The evening commences with the absence of light, accompanied by a resounding roar that echoes throughout the venue illuminated by cell phone displays. As the stage illuminates, Victoria Monét, an American R&B artist, emerges seemingly out of thin air, covered in a hooded cloak blending in with the vibrant lights.
The latest successful album, Jaguar II, released this summer, continues the trend of being named after the jungle creature known for its stealth and powerful bite, just like its predecessor from 2020. The stage, which is too small for the grandeur of the performance, is adorned with lush vegetation. When Monét removes her robe and reveals a sparkling golden two-piece outfit, the whole atmosphere exudes the allure of Amazonian 00s R&B.
The inquiry “From where did she originate?” is promptly followed by “What is her purpose here?” This performance marks the end of Monét’s Jaguar tour, but it also serves as a definitive end to the artist’s current stage. With seven Grammy nominations (revealed the week prior), it is unlikely that she will perform in such intimate venues again, unless it is by choice. These nominations are also major accolades: 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,” where she encourages a sexual partner to make the most of their time together. Monét sweetly sings, “This is your moment,” a line that can easily apply to her own experience. The rest of the performance feels like a delightful surprise, with an abundance of choreography, charisma, and sophistication that is almost unbelievable for a Tuesday night show in a small venue in Camden.
Monét’s flowing locks are tossed by invisible winds as she and her two dancers channel the energy of Destiny’s Child at an awards show from the beginning of the new millennium. She flawlessly delivers a setlist filled with honest, empowering messages for women and clever humor, all while rarely staying in one place.
Even though she is no longer an unknown artist, secrecy has played a crucial role in Monét’s success. She first gained recognition in the music industry as a songwriter and vocal producer, when her group Purple Reign was unexpectedly dropped by their record label without ever releasing their music. (You can still find acapella versions 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.
The song “Ass Like That” showcases Monét’s genuine curves, which she has worked hard for at the gym, and her determination, all while exuding a timeless musical elegance. As she twerks, she subtly challenges society’s skewed perception of women’s bodies. The performance also includes a brief, guitar-driven rendition of “Monopoly,” her 2019 collaboration with Grande. The playful lyrics offer moments of self-reflection, such as “I won’t tolerate any nonsense, I treat my aspirations like property and collect them like in the game Monopoly.”
Monet is a current artist who has recently released a hit song called “On My Mama” with a popular dance trend on TikTok. This single was released before her album Jaguar II, which features the iconic group Earth, Wind & Fire. The album showcases real instruments and pays homage to artists from different eras, such as Janet Jackson in the 90s, the disco era of the 80s, and the soul and funk music of the 70s.
Tonight, there is a tribute to the Supremes with Stop (Askin’ Me 4Shyt), beginning as a dance routine to Stop! In the Name of Love. Monét’s song reprimands a significant other who constantly asks for her money, but the warm, nostalgic tone of the jazz-influenced retro soul music cleverly contrasts the harsh lyrics.
In previous performances, Monét has closed the song with different encouragements starting with the term “stop”. (“Stop stressing over what others think,” is a common one.) However, tonight she finishes with: “Stop ignoring the genocide and hatred present in the world. Speak up for what you believe in.” The crowd erupts in cheers.
Besides the Jaguars, there is another prominent creature in the space: Monét’s indebtedness to Beyoncé. The hairstyle, outfits, choreography, charisma, and self-aware commentary in clever tracks like Smoke, which glorify marijuana while also recognizing African American pop culture, were all spearheaded by Knowles. However, the influence of Beyoncé is so deeply intertwined with other sources of inspiration, a culmination of Black genres and artistic expression that have preceded it, that it is not seen as an issue.
Despite drawing inspiration from various sources, she maintains her own unique style as an artist. Her popular song, On My Mama, is a perfect representation of the positive and uplifting songs that have been a staple in the R&B and pop genres for years (“I look fly, I look good”). However, her individuality shines through in every aspect of the song. She wrote it after becoming a mother, giving the lyrics about motherhood and self-image a deeper meaning.
The classic feel of Cadillac (A Pimp’s Anthem) is evident in the long coats and twirling walking sticks worn by the singer and dancers. It brings to mind Janet Jackson’s own pimp persona from her 1989 music video for Alright, while also promoting a message of equality for women, including Monét, to have the same power as the “bad boys.” With her skillful technique, established track record, and impressive artistry, Monét’s position in the music industry is now secure.