For a long time, singer, songwriter and producer Victoria Monét put other people’s needs before her own. Since 2012, the LA-based 26-year-old has been a songwriter for hire, a sideline that peaked recently with the success of Thank U, Next and the Grammy-nominated 7 Rings, both global hits for her long-term collaborator Ariana Grande. Even when she was releasing her own music, she would obsess over external opinions. “I’d be considerate of what my peers would like, and what my family would consider acceptable,” she says.
All of that people-pleasing has gone out of the window, however, with the pillow-soft throwback R&B of her song Ass Like That. It’s the first taste of a superb forthcoming “project” that also includes a luxuriant ode to oral sex augmented by squeaking bed springs and ecstatic moans. “I think it’s a combination of me getting older, and me being more aware of who I am and what I want to say,” she says of her new found emancipation, that also saw her come out as bisexual last year. “It’s about having more disregard of the disapproval of others.”
Born Victoria McCants and raised in Sacramento, California, Monét started out as a dancer. “Coming from a town like Sacramento, it just seemed more tangible to take dance classes than to become a really successful singer or songwriter.” As a teen, however, she started exchanging poetry with an older cousin, before recording her fledgling songs in a friend’s bedroom studio at 17.
Eventually, she uploaded a handful of them to MySpace, where they were discovered by R&B super-songwriter/producer Rodney Jerkins, who messaged her an audition flyer for a new girl band he was launching in LA. “I got it a week before the audition and I was like: ‘Shall I actually do this?’ And my friend was like: ‘Girl, hell yeah!’” The band, Purple Reign, signed to Motown (“a dream come true”) but were dropped before they released any music. Monét realised that she could sell her hooks to rappers, singing on demos as well as she could “to try and get people to keep my voice on it”.
While Nas and TI cut some of her songs, her most fertile songwriting relationship is with Grande– the pair have worked together since Grande’s 2013 debut album, Yours Truly. “It was a slow build – it wasn’t like the first time I met her we were best friends,” she says. “I feel like we have enough differences to bring the best out of each other, but enough similarities to last and get along.”
In between songwriting for others, she sporadically released her own music, and while she is proud of her four previous EPs, they always involved compromise. “They didn’t necessarily pay the bills,” she says. “It’s really hard to survive in LA, so songwriting was a little more promising.” For her forthcoming opus, however, she made the decision to stop writing for everybody else for a month. “I had never done that before and I got to dig deeper into what I personally love.”
That relaxed confidence permeates Ass Like That, a honey-drenched ode to self-confidence that dismisses music’s current rules about brevity to slowly ease you into its world of sweat-soaked, glute-focused gym routines. “I’ve heard male rappers talking about [women] in certain ways – why can’t we sing about how we feel and what we want?” she says. Plus, she thinks the songs are encased in such elegant packaging, all Motown horns and Maxwell-esque neo-soul, that people “might miss a lot of the lyrical content”.
Even the song slathered in orgasmic crescendos? “No, you’re right,” she laughs. “Unless you’re really, really airy.” Has she figured out how to play her family – so often the soundboard for past releases – the new songs? She thinks for a moment. “Maybe just play them the instrumental, don’t worry about the lyrics,” she concludes.