This past week has been one of the big ones on the music calendar, with the Recording Academy announcing the nominees for the 2024 Grammy Awards, set to take place on Feb. 4. When they were unveiled, one of the year’s biggest honorees was Victoria Monet, whose album JAGUAR II was a critical smash when it debuted in September of this year. Monet, who started her career as an artist in a girl group before seeing success as a songwriter for Ariana Grande, Blackpink, Travis Scott and others, earned seven nominations, the second-most of any artist, including nods in the coveted best new artist and record of the year categories.
The nominations span a variety of areas: in addition to best new artist and record of the year for her song “On My Mama,” she earned nods for R&B album, R&B performance, R&B song, traditional R&B performance and engineered album, non-classical, recognizing her for artistry, songwriting, performance and overall quality. It’s a testament to Monet’s work rate and vision, as well as to the team around her, including manager Rachelle Jean-Louis, who earns the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Here, Jean-Louis discusses the work and planning that went into setting up and delivering JAGUAR II, how the album campaign extended into every facet of Monet’s career and the dedication and teamwork that it took to pull off a feat that is now being recognized with so many nominations by the academy. “One thing I’ve heard people say is, ‘If the music is great, people will find it,’” Jean-Louis says. “Sure — but they’re more likely to find it if you can give them as many touch points and opportunities as possible.”
This week, Victoria Monet was nominated for seven Grammy Awards, including best new artist and record of the year, the second-most of any artist for the upcoming 2024 awards. What key decisions did you make to help make that happen?
The first important decision was made years ago, on the heels of her writing two No. 1 records. She had an opportunity to open on a tour she was excited about, and I advised she focus on her artistry and developing an identifiable world and sound, specifically as an artist, for fans. That was our first “tough” conversation — convincing someone I’d just started working with to pause and reflect on the big picture. We focused on developing her own sound with longtime collaborator D’Mile. That world became JAGUAR — the first project we released independently in 2020, and now, JAGUAR II. I A&R’d and co-executive produced both projects and worked alongside her and D’Mile to make something we were all proud of.
The next important decision at that time was choosing to stay independent and partner with Platoon for the first JAGUAR so she had full creative autonomy and as bulletproof of an identity as possible before going back into a major label system. Back then, she had interest from the majors because of songwriting success, but I wanted loyal core fans there for her, not just anyone she was affiliated with, so if and when she did decide to partner with one, it would be a true partnership to help amplify her vision. JAGUAR II was released via Lovett Music in partnership with RCA Records to help her music reach new heights.
She was a songwriter for years before beginning her recording career, which is not always an easy transition for artists to make. How did you help that process, and what were the challenges involved?
This is actually a common misconception. Victoria did start her music career as an artist; she was signed in a girl group that ended up getting dropped from their label. To provide for herself and keep working while sorting out contracts and having developed further under an incredible songwriter like Lashawn Daniels, who wrote hits like “Say My Name” for Destiny’s Child, she tried to keep her dream of artistry alive by songwriting. It can be incredibly difficult for people who have success as songwriters first to be able to brand themselves and differentiate the songs they write for others from their own work. Victoria has always been great at that. Victoria’s artistic voice really is unique. After the music was made, I wanted to make sure her visual identity was credible and set her apart. I searched Vimeo for hours looking for directors before finding Valentin Petit, an incredible French director, to shoot “Moment” as the first true music video from JAGUAR. It’s important to me that the visual art match the caliber of the music. We have an incredible creative team that is dedicated to that, which you can see by the videos for JAGUAR II. Our creative director Charlotte and art director Jess are both fearless, talented women who work hand in hand with us to push the art and story forward.
This nominated album, JAGUAR II, is the second half of a two-project series. How did you approach the entire rollout differently from perhaps a more traditional release schedule?
Attention spans are so short. One thing I’ve heard people say is, “If the music is great, people will find it.” Sure — but they’re more likely to find it if you can give them as many touch points and opportunities as possible. When we first started talking about the rollout for JAGUAR in 2019, we were going to do three parts to be consistent and give fans more chances to discover Victoria and her music. More singles to focus on one at a time to point back to a cohesive world. We didn’t plan for a pandemic to happen in the middle of that process, but we adapted and released four singles off a nine-song project to keep it going consistently for as long as possible over the course of a year. A lot of the rollout for both JAGUAR and JAGUAR II is sustained by content in between our videos and singles, and great press moments thanks to our longtime indie publicist Dana Meyerson at biz3. We released two singles in 2021 after the birth of her daughter to stay in the conversation, did her first pre-show award show performance at BET Awards that year, then revisited the remaining songs for JAGUAR II.
Coming back to the remaining music years later, Victoria felt something was missing and that she could do better, so I set more sessions for her. Those songs were “Cadillac,” “Party Girls (feat. Buju Banton),” “Alright” produced by Kaytranada, “How Does It Make You Feel,” “Stop (Askin Me 4Shyt)” and “On My Mama.” More than half of the album. She was right.
