Photo courtesy of Victoria Monét

The day I’m supposed to be meeting Victoria Monét to interview her, I’m getting my hair cornrowed and mentally preparing to be at a music festival days later. I’m fake busy. Victoria Monet? She’s real life busy. The day we are supposed to meet and talk, she has a dentist appointment and a studio session with Normani. Our meeting gets postponed several times due to conflicting schedules and life happening to two people who live in L.A. There comes a point where Monét politely asks me if we can hold off on the interview out of respect for her friend Ariana Grande. She wants her friend to be the first person to speak about the song she co-wrote with her and Tayla Parx. You know that song that was number one for pretty much all of November? “thank u, next?”… Yeah, that’s the song.

By the time I’m finally able to talk to Monét, the video for “thank u, next” has been out for a few days and the internet can’t get enough of it. When she speaks to me, she is still amazed by the success of the song and the video. While “thank u, next” is the first song she has co-written that went number 1, it’s not her first time working with Grande or an A-list musician. As a songwriter, Monét has written on every single Grande album along with penning songs for G.O.O.D. Music, Chrisette Michele, Fifth Harmony, and Diddy Dirty Money to name a few. As an artist, she’s been featured on songs with artists like T.I., Nas, Machine Gun Kelly, Wale and Lupe Fiasco. Monét does not play.

Songwriting is a lucrative business, especially when you write for pop stars as Monét has done. Because she doesn’t have a manager or a label, and lives humbly in a two bedroom townhome, she’s tells me she is able to take the money she makes and use it for her own solo music endeavors. She’s dropped four EP’s since 2014; her latest project Life after Love, Pt 2 came out in September. But how has she been able to deal with being a songwriter who writes for other people as well as for herself? Very few have been able to achieve success in both.

“I want to take my time and wait until I feel like it’s something really special. It could happen in three days, it could happen in a week, it could happen in half a year,” she says while explaining her approach to her own artistry. “As far as the prior work that I’ve put out, I’m going to keep touring them and making sure that they make their rounds. Inspired by Ella Mai, ‘Boo’d Up’ was a song that was out a year before it popped. I definitely don’t want to lose any hope on any song I’ve previously done just because they’re not number ones right now.”

That kind of ability Monét has to not only be ready for the moment but to also not rush the moment is why she’s been able to do the work she has consistently and cohesively. Talking to her you understand why Grande calls her her best friend and works with her the way she does. This is what happened when Highsnobiety FaceTimed with Monét to have a candid conversation about “thank u next,” being queer, and what it’s really like to be a singer-songwriter.

You’ve co-written your first No. 1, and the video dropped and broke several records. Are you able to fully comprehend how crazy this moment is for you all right now?

I’m not sure that I’m comprehending it quite yet. Honestly sometimes I forget because Ariana is my friend until she goes out in the world and starts releasing the music that we’ve done. We’re chilling at the house, in oneseises, watching silly movies, being regular people. When we put our ideas into the world it becomes this massive thing in her life and in everyone’s world and its like huh?

Most songwriters aren’t best friends with the artists they work with. The Dream isn’t best friends with Beyoncé. But, with you two, you guys are best friends and going through these emotions at the same time in a shared space.

I feel like the song wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t friends. Tayla [Parx] and I were singing like melodies. Since I’m her friend I know that she always says, “Thank you, next.” She says “thank you, next” all the time. I started singing, [starts singing] “Thank you, next.” We were trying to make harmonies to the next part and she’s like “Bitch, are you saying thank u, next?” So we started writing the concept based on that title. It’s so her. I wouldn’t have come up with that if I were in the room with someone else.

Typically artists work an album for a year or two, tour, then do something else. We have a full ass song when we just got a full ass album.

Songs were happening as she was going through each experience. We had a different version of the song “I’m about to get married, for Pete I’m so thankful” was the lyric.

Whew.

Then after that, we did an alternate version. He did something on SNL

I remember that, you were popping off on Twitter… I was like “Get him, Victoria.”

