Victoria Monét’s Grammy Moment: The Singer on Nearly Quitting Music, Working While Giving Birth and Finally Seizing the Spotlight

Three years ago, Victoria Monét lay on a delivery table in a Los Angeles maternity ward, phone in hand, strategizing with her team about her latest single “F.U.C.K.” Wracked by sporadic contractions, the R&B singer-songwriter had been in labor for two days preparing for the arrival of her first child, Hazel, when doctors ordered an emergency C-section. And yet, as an independent artist, there was still work to be done for her recently released single, and no one else to do it for her.

“The only time I stopped [working] was when they sedated me for the C-section,” she now recalls, laughing. “Once I got the epidural, I was like…” she lets out a light gasp of relief. “It was a little bit psycho.”

More from Variety

Monét recalls this momentous moment in her life and her career late on a mid-January night as she sits at the dining room table of her Los Angeles suburban home, unfazed by the fatigue that should have set in by now after a gym wakeup call at 6:30 a.m. Hazel is in the other room with Monét’s assistant, giggling along to music videos. The singer pecks at coconut-lime curry and wild rice prepared by the chefs she’s hired to help keep her diet in check in the lead-up to the Grammy Awards, where Monét’s public profile is about to soar thanks to her seven nominations, including bids for best new artist and record for the year for “On My Mama.”

Victoria Monet Variety Cover
Victoria Monet Variety Cover

Clearly, there are no days off for Monét — except the rare eight-night vacation she just took in the Dominican Republic with her family and friends. It was, she says, the only break she’s had since Hazel was born, save for a few one-off staycations at hotels. With her skin still glowing from the Caribbean sun, Monét whiplashes back to reality as she prepares to walk the red carpet at the Grammys on Feb. 4. The cherry on top of her very busy 2023 was former President Barack Obama listing her snapping “On My Mama” on the list of his favorite songs of the year. Beyoncé and Megan Thee Stallion sent flowers to toast her success. SZA — the only artist with more Grammy nominations than Monét this year — personally showed her love.

This is all new for the 34-year-old, at least as a solo artist. Over the past 15 years, she’s had a front-row seat for the success of those around her as one of the music industry’s top songwriters, with credits on tracks for Blackpink, Fifth Harmony and many others. And in an industry overwhelmingly dominated by male studio technicians, Monét produces and engineers, too — and is among this year’s nominees in the best engineered album (non-classical) category, a rarity for an artist, let alone a female one. She’s attended the Grammys once before — in 2020, for the three nominations she earned as a songwriter for Ariana Grande’s album “Thank U, Next” and Chloe x Halle’s single “Do It” — and after runaway success with the former, her stock rose as a key collaborator to the pop star. Yet attention previously never seemed to fully center on her own career, nor the five solo EPs she’d released since 2014. She says she’d thought about quitting the business often.

“At the time I questioned it so much: Like, what is it about me that’s so lackluster? Why aren’t people seeing me?” she says. “It was even to the point where I would sing demos and try to sound really great so rappers would keep me on the hook. I feel like maybe even that is a part of what was so hard. I had something to prove. It wasn’t just handed to me. So it’s all a part of why I think things are coming to fruition now: It’s just time. It’s almost like, ‘Alright girl — you didn’t give up. We’re going to give you something.’ ”

Victoria Monet Variety Cover Story
Victoria Monet Variety Cover Story

Validation came in the form of “Jaguar II,” her debut full-length album — and first on a major label, Sony Music’s RCA — which was released last August and swiftly became one of the most critically heralded projects of 2023. Gone were the experimental R&B flourishes of her pair of “Nightmare & Lullabies” EPs that soundtracked the start of her solo career, and the fragile pain of a breakup from longtime producer partner Tommy Brown on 2018’s pair of “Life After Love” projects.

“Jaguar II” plays as a portrait of an artist in rich command of her craft, firmly rooted in R&B yet elastic and breathable, folding in influences from electronic music (the Kaytranada-produced “Alright”) and dancehall (“Party Girls,” featuring Buju Banton). Much like her ever-blooming career, lead single “On My Mama” gradually found its footing over the past six months. Monét first enchanted viewers with her surgically precise dance moves in its music video, and then proved she could do it all live on her debut solo tour and with a defining performance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

Her authentic yet fully contemporary take on R&B is even connecting with those who influenced her. On “Hollywood,” Monét draws from classic soul signifiers with an added boost from featured collaborators Earth, Wind & Fire. “One thing I love is that she’s probably the first R&B female singer that has done a real R&B record in about 10 or 15 years,” says the group’s bassist Verdine White. “She creates real songs you can sing [along with] — we haven’t had that in quite some time.”

EW&F singer Philip Bailey seconds that emotion, having witnessed Monét’s creative process firsthand in the studio. “She reaches back and does her homework,” he says. “She’s a big fan of the greats that came before her and is inspired by them, as are all artists who have that kind of power.”

The journey to “Jaguar II” began with its predecessor, 2020’s “Jaguar” EP, crafted as a labor of love — there was no budget in hand to even pay producers upfront — and released independently. Something had clearly shifted for Monét, who had finally cultivated a sound that naturally suited her, in mixing contemporary R&B with shag-carpet touchstones from 1970s soul. But she also sounded self-assured in a way that she never had before, oozing confidence and seduction across singles like the smooth “Ass Like That” and the string-slicked opener “Moment,” where she coyly muses, “Life is but a dream that you manifested slowly / So fuck a fantasy, this your motherfuckin’ moment.”

