the inside track

Victoria Monét Saved the Best Songs for Herself

Her auteurist vision comes fully into focus on JAGUAR, with the title track as her crowning achievement. Photo: Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images

Pop has been on a revivalist tear. Dua Lipa is bringing disco back, DaBaby and Megan Thee Stallion flow with the bravado of raunchy ’90s rap, Rina Sawayama is even nostalgic for nu-metal. So Victoria Monét’s debut “project” JAGUAR comes at the perfect time, with the songwriter and performer turning her ear toward the ’70s: funk, disco, classic R&B, all of it. It’s a shocking shift from Monét, who nabbed two No. 1 hits and an Album of the Year Grammy nomination thanks to her co-writing work on Ariana Grande’s trap record thank u, next, most notably “7 Rings.” But for JAGUAR, Monét brought in a live band, inspired by the instrumentations of classic Motown, specifically Smokey Robinson. “He was a songwriter and an artist at the same time, and equally as great,” she told Paper. “And that’s what I really want for myself.” Her auteurist vision comes fully into focus on JAGUAR, with the title track as her crowning achievement.

The singles that preceded JAGUAR showed the range of what Monét could do. There was the soulful flex “Ass Like That,” the grand and declarative ballad “Moment,” the groovy sex anthem “Dive,” the shimmering disco cut “Experience.” When each came out, you could’ve made the case that it was among Monét’s best work, if not a personal best. “Jaguar,” then, sounds like a synthesis of Monét’s best qualities across those tracks. She opens by drawing out the syncopated chorus in her breathy, tender voice, but it’s a fake out — this one’s a bop, through and through. The hi-hat comes in, then some gurgles of drums and synths, as producer D’Mile builds the track piece by piece, right in your ears. Monét wanted the song to express her vision down to an elemental level, specifically seeking out a Black performer to play the horn part she and D’Mile had in their heads. The live instruments sound even more precise than the bare beats of songs like “7 Rings” and “Monopoly,” and balanced by one of Monét’s most confident vocal performances.

“Jaguar” was the first song she wrote for the project, and one of just two she wrote on her own. Like the other, “Moment,” it oozes self-assuredness. Most of Monét’s lyrics are about sex on a base level — “I want that jungle kind of love,” she sings — but taken in context at this point in her career, it’s hard not to hear them as about herself too. She’s not just someone else’s songwriter, she’s her own performer who can step into a totally new style and make it sound effortless. Monét has said she named the track, and corresponding album, because she saw herself in the big cat, staying “camouflaged until it was the right time to pounce.” (On timing, she even pushed back her release date by a week to give space for Beyoncé’s stunning visual album Black Is King.) In the jungle-set “Jaguar” music video, a voice says, “Remember: There are many voices in the jungle, but the clearest one will always be your own.” On “Jaguar,” Monét sounds like she knew this all along — now’s just finally her time to show the world.

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Victoria Monét Saved the Best Songs for Herself