence to take time away from writing for other people to just focus on myself. I was drawn towards being in the music industry in any way that would accept me. I was really, really good at songwriting and I would get into a lot of rooms and be allowed opportunities because of that, much more so than me saying, “I’m an artist”.

I think I’d just leaned into that narrative and got myself into a lucrative space, but performing was always what I loved to do. Everything happens in the right time – a lot of the things I do in my artist career, I’ve learned from seeing other artists operate. It’s been a long but necessary journey. I don’t think my music would have been as good if I had just focused on artistry from the beginning.

Jaguar’ certainly seems to be you finding your feet – the lyrics are so celebratory of female sexual agency and desire, totally free of the shame that is so often placed upon young women, particularly those of colour. Have you always been confident in this area?

I didn’t feel comfortable to say what I really wanted to say for a long time. I think that why I’ve really leant on performance, because it felt like an opportunity for me to change characters, to put on this brave seductress hat and then come off stage and go back into being a more shy and quiet person. Music gives me the opportunity to talk about sex, but I’m still learning even in interviews how to actually say the words. I still feel like I’m growing, but I’m also trying encourage other people to kind of skip over some of the hesitation that I originally had. It’s a cultural thing, how women are raised to cross their legs and keep their shoulders back and heads up while men can say anything  – it’s like “males, go have sex with anyone you want, being a pimp is fine”. I wanted to flip the script and be like, well, it’s our bodies, and we can do what we want and talk about them how we want as well. I feel like my music could be the music you put on a coffee table to start discussions. I like that.

There’s a lot of emphasis on bisexual artists to speak to their experiences in ways that can sometimes become a bit objectifying – are you keen to use your platform to speak more about sexuality or would you rather it just be treated as the fact that it is?

Right now, I’m OK with it being something that is spoken about, because it’s not visible enough to be seen as normal. It almost feels like back in the 60s when more headline would be “black artist does this”, but there are so many of us that are successful now… I’m hoping to be alive to witness a time where sexuality is the same way, but for now, I’m okay with it as long as it’s not reductive. My music says so much more about me than who and what type of person that I would lay down with. But for now, I’m cool. I want people to feel included and for younger people to be able to easily pick me out of the bunch as someone who feels like them. I want to be loud about it, but also come to the day where it’s normal enough where it doesn’t have to be the headline.

Talking about your single, ‘Moment’, you described it as a song that sums up the feeling of playing a claw machine and finally getting hold of the bear that you’ve wanted for so long. Does the bear in question know the song is about them? 

No, the person has no idea! I mean, they might assume, but I don’t remember having a conversation. There’s a song on the project called ‘Touch’ which a different person knows is about them, and it’s actually almost therapeutic – like speaking a second language and being able to let someone know how you feel. They were very happy – it’s a positive song! I’ve had a song about an ex before which was a sadder situation, but this time the reaction was definitely good.

There’s a common thread throughout the record of these woozy, laidback 70s tones, a homage to a time of decadence and heightened sensations through psychedelics.  Do you think certain substances enhance the listening and music-making experience for you?

Oh, yeah. Hell yeah. I’m not trying to encourage anything crazy, but as far as marijuana, if you’re doing natural organic things, or you want a little tequila, then that’s great. I think for some songs it allowed me to be less hesitant, to create a more freeform space, but it wasn’t every time – sometimes it was just candles and sage, you know, good vibes. But yeah, I definitely feel like if that’s what you want to do when you listen to music, go for it. And even if if’s not, you can still enjoy those vibes. I’ve never done psychedelics, but listening to The Beatles, you can imagine what it feels like.

You Tweeted that you pushed the record back so as not to come out the same day as Beyoncé’s Black Is King project. Is she somebody you’d like to get in the studio with with?

Of course, she’s one of my favourites of all time. Putting the record back was just like you know what, I’m also a Beyonce stan. I’m in the beehive. I want to enjoy Beyonce’s record and not worry about my own – I can definitely wait another week.

What would I want to write with Beyoncé about? I think she’s the type of artist that can really write about anything, so I would want to leave it open to see feel the energy. I would want it to be a song that she would love to perform, whether that’s something she loves to just go off on vocally or something with a lot of rhythm and a grandiose performance with a band. I would definitely want it to be something that would fill her stadiums. I’ve written this down on my bucket list so many times – I’m manifesting!

Believe and you shall achieve! Until then, what do you hope ‘Jaguar’ will say to the world?

I want people to be inspired. An independent artist making this type of music may be something inspiring for people to see, especially to someone black and queer. I just want people to get a sense of comfort in their own skin and know that it is who they are that will push them towards where they’re supposed to be. It’s literally why the title is ‘Jaguar’; trusting the instincts that you’re already born with to get your food and your prizes. The message extends to self-love and acceptance and all of those affirmations that I hoped people would be able to absorb through singing along and being comfortable saying certain things.

It’s pretty packed, and it’s taken a bit of time, but I really am just excited. I know that even on release day, this will be the first time that some people have heard any of my music. I’m just really happy that it’s coming and there’s multiple parts… it’s just gonna be a non stop ‘Jaguar’ party!”

Victoria Monét’s ‘Jaguar’ is out August 7 2020

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