"Fuck a fantasy, this your motherfuckin' moment," Victoria Monét sings on the hook of 'Moment', the opener of her debut album 'Jaguar'. It feels a little ironic for an artist a decade into her career to be humming about getting her moment (well, she's also on about banging, but whatever), but she's finally shining alone and not letting any of her other commitments overshadow her.
And what an absolute STAR she is. Her patience has paid off on this project though – this is only the first instalment of it, BTW, she'll have you waiting for the rest – developing a sound that is truly her own. On 'Jaguar', she blends soulful, 70s Motown sounds with very 2020 lyrics (a Fortnite reference in a sexy song? She works it) and some 90s R&B influences sprinkled in for good measure.
"They all feel very retro and cohesive," says Victoria. "You'll find different moods and intentions in each part. So part one, the message is really about freedom – freedom of sexuality, freedom of speech, freedom of sound, because I'm not really attached to a certain sonic [of] anything that's popular today. I feel like I just did me, and the producers did what we wanted to do and what felt right. So I think people will hear that, and they'll get a taste of nostalgia, some harmonies and live instrumentation, you know, that we used to get back in the day, which is some of my favourite music."
Of course, we're virtually face to face for our chat. She's in her Los Angeles home, the city she moved to in her late teens to join girl group Purple Reign, that signed to Motown records but ended up getting dropped before releasing any music. It was then that she got her start in songwriting, landing her first credit on a Diddy Dirty Money album track in 2010.
She's since penned songs for Ariana Grande (including co-writes on most of 'thank u, next'), Fifth Harmony, Nas (a personal dream achieved), Chloe x Halle, and more.
"When I moved to LA, I was in a girl group. I had auditioned for a girl group for this super-producer, who produced for a lot of my favourite artists – Michael Jackson, Beyoncé, Brandy – so in that girl group, I learned so much about what it actually takes. I also started my songwriting career; I got my first placement while I was in that group, so one thing led to another over the years and getting to know people, working really hard and sacrificing, all of that."
Still, 'Jaguar' reads as a musical biography for Victoria, accumulating influences and producers from throughout her life. Golden oldies from her grandma, Mariah from her mum, and Aaliyah, Beyoncé, Janet Jackson and the like from MTV, plus a generous helping of Motown love.
"I think that all of these things have become a part of my DNA as an artist, just absorbing them over the years and being a sponge and listening to them, this is just what I'm spitting back out now that I have the opportunity. But I do love bands like Earth Wind and Fire, Sly and the Family Stone; I love artists like Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations.
"Just Motown's energy too, so I wanted to try to bring that to my music without making it so on the nose, because you cannot recapture what they had, you know, that certain magic and appeal and living in that era was just different. I just wanted to bring elements of that type of music to my music, and then have the topline of someone in 2020, who says whatever they want, and juxtapose that and mix it all together to make this body of work that I'm really proud of."
Victoria executive produced the project with D'Mile, who she says is like family to her, and actually housed her after she ran out of money when she first moved to LA and her girl group plans fell through. "It's an honour to executive produce this project with him, and it be my debut project," she says of him, before reeling off some of the instrumentalists and noting how much she admires each of them. "We have a lot of collaboration on the production side; it just feels like a family. I think we have a bit of footage we can show later on from the studio sessions, so I'm excited to show everyone their faces and the vibe that's in the studio while we're making the record."
"I'm the only songwriter on the project," she adds. Just like her, 'Jaguar' is Victoria's moment to really shine as a songwriter, penning slinky retro tunes, filled to the brim with double entendres and innuendos, it's not immediately noticeable how sexy some of the tracks are (or not, such is the case with 'Ass Like That', which tells the story of Victoria meeting a man called Gym).
While this is her debut album, she's got four EPs behind her and has been releasing songs as an artist herself since 2014. However, she still considers herself a new artist and wants 'Jaguar' to be her proper introduction to the world, one she's fully in control of.
"This is the first time that I ever really took the time to stop everything else that I was doing and just focus on this. I feel like it's the first body of work that one, is long enough to be an album; two, I feel proud enough and it's cohesive enough for me to feel like let's stop being afraid and just call it what it is. Something that's hard to do as an artist, is to just name your start. So this project, naming it such, it will be treated as such. And I think that just comes from me being more confident about my work and also having taken the time to do it the right way and how I actually envisioned things."
That's not to say her songwriting is a side hustle, nor is her artist project. The two sides of her career will co-exist, as they always have, just on a bigger level now. She explains the struggle she's had to breakthrough as an artist in her own right because she'd been stuck with the 'songwriter' label for so long, but it's been worth the wait, and a learning experience too. 'Jaguar' harnesses by far her strongest work, with all of her signatures on full display. Like we'd said, patience is a virtue for Victoria.
"A lot of songwriters are already artists. It's easy to write great songs, and give them to someone who has a team behind them, a machine behind them, and they become more known and successful. But when you're an artist, and you're independent, and you write that same great song, you don't have the machine behind you or the team to just really take it to the next level, or you don't have an established fanbase. So there are a lot of factors that will slow your artist's career down in comparison to your songwriting career."
Juggling the two also means Victoria, as a Black, bisexual woman, who writes songs about being all of those things, is breaking some serious ground in the music industry.
"I try my best to take this to the next level to even the playing field. I think some artists like Ne-yo or Smokey Robinson have done a really great job being both. For me, my goal is just like to never sacrifice one gift to feed another, but I'm just trying to make them even, because really what I love about artistry is an expression of self and my own story.
"I want to inspire people the way that other artists would have inspired me when I was young, and create representation for more black female artists, more black bisexual artists, more songwriters, artists that are writing their own songs, like all of those things are really important to me to represent as an artist coming up too."
Black women are killing it in music right now, and as part of this current wave of soon-to-be superstars – Chloe x Halle, Normani, Kiana Ledé, Saweetie, as well as those already breaking records like Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat and Lizzo – Victoria has nothing but praise for her peers.
"Oh, I really, really love it. I look to my left and right, and I see us supporting each other, we either follow each other or have said positive things about or to each other, so it means a lot. It feels like a community of people so that we don't have to feel so alone and someone is right beside us that can relate to any of the other issues that other people wouldn't pick up on. We can talk to each other communally and like, fight the fight together, basically. I think a lot of these women are just the most talented ever so I'm excited to see the rise of them, and see more people gravitate towards them as well."
Seeing the real love and support between this community of women is so encouraging, and watching them rise together is particularly uplifting. Their persistence and talent is what's taking them higher, and Victoria shows no signs of slowing down.
With the second part of 'Jaguar' coming 'soon', there's one song fans are dying to hear in full. "It's called 'Jack', so it's basically a song about a woman who's cheating on her husband with Jack, but it's really Jack Daniels," she explains. She'd put a snippet of it on Instagram and has been flooded with comments asking for it since, but it is coming. "I know people love the song they tweet me like really upset that it's not out and within my little tribe fanbase it went viral, they bring it up pretty much daily, so I know that it's something that they want and I'm definitely working to put it out."
The staggered release of the album is all part of Victoria's plan – she doesn't want to bombard new fans with new music. If she's waited this long, you can too.
"People are always introduced to you as an artist in a different stage, so I wanted to give more people the opportunity to really hear it fresh. There are three parts. I think that that's me having a lot of music and not wanting to just give it all at one time so that people can really digest it, because I think the way we consume music nowadays, people move on to the next thing really fast. So I wanted to microdose the project in pieces so that people have a chance to live with the songs and appreciate them for what they are."
It's her moment after all, and she'll make every second of it count.
Taken from the September issue of Dork. Victoria Monét's album 'Jaguar' is out now.
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