For JAGUAR II specifically, how did you want to present it, given it was such a long-awaited project and yet, also, her debut album?
Victoria is one of the most dedicated perfectionists I’ve ever met — in the way that I imagine the greats I’ve always respected were when they created some of the most important albums of our time. We wanted to continue the theme of JAGUAR being a representation of Victoria as a complex Black woman, making sure each song showed another side of her so it could speak to women everywhere. We still believe in albums as experiences, not chasing singles, so that was a determining factor of what songs to pick to represent JAGUAR II. The singles were all different enough to keep fans engaged and looking forward to the album.
We started with “Smoke” featuring Lucky Daye since it continued the sound established with D’Mile on the first project. It served the true R&B purists in her fanbase. Victoria felt strongly about “Party Girls” as the next single to get out ahead of the summer given the island influence. Our label supported her vision to deliver a visual that continued to elevate her art, and it accomplished that by raising the bar for her.
“On My Mama” was the easiest entry point for all of the above — there’s enough musicality for the purists, a recognizable sample that isn’t overused, a hip-hop element to bring in new fans, a universal celebratory message and an incredible video with choreo that continues to have its own viral moment. It’s an ode to Black culture and Victoria’s identity on multiple fronts as a Black woman. “On My Mama” is where she arrived, right before we put out the album. Thanks to our passionate radio team led by Sam Selolwane, “On My Mama” has hit No. 1 on urban radio and is making its way across the charts at other formats as well.
In addition to the singles, the key to this rollout was using her live show to propel the music. Victoria is an incredible performer. In March of this year, we kicked off her new era with “Smoke,” and quickly followed with the announcement of her first-ever solo show in partnership with Spotify to bring the experience to Los Angeles. We did this again right after “On My Mama” came out in June, announcing her highly anticipated first solo tour, which sold out in minutes. By the time the album came out, we had a sold-out tour for loyal fans and so much positive feedback on the songs. The tour intentionally brought most of the songs on JAGUAR II to life to keep people going back to the album after its release. Word of mouth, whether via the Internet or real life, is still some of the most valuable advertising, and the tour has accomplished that.
There is a wide breadth to these nominations, which celebrate artistry, songwriting, performance and overall quality. What does that say about Victoria as an artist, and to the work you guys have put in?
It says a lot about Victoria. Her dimensions as an artist are mirrored by her dimensions as a person: she’s already wearing many hats of intersectionality as an openly bisexual Black woman. She’s also a mother, so these nominations are already serving as lessons for her daughter that she can do whatever she chooses to. It’s a beautiful thing to watch Victoria be nominated as an artist for the first time and share that experience with her daughter, who is also making history as the youngest ever to be nominated. Representation matters deeply. The nominations amongst her peers in the Recording Academy speak to seeing the range of her skills, each of which she works hard to hone.
The nominations speak to the years of hard work collectively by Victoria and our largely female team. It’s a largely affirming moment in my own life and career for every time I thought maybe the world would not recognize what I have been working hard to get people to see and sacrificing time with family and loved ones to do. I advocated for a difficult path in favor of creative control for Victoria and she trusted me.
I’m an independent manager that is also an openly queer Black woman. I’m a first-generation American and daughter of Haitian immigrants. This is something I have dreamt of since I was a kid. The majority of superstars have male managers, and most of them are white. While the journey was incredibly difficult and at times isolating, it makes these nominations very rewarding for me personally. It’s a reminder to trust my instincts. This is a moment for our entire team, in which we are being seen. Everyone has been working tirelessly at their crafts before meeting Victoria and came together to make something we are all proud of.
What can all these nominations help you guys further accomplish moving forward — and what is next for you guys?
The nominations have started opening doors to opportunities our team has been pitching and campaigning for Victoria for years, but the work doesn’t stop. There’s certainly a tangible validity to them that is really helping our cause. Things aren’t necessarily automatically easier or not requiring work per se, but they absolutely are helping as another co-sign to the credibility of Victoria as an artist.
Victoria has been telling me just about every week she’s been doing promo, touring or working that she can’t wait to get back in the studio because she’s inspired, and I can’t wait to dive back into the creative process. There’s still so much to do. We’re looking forward to releasing more music and content and doing more collaborations. We’re excited to bring her live show to more people and continue to build her audience globally. She’s expressed a desire to act as well.
And what do these mean for you as a manager?
I want to be able to continue to open doors for myself and others through these nominations. I have two stellar artist clients — one being Victoria and one being an incredible rising vocalist named Saint Harison that I want to make sure reach as many people as possible with their talent. The journey for Victoria has been an incredible story that people are authentically connecting to. I’ve always been a creative first and foremost, and my heart has been in storytelling. Whether that’s helping to get out the stories of my clients or telling stories of my own, that has been the root of my passion that I’m excited to keep exploring.
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