“A lot of it happened under the soil,” says Monét. “Now that I’m budding, people are like, that’s a really good flower right there. But there’s so much groundwork underneath that if I were to be exposed and someone dug, it’d be like, ‘This is what you were producing and singing?’” She credits her artistic rebirth heading into the “Jaguar” series to a few factors. For one, motherhood gave her new purpose and intent to level her career up. She wants the best life for Hazel who, mid-interview, waddles shoeless across the living room to sit on her mother’s lap, wearing a tee that reads “Boss of the Kids’ Table.”

But musically, she knew she needed a change, too, primarily in the wake from her split from Brown. Raised in Sacramento, the admittedly shy Monét envisioned a life dancing professionally, largely because it was a “silent sport.” But a love of poetry gave way to an interest in songwriting and performance, and after sending a chance message to legendary producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins on MySpace around 2010, he responded asking her to come to Los Angeles to audition for his girl group Purple Reign.

She passed the audition and relocated to L.A., signing with Motown and getting dropped the same year. But it was during that time that she connected with Brown, kindling a professional and romantic relationship. Together, they met Grande during her days as a Nickelodeon star and established consistent chemistry, subsequently working on every album since her 2013 debut, “Yours Truly.” Even after their breakup, they collaborated on 2019’s “Thank U, Next,” where they helmed the title track and “7 Rings.” The singles earned Grande her first two chart-toppers on the Hot 100, and Monét shared in the spotlight, albeit as a backup singer during live TV performances and on her tour.

Victoria Monet Variety Cover Story
Victoria Monet Variety Cover Story

“There’s nothing like the first time” of a songwriting credit on a number-one single, says Monét. “I’m super thankful because [Ariana] as a friend had done so much to put my name in people’s mouths and make sure she’s crediting everyone that’s writing for her. But in interviews, I just want to talk about my artistry and they’re like, ‘What’s Ariana’s favorite color?’” She lets out a laugh. “I’m like, uh, you should ask her.”

Part of establishing her voice meant being honest with not just herself, but with her fans and family, too. In November 2018, she came out as bisexual in a post on X (formerly Twitter), which enabled her to speak more truth in her music, like on the 2019 Grande duet “Monopoly” (“I swerve both ways, dichotomy / I like women and men”) and sensual “Touch Me,” the concluding track on “Jaguar” written about fellow R&B singer Kehlani, with whom she had a relationship and who features on the remix.

Monét had long felt hesitant about sharing her sexuality because of the negative impact it could have had on her career. “I thought that conforming would make me go further,” she says. “Being picturesque, straight… It almost felt like you didn’t want to add any more weights to your ankles trying to win a race. It’s like, you’re already a woman, you’re already Black — you’d better pick a struggle.”

She references a recent Whitney Houston documentary that explores how the late singer had to hide her own bisexuality. “I’m so sad she wasn’t able to do whatever that she wanted, and the world would [have] been fine,” she says. “Just do and love who you love. And so if I have the ability to talk about it without so much backlash… I know there are special people who hate it. But I feel like since I have the privilege to do so, I should and just be honest. So music has been a playground for sexuality. And some things I don’t even express in words will just come out in music because it’s on my spirit and soul to do so.”

Her personal and professional liberation has resonated, particularly among her growing fan base, and the accolades admittedly feel overdue. When the Grammy categories were announced in November, tears streamed down Monét’s face as she leapt from her couch every time her name came up. But even with seven nominations, she didn’t make history — Hazel did, becoming the youngest-ever Grammy nominee for her feature alongside Earth, Wind & Fire on “Hollywood” in the best traditional R&B performance category. It’s not a major appearance on the record — Hazel coos rather adorably into the microphone at its end — but Monét also gave her a writing credit, likely to ensure some royalties to help secure her future.

Monét has already been in fittings for her Grammy outfit and plans to bring her daughter to the event in a matching ensemble. Hazel is too young to make sense of what an awards show even is, so Monét and her boyfriend John Gaines have been preparing her by simulating a red carpet right here in their living room. The floor is covered in brown paper — the house is under construction for a remodel, and the only item in their towering living room is a three-story fluorescent orange scaffold stretching towards the ceiling. But they’ve used the space to coach Hazel on how to switch her hip and mug for the cameras as people call her name.

“It could either go really well or she could freak out because the carpet is like, ‘Hazel! Hazel! Over here!’” says Monét. “She’s going to be like, uh, get me the fuck out of here. So I’m trying to at least give her something she can do that’s familiar. Like, ‘Remember we did this at home?’ And if not? She’s two. Get your picture.”

With that, Hazel’s giggles have quieted and she’s fallen asleep in the adjoining room. Monét takes this brief moment of calm — and there are few these days — to reflect on the journey she’s taken to get to this point: the endless work, the false starts, and the success that’s finally in reach. “I feel like having it all with Hazel is the best part of it. There was a lot of fear projected on me when I told everyone I was pregnant, just about career things. It was hard,” she says. “So I think to round it all off with me not only being nominated — but also the child that I was pregnant with at the time, during the scariest time in my life? I couldn’t write it any better.

“I’m a pretty good writer,” she concludes, “but I can’t write this, ‘cause God is showing out. It’s a real full-circle situation.”

Styling by Kollin Carter; Makeup: Alexander Echeverri; Hair: JStayReady/Chris Aaron Mgmt; Manicure: @masterweenay; Look 1 (cover): Jewelry and shoes: Schiaparelli; Top and tights: Wolford; Look 2 (black body suit) Top: Wolford; Leggings: Alexander McQueen: Necklace: Saint Laurent; Rings: Misho; Earrings: Gemma Azzurro; Shoes: Vivienne Westwood

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.