For more than a decade, Victoria Monét has powered her career as an independent musician through her work as a songwriter. It’s been lucrative enough that she never really had to bank on major record labels taking a chance on her as a leading artist. Sure, it would have been nice to have the resources and the access as some of the major musicians she’s created magic for in songwriting sessions, Ariana Grande, Chloe x Halle, and BLACKPINK, among some of them. But she didn’t need it. Her creative hunger was satiated between her writing and her independent releases, including the early-pandemic soul dream EP Jaguar. Still, this quiet yearning for more kept visiting Monét in her sleep.
“I have this notebook that I keep on the side of my bed that I write in if I wake up and have a dream that I can remember, or just things that I feel, or positive things that I want to tell myself when I’m feeling doubtful,” Monét tells Rolling Stone over Zoom. On a page in that journal, she wrote about a dream she had in which she signed to a major label — just before she actually teamed up with RCA, which will release her debut studio album Jaguar II on Aug. 25.
“Not to say I’m psychic, but the way that I can write things down and it either becomes a guide for me or manifests what may happen in the future, it’s just really interesting to be able to look and read certain things,” she says.
Manifestation was a major theme on Jaguar. “Look what your mind’s imagination can do,” she sang on the project’s opening track “Moment.” The man who appeared in the song’s music video is now the father of her two-year-old daughter, Hazel. In full circle moment, Hazel appears on the Jaguar II deep cut “Hollywood” alongside funk legends Earth, Wind, and Fire — a group whose music drew Monét during the creative process for Jaguar. “When I go into the studio, I just try to have my arms open, rooted in what I love sonically and what I gravitate towards musically,” she explains. “Being open will sometimes bring up things in my subconscious that I didn’t even know that I was necessarily feeling.”
On Jaguar II, Monét channeled the sound of the Seventies by enlisting live musicians — no artificially rendered grooves — to expand on the steamy celebration of sex and soul she initiated on Jaguar, originally intended to be a three-part project. Those themes spoke to Monét intensely even when her thoughts were clouded with uncertainty about motherhood, or her career, or the archaic limitations placed on women by people threatened by their power.
“I had to tap out of Victoria and go into a character thinking a little bit outside of myself so that I could talk to myself,” she says. Her advice to herself was simple: “Bitch, get it together. You look great. You just did this really amazing thing. Let’s think about the positive parts of this.”
Jaguar II pulsates with the uncompromising vision of an artist who has realized that the key to everything rests in the palm of her hand. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Monét spoke bout reconnecting through music at a time of isolation, overcoming self-doubt, and why she’s “glad to be living in 2023, where women are doing what the fuck we want.”
Jaguar II is a seamless continuation from Jaguar that also showcases your creative growth. How were you able to achieve that?
Music has really been a guiding factor for me. When I get into the studio, that’s the time where I really don’t have much of a plan. I have my arms open and I exercise the art of allowing whatever [to happen]. I almost look at ideas like things that are blowing in the wind — they happen to blow past me and if I catch them, great. They might be great ideas, and some of them are not so great, but I feel like creativity can flow to anybody. So when I go into the studio, I just try to have my arms open, rooted in what I love sonically and what I gravitate towards musically. But as far as top line and ideas, being open will sometimes bring up things in my subconscious that I didn’t even know that I was necessarily feeling at the moment.
[On Jaguar II], I’m talking about, in some songs, heartbreak — and I’m very much not heartbroken right now. It’s almost like a little bit of therapy where things will come up that maybe I hadn’t really fully healed from or moved past and moved through. And they’ll come out in song form because the idea passed my way and I just accepted and allowed that. I had a really great support system that would allow me to speak freely in my creative space. I’m not getting home and getting questioned like, “Why are you writing about going outside and playing people?” It’s totally a free space.
There have been a lot of conversations online over the past few weeks about what motherhood “should” look like — how mothers should dress, behave, all of these other criticisms that sound like control tactics, if anything. What has been your experience being confronted with that ideology, and how have you circumvented it?
I’ve gotten comments before from people almost portraying the idea that mothers can’t be sexy. But I always think, “Well, how do you think we became moms?” We were very sexy and people had sex with us. One way that you can make a baby is to have sex. So yes, we can be sexy and it makes us arguably even more sexy to be able to keep our head on straight throughout that process and still feel our authentic selves, find ourselves all over again, breathe life into another human being, and provide so much and give so much of yourself — and then still turn around and be proud to show all of those scars and marks and whatever it brought you from doing so and not be ashamed of it, be proud of it, wear it as a badge of honor, and be sexy.
When I think about, for example, the Gabrielle Union conversation about, “You’re a mom, you shouldn’t be in a two piece bathing suit.” The overall idea was like, “Moms don’t show their bodies.” But she’s a mom and she shows her body, so yes, moms do show their bodies — because she’s doing it. It’s a simple thing for me to understand, but I don’t know why it’s really complex for other people. It just goes back to the stereotypes and the marketing that we’ve been sold from childhood. When I think about old shows, like the housewife idea where she was in a really long dress down her ankles and in heels and vacuuming. That was like the ideal house mom, and it’s changed. It comes down to a power dynamic that maybe masculine characters are not as okay with accepting now, because maybe they don’t understand their place as much if it’s not to be hyper-masculine and feminine beings can only exist in one way and only under a closed gaze — all of these things that really don’t make sense for 2023. It’s an old school way of thinking, so I’m glad to be here at this time.
As much as I love the Seventies and the sound of the Seventies in music, I don’t love what women were going through then and how they weren’t able to behave the way that they wanted to then, or they didn’t feel like they could. So now I think women are just doing more of what we naturally want to do. I think also because of social media, we can see more people doing it. We’re not as divided anymore. I think it encourages each of us. It’s like, “We’re in this together.” Whereas back in the day, when there was no social media, you could only see what was projected on TV which was made by a whole company and cast of people that had a certain ideology of what each person plays and what the stereotype is. We weren’t able to see as many examples of people breaking free of it, so I’m glad to be living in 2023 where women are doing what the fuck we want to.