Because like, you’re not going to come for my best friend. I’m not going to let you do it, no matter who you are. So, she went to the bathroom and she was like really upset. She showed me her Twitter and was like “Should I tweet this?” and it said “Thank you, next.” I was like whatever. She pressed send. She was like, “Done.” Within two hours it was on CNN, Vogue and then we decided to drop it an hour before SNL.

And days later, you guys were on Ellen performing.

I think she was already supposed to be on Ellen to do “Breathing” and then they added “thank u, next.” Honestly, I had never seen First Wives Club. So, two or three nights before Ellen she showed me the movie and was like, “I wanna do a performance based around this and you and Tayla should do it with me.” We were so down. My grandpa was like “I saw you on ‘Ellen.’”

I love to hold a grudge and be petty and this song is the exact opposite.

It’s so funny because , I did a project called Life after Love about breaking up with Tommy Brown. I was heartbroken. Drown in a waterfall, fuck you. All of that. And then to come together with him and write “thank u, next,” him as a producer. It’s just funny. He’s my ex. Our dynamic in the studio is always cracking jokes about how we’re never getting back together.

Thank you, never again.

Thank you, next and never again.

How did you and Ariana link? You’ve been there since the beginning, you have writing credits on the first album. I didn’t know that “Honeymoon Avenue” was your work.

We started a year and a half before her first album. We had a session and it was me, Tommy and Nick Jonas. I didn’t know who Ariana was, I didn’t watch Victorious. The energy that I came into it wasn’t like a fan. But, Nick Jonas, he was kind of playing me to the left. I think he just wanted to vibe from artist to artist and I was just the extra writer in the room. They had a session the next day and Nick Jonas was like, “Don’t bring the girl.” But, Ariana liked “Honeymoon Avenue” and she cut it anyway. When I came to vocal produce her for “Honeymoon Avenue” she was like, “Yo, let’s do more.” I did a song called “Cadillac” that she really liked. After My Everything she invited me on some tour dates. Because we wanted to go see the show in Pittsburgh with Tommy’s family. She was like, “Why don’t you guys just stay.” We got really close on those dates and started talking even more outside of music. It just built to be like you’re like a soulmate of a friend.

Does having this popping ass career as a songwriter make you want to slow down when it comes to your own artistry? Because despite being friends with one of the biggest pop stars in the world, you can still walk down the street or go to Starbucks.

I think it’s all a matter of discernment. My goal really is to be just as successful on both sides. More like Smokey Robinson, The Dream, or like Pharrell. I don’t want to be overshadowed by one. I know that that is a fear of some songwriters that are artists, giving their hits away or giving their sound away. I’m not afraid of that. I have an infinite amount of things to say as long as I’m living. I want to try to get balance out of it.

What was your entry point into the industry?

When I first started writing music, I didn’t know that artists don’t always write their own music. I was under the assumption that if you sing something, you wrote it. So, in Sacramento back home, I was doing my research and finding different producers that produced my favorite songs. One of my favorite songs is “Rock my world” by Michael Jackson and I love Full Moon by Brandy. So I was looking at the producers and adding them on MySpace. I added Rodney Jerkins on MySpace and two weeks later he asked me to come audition for this girl group. Randomly. Just sent out a flyer.

I came to LA, auditioned for the girl group, made it into the girl group and then he was like, “You guys have to move here within the week.” I went back home, packed all my stuff and moved to L.A. In that group I started with these two girls, Siobhan and Toya, who are super singers. That’s where I learned alot of studio ability. LaShawn Daniels who vocal produced me, wrote a lot of shit I love. From there I went on to songwriting for other people while they were figuring things out contractually. I started building relationships writing and meeting other producers.

You’ve done a lot of work for other artists outside of Ariana. You have a credit on “Sin City” off of the Cruel Summer album. How did that come about?

You really want to know?

I do.

