At the start of the evening, darkness envelops the venue and a booming growl echoes through the space, illuminated by the glow of phone screens. As the stage lights brighten, Victoria Monét, an American R&B artist, appears seemingly out of thin air, cloaked and blending into the vibrant lights.
Her latest successful album, Jaguar II, released this summer, continues the theme of her previous album from 2020, being named after the jungle creature known for its stealth and powerful bite. The stage, which is too small for the grand production, is adorned with lush greenery. When Monét removes her robe to reveal a dazzling golden two-piece outfit, it exudes the exotic allure of 00s R&B.
The inquiry “From where did she originate?” is promptly followed by “What is her purpose here?” This performance marks the last stop on Monét’s Jaguar tour, but it also serves as a definitive end to the artist’s current stage. With seven Grammy nominations (announced the week prior), it is unlikely that she will perform in such small venues unless she chooses to. These are also top honors: record of the year, best new artist, and best R&B album.
The first song performed by the Californian artist tonight is the classic slow jam, “Moment.” In this song, she encourages a sexual partner to take advantage of the present moment. Monét sings, “This is your moment,” a lyric that seamlessly applies to her own experience. What comes next feels like a delightful surprise – an abundance of choreography, charisma, and elegance that is almost unbelievable considering this performance is taking place in a small venue in Camden on a Tuesday.
Monét’s long tresses are blown around by unseen mistrals as she and her two dancers make like Destiny’s Child at a turn-of-the-millennium awards ceremony. She flawlessly belts out a catalogue packed with frank, female-positive affirmations and wise humour while rarely standing still.
Even though she is no longer in the background, Monét’s quiet approach has played a significant role in her success. Despite being dropped by their label before releasing any music, the singer gained recognition in the industry as a songwriter and vocal producer while part of the group Purple Reign. (Recordings of their vocals can still be found on YouTube.)
Pop’n’B powerhouse Ariana Grande remains one of her repeat clients, and a close friend: Grande brought the then unknown Monét out to duet with her as long ago as 2017 at the One Love concert in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombings, prompting a flurry of interest. Monét later had a major hand in Grande’s Thank U, Next (2019), but continued to release her own work. Jaguar (technically an EP) came out independently in 2020, its impact muted by the pandemic.
One of that record’s highest points, Ass Like That, asserts the authenticity not just of Monét’s glutes – earned in the gym – but her hustle, all the while exuding vintage musical classiness. While twerking tonight, she manages to raise an eyebrow at the skewed value placed on women’s bodies. We also get a short, strangely guitar-fuelled blast of Monopoly, her 2019 duet with Grande, whose breezy, throwaway lines feel like tiny little self-realisation koans: “Outta here with that fuckery, treat my goals like property, collect them like Monopoly.”
Monet is a contemporary artist who is popular and in demand. She released a popular single, On My Mama, during the summer that became a hit on TikTok with its accompanying dance craze. Her album, Jaguar II, was released after this single and features real instruments. It pays homage to musical styles from different decades such as the 2000s, 90s, 80s, disco, soul, and funk. Even with her modern success, Monet still has a strong connection to traditional methods and influences.
The Supremes are referenced in tonight’s performance of Stop (Askin’ Me 4Shyt), which begins as a dance routine to Stop! In the Name of Love. Monét’s song scolds a significant other who constantly asks for money, but the nostalgic vibes and soulful jazz elements add a clever contrast to the harsh lyrics.
In previous performances, Monét would often end her song with different encouragements that started with the term “stop”. For instance, she would say, “Stop stressing about what others think.” However, on this particular evening, she concludes with a powerful message: “Stop ignoring the violence and discrimination in our world. Speak out.” This prompts everyone to cheer loudly.
Ignoring the mention of Jaguars, there is another prominent factor at play: Monét’s indebtedness to Beyoncé. From the hair, costumes, and dance moves to the humor and self-aware references in songs like “Smoke,” which not only pay tribute to weed but also celebrate African American pop culture, Knowles takes the lead in all these aspects. However, the influence of Beyoncé is so deeply intertwined with other sources of inspiration, a culmination of Black genres and artistic influences that have existed before, that it does not seem like an issue.
In her own unique way, she incorporates various influences while still maintaining her individual artistic style. Her top song, On My Mama, is a blend of positive and uplifting melodies that are characteristic of R&B and pop music. Despite this, the song still carries Monét’s distinct essence. She wrote it after becoming a mother, giving the lyrics about motherhood and body positivity a deeper significance.
The retro vibes of Cadillac (A Pimp’s Anthem), meanwhile, find singer and dancers dressed in long coats and twirling walking sticks. It recalls Janet Jackson’s own pimp phase (the video for 1989’s Alright), but it also makes an explicit bid for women – and Monét – to have equal authority with the bad boys. But with her technical nous, proven record and rich artistry, Monét’s musical status now seems assured.