As you were reconnecting with your body while adjusting to motherhood, how did you think about that balance between strength and vulnerability?
When I was creating “On My Mama,” I almost had to go into a character because, if I was myself, I had other things to express. I remember being in the studio trying to balance a whole new way of life. I was bringing my daughter to the studio and breastfeeding and pumping and just worrying about her, like if she was crying. So it was really hard to tap in all of the way to what I should be singing about, talking about, what people want to hear from me, what would sound good on a song. I had to tap out of Victoria and go into a character thinking a little bit outside of myself so that I could talk to myself and be like: “Bitch, get it together. You look great. You just did this really amazing thing. Let’s think about the positive parts of this.”
I had to calm myself and talk to myself, bring myself to a certain time and then come back together. Now it all makes a lot more sense, but it was a really dark time for me. It was really hard. I think it’s hard enough to have a child with all of the body changes in hormones and everything that happens, but also in a pandemic. It just adds another layer of scary. And also isolation. A lot of my appointments I had to go to alone because the doctors wouldn’t allow even my boyfriend to come with me because of COVID. So I had to either go by myself or FaceTime people in to let them know what’s going on. It felt like a really lonely process. And then I felt the same way after giving birth. No one I was around could relate exactly to how I felt and what I was going through. So I leaned on the second brain and put it in music to just figure it out in real time.
Leaning into that Seventies and Motown influence almost instantly creates this familiar air of nostalgia, this classic sound. But then you’re also pulling from the early 2000s on “On My Mama,” and pulling in Caribbean influence on “Party Girls.” Then there’s this bold generational blend between Earth, Wind, and Fire and your own daughter on “Hollywood.” How did you create this sense of timelessness?
One of my biggest goals for the album was to make it feel timeless. When I think about influence, I try to go to the root of it. That’s where I think that the Seventies influence comes from, but I also want to make music that my daughter likes and would appreciate. I want to have fun and be witty and express myself in a way that feels current to me. I think the combination of it was what makes it feel a bit more futuristic or, span more generations, because you have this really intricate musicality and bass lines and live strings and horns — just really elevated things in the midst of a really digital world.
Tell me about the sonic palette on this album — the little details, like having a lighter flicker on “Smoke,” or the broader live instrumentation across the record.
Every instrument that has been played on Jaguar II could potentially just be played on laptop or piano. But the fact that it is live makes it feel a lot thicker and more soulful. I think about how every person playing every instrument has a soul and when they play each thing, you can feel it. There’s additional emphasis on each instrument, versus one producer playing each sound with his keyboard. The same person is doing the same thing in a very different way. I always really appreciated the live musician aspect of it.
As far as top lining, I juxtaposed it with current, fun, rap-singing, soft lyrics and trying to be myself. It’s really a matter of me liking so many different things that I’m trying to put them all together. If you put me in a candy aisle as a kid and my mom said pick one candy, I wouldn’t be able to decide. Like, I like both. I like three of them. Can we just get all of them? I still do it to this day when I’m ordering food and it’s my first time at a restaurant. I just want to try three things on the menu and take five bites of each thing versus ordering one thing and committing to it. I think I do the same thing with music, just trying to pull a bunch of influences in my mind together to make a new mix of what feels like me.
Was there anything you accomplished, whether creatively or internally, during that period of time between Jaguar and Jaguar II that felt particularly transformative for you?
There were a lot of moments in the pandemic where I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know where the world was going and where my world was going because I was pregnant and just questioning. You know, that little devil on your shoulder that’s like, “Can you have a career after having a baby? And you’re supposed to be putting out two more projects? And you’re an independent artist?” All of these little doubts. So I think the fact that it’s actually coming out is a big feat for me, for my team, for my family.
There’s a lot of those moments of doubt and just wondering if any of the personal changes or decisions that you made would change anybody’s opinion about your art and your music. Those thoughts contradict everything that I stand for, that I feel about being a woman. Overcoming those little hurdles and the doubts in your mind is really, really big. I’m just happy and thankful that it’s almost here and the tour is happening.
Jaguar II, along with Beyoncé’s Renaissance and Janelle Monae’s Age of Pleasure, all feel like really key moments in this current era of Black women really owning their own pleasure and sexuality. We’ve seen this in so many ways throughout history; I think about someone like Janet Jackson or Donna Summer. But what does the power of that messaging represent for you at the present moment?
I really didn’t think it through to be honest, at least while I was creating it. I was just being and existing. I think maybe subconsciously, because all the women in the world have been feeling more together and supportive. There’s a sense of camaraderie across the board with women, whereas maybe 10 years ago even, it was more of a competitive space and people were pitting women against each other in music and we didn’t feel as liberated or open to speak about what we’re going through and how we feel. Everything that we represented was kind of cliché because of stereotypes that we had been presented our entire life. Now it almost feels like an awakening.
When I was creating, I just felt that way. It wasn’t necessarily a plan like, “I have to appeal to this, you know, 2023 woman who is now feeling this and that.” I just am feeling that way and I really enjoy it. I’m enjoying not having to second guess so much about what is okay because I don’t care. I don’t care what’s okay anymore. I just want to be my authentic self and tell the truth about that in every moment, whether it’s uncomfortable for my mom to listen to or not. Whatever I feel, I want to be able to say and express musically. And within that realm, there wouldn’t be any rules, because in life there are a bit more constraints on us that people are projecting. At least in that world, in music, I feel like we want to reflect the times and encourage people to be themselves really and truly with every fiber — just not even think about it.