Victoria Monét’s “Jaguar II” Is Fighting for Queer R&B’s Life

I was late (relatively speaking) to discover Victoria Monét.

Monét has long had cred as a songwriter, having previously written for Brandy, Selena Gomez, and others, in addition to being the pen behind Chloe x Halle’s 2020 hit “Do It” and having written a significant portion of Ariana Grande’s entire library — including picking up a Grammy nomination for her work on Grande’s pop epic “thank u, next.” Still, it wasn’t until until Monét’s turn in front of the mic on the gay as hell “Touch Me,” off of Monét’s 2020 Jaguar EP (it’s about the amazing sex Monét used to have with Kehlani… oh, did I forget to mention that Kehlani is her ex?), that I perked up and paid attention.

The first thing that I caught about “Touch Me,” of course was how hot it was. There are few songs that I’d be willing to call “sex on a track” with a straight face — but it’s obviously at the top of that list. Second and much more lasting though, was that “Touch Me” filled something I had been longing for, craving really, without putting my finger on it and never being quite able to fulfill: it was a legit, mainstream radio play worthy, R&B ballad about two queer Black women.

Queer R&B is hard to come by (and trust, me I spend a lot of time looking). Yes, there’s Janelle Monáe’s Prince influenced love letters pansexual android queerdos flying high on spaceships, and there’s Jamilia Woods’ alto holding space for those of us Black girls who smell like a little too much coconut oil and our girlfriend’s lipstick coming back from the protest. Obviously, Kehlani is Kehlani. There’s a constellation, however small, of queer girls making their home in one of Black music’s longest traditions. There’s fewer still who have clawed their way to the status of being R&B’s up and coming It Girl, let alone while crooning about a preference for short fingernails or even cracking a weed joke that “it’s a bisexual blunt, it can go both ways” (which yes, is exactly how Monét opens Jaguar II in her 420 tribute “Smoke,” a duet with Lucky Daye).

Part of what has made Monét’s unofficial, but nearly uniformly agreed upon, Next Big Thing crowning so notable is that it comes at a time when R&B overall, depending on which discourse you plug into online, already has its back against the wall. In her review of Jaguar II for Rolling Stone, Mankaprr Coneth notes that “Whereas R&B divas like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Janet Jackson once ruled pop, soul seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle of modern music… Maybe it’s because older R&B standards and the music in their lineage are less clippable for social media, relying on build up and slow burn when the internet demands speed and shock.”

To put it more bluntly, as Edward Bowser did in his Jaguar II review for Soul in Stereo: “R&B fans have watched the genre’s biggest legends abandon their core audience to chase trends; we’ve heard literal computer programs corrupt the lush harmonies that defined the genre, pumping out soulless drivel instead; and we’ve seen the art of songwriting – once poetic and heartfelt – crumble into the equivalent of your little niece’s troll tweets.”

I’ve been looking for queer R&B — because try as hard as I might, and as faithful to Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm” as any Cancer queer who loves to cry into her morning coffee I might be, acoustic white lesbian coffeehouse jams are never going to be my thing. I grew up in the 90s recording TLC and Aliyah mixtapes off of the radio in my bedroom. My love songs come in the tune of Keisha Cole, not boygenius. And while I’ll never join the chorus of those who worry that good R&B is dead, it’s hard not to observe the sticky and treacherous landscape it’s been forced to hold of late.

Victoria Monét's Jaguar II album cover, featuring Monét coming out of inky black water.

Here enters Victoria Monét’s follow up to her 2020 EP Jaguar with her debut full album, the similarly titled Jaguar II (the Jaguars were originally planned as a set of three, meaning we are smack dab in the middle of whatever Monét is cooking). Standing at just a little over 30 minutes long, Jaguar II is efficient, making the most of every second. Each single feel purposeful, with rich brass horns and smart production choices rounding out Moét’s already silk voice, creating something that I would only know how to describe as sounding like expensive incense, crystals, and the good red lingerie.

Though I would have preferred slightly more diversity in terms of tempo — melodic for melodic sake has never been my preference of choice — it’s impossible not to see Monét’s vision. A well-placed feature from dancehall legend Buju Banton on “Party Girls” expands her horizons, but without feeling like she’s stretching or trying to hard. Equally welcome is Earth, Wind & Fire’s feature on “Hollywood” (a shout out to those of us Black girls who grew up with Earth, Wind, & Fire on our Mama’s cleaning the house mix). I’ve written about “On My Mama” before, but it’s hard to undersell what a standout it is. Monét’s penchant for a earworm hook has never been better on display than in her glossed-up sample of Charlie Boy’s 2009 song “I Look Good” (Boy’s version was long a TikTok feel good sample, and now Monét’s has quickly pushed beyond every expectation). Jaguar II borrows from pop, dancehall, hip hop, disco, funk in ways that the R&B gods themselves intended. It’s the kind of album that could have landed at any point in the last 50 years and found its play cousins.

After she publicly came out as bisexual in 2018, Monét noted that one of the best changes in her life was the ability to write the correct pronouns of the love interests in her songs. It’s a small thing, really, but the opportunity to be yourself on your own terms — it tends to bleed everywhere. It makes you more full, complete, better. That same confidence is felt throughout Jaguar II and it’s wild to think: for Victoria Monét, this is still only a start.

You can stream Jaguar II now.

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Carmen Phillips

Carmen is Autostraddle's Editor-in-Chief and a Black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 700 articles for us.


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