Funny story. Travis Scott when he first moved to LA he was living with me and Tommy on our couch. So basically, Travis Scott took files from Tommy Brown and took them to Kanye and said he produced them and it was on video. He took a song I had written a hook to and took it to Teyana Taylor for her to do and change a little bit. So Tommy ended up finding out because the footage was on his hard drive or something. I can’t quite remember, but he saw him in the studio trying to act like he made the beat.

That’s crazy.

The industry has it’s good and bad parts. I know at his core he’s a good person. He just wanted to win. But, that’s what happened. A misunderstanding of him taking things to Kanye that he didn’t really do.

Another artist you work with is Normani. Even her, she’s having to prove herself. She has the talent. What’s it like to be in the early stages of her and her career?

I been working with Normani since Fifth Harmony. I’m so bad at remembering all the things. But, the first album and their second album. For her to be taking on this solo role it’s really important to me that I help in anyway possible. I’m doing a lot more of the vocal production than the writing for her. Her voice is so special. When she wins, we win. It opens doors for more. She also has a fan base in the pop side, I want them to be able to see a black woman do what she does.

That’s my purpose for working with Normani. Making sure when she comes out no one has nothing to say. I’m always going to be there clapping behind the scenes. I really care about her success as a black woman. It’s important for them to see another black woman that’s dark skin, really rise up and be on stage. Dance like she does and act. Go the distance.

Can you explain a little bit of what exactly is vocal production?

I feel that the vocal is the most important part of the song. Besides the beat, besides the melody and lyrics. If the vocal sounds bad, the song goes to trash. My job is to make sure that every artist that I work with and vocal produce, feels so comfortable and so confident and every line that they sing sounds perfect. I’ll be giving suggestions on how to sing each line, correcting notes, creating harmonies. I’ll go into the computer and say, we did 100 takes.

I’ll piece together this works from take one, this works from take five, this from take two, this breath. To make it sound like they did it in one take. After they leave, I’m there changing volumes and mixing things a little to sound better. Fading in between lines. Vocal production is the last step before it gets mixed and mastered to make sure it’s A1.

Would you ever be into producing, making songs from scratch?

You know, Max Martin asked me that. I went in the studio with him and Ariana the other day. He’s like, “Have you ever thought about producing?” Maybe later. Because I do feel like if I spread myself too thin, production to me doesn’t really have an age limit the way artistry on stage does. I still feel like at 52 I could still be there making music.

You’re a black woman and in your 20s, the industry is only going to give you that window for so long.

Right and I want to last. I want to bust that door open and transition it the perfect way into onscreen stuff, into acting, doing voice overs for cartoons. Production can fall back a little bit. I just want to be able to be knowledgeable enough to play certain chords and explain things to producers.

Earlier last month, you came out. Congrats! What was that like?


Thank you, it’s funny because some people that I thought were friendly, oooh they shoot their shot.

Damn.

It’s funny but it feels good. I don’t want to have to hide it and be anyone that I’m not or be half of what I am. It’s hard to be a black woman in the music industry. A queer black woman in the industry. I want to make it into something that’s glorified and inspiring. Something that the next generation isn’t afraid to do.

Why now? What made you want to do this now opposed to next week or next year?

Well to be honest with you, I had found someone I really loved in May but this was during me having a boyfriend. I expressed it to him and also let him know, if it’s not okay with you, I just want to make sure I’m being 100% honest. I thought it was time to be honest. I had been more open about it with my friends, including Ariana, and my mom. It’s been forever. I’ve always been this way. It’s just me coming into my own and me being more fearless based on the women I’m around. I don’t think there’s any better time for me to be myself. I just want people to know, if they disagree with it, don’t come to the show, don’t buy the music. Bye. I don’t want you to come based off a false image.

What is the 2019 game plan?

Well I have a show on the 12th. I’m going into the studio on the 13th to carve out a sound that’s undeniably mine. I have a few producers I’m really passionate about. I feel like I’m in a different space in life. I just want to kind of dive in and be free and do more experimental music. As long as it takes to do something really special.

For more of our features, take a look at our in depth profile on super producer Murda Beatz.

Words by Malcolm Musoni
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