Coco Jones recently spoke to Business Insider about becoming a five-time Grammy nominee.
Her 2024 nominations include best new artist, best R&B album, and best R&B song.
Jones also reflected on her early career with Disney Channel and collaboration with Reneé Rapp.
Best new artist at the Grammys is a prestigious title. But in the case of 2024 nominee Coco Jones, it's also slightly misleading.
Anyone who watched the Disney Channel in the early 2010s will recognize Jones' onscreen magnetism and precocious vocal skill. She arrived as a tween on Radio Disney's "Next Big Thing," a singing contest that also featured Beyoncé protégées Chloe and Halle Bailey. Shortly after, she landed a recurring role as the goofy pal Kelsey on "Good Luck Charlie" and starred in the Disney original movie "Let It Shine" alongside Tyler James Williams of "Abbott Elementary" fame.
Jones has been laying the groundwork for her music career outside Disney Channel, too. She currently stars as the entrepreneurial Hilary Banks on Peacock's "Bel-Air," based on the series that made Will Smith a household name. Last year, she scored a Billboard Hot 100 hit with "ICU," a soulful ballad that earned two Grammy nods and a cosign from Justin Timberlake.
Of course, the Disney-Channel-to-popstar pipeline is hardly a new phenomenon in Hollywood. From the Mouseketeers and Miley Cyrus to Olivia Rodrigo and Sabrina Carpenter, every generation has a new crop of talent who successfully jumped from the Mouse House to mainstream acclaim.
But while many of Jones' cohorts have emphatically shed the mouse ears, Jones has taken the path of radical acceptance. She told Business Insider her Disney Channel days taught her how to push through rejection, hustle, and balance many tasks and priorities — skills very much in use.
"One thing about 'Let It Shine,' it's going to follow me until the wheels fall off," Jones said. "And that's totally fine because I think it's nostalgic for my fan base."
"I have nothing but gratitude and appreciation for my Disney past, and I'm proud of that little girl," she added.
Although best new artist is intended to celebrate a "breakthrough" year regardless of the artist's longevity, I wondered if it felt strange for Jones to earn the label now — over a decade after she signed her first record contract.
"Not exactly strange," she replied. "This version of me is the most 'artist,' the most authentic version of me that I've ever been. So it's more déjà vu to be here and to do certain things that I've done before, like press runs, touring, filming — all of these things feel so second nature, like home."
"But as far as winning awards and getting acknowledged for my art," she continued, "it makes the most sense right now. Everything else was kind of cute and 'LOL' to me."
Jones released her EP 'What I Didn't Tell You' to 'reintroduce' herself
After "Let It Shine" premiered in 2012, Jones was abruptly dropped from the Disney-owned label Hollywood Records.
Despite talks of a "Let It Shine" sequel or a separate TV show, she was met with false starts and fruitless auditions instead. As a teenager with dreams of becoming the next Raven-Symoné, she was crushed.
After a few years of independent singles and modest gigs (including a Fanta commercial, the Facebook Watch series "Five Points," and the jazz-era period film "Flock of Four"), Jones noticed that fans were bemoaning her low profile. In 2020, she shared a video titled "What Really Happened" that addressed her experience with colorism in the industry, among other revelations about child stardom.
"I'm not trying to get blackballed or anything," she said at the outset. "Disclaimer is, this is my truth. This is what happened in my world."
The video was met with an outpouring of support from both fans and industry executives, Jones said. She began sharing more singing videos online, including a viral rendition of SZA's "Hits Different."
Eventually, she was able to parlay the online attention into contracts, landing her role on "Bel-Air" and signing with Def Jam Recordings in 2022. (Earlier this week, she announced a new publishing agreement with Warner Chappell Music.)
"ICU" was released as the second single from "What I Didn't Tell You," the first EP Jones released through a major label. It'll compete for best R&B album on Sunday. (Jones collected five Grammy nominations this year — not bad for a supposed newcomer.)
"What I Didn't Tell You" is the product of studious passion; Jones honors the R&B tradition without relying on imitation. Everything is elevated by her athletic voice. Listening to Jones deliver a high note is like watching Simone Biles nail a flip. She makes it seem easy.
With just 11 deluxe tracks, the project boasts an impressive multitude of emotions, flitting from saucy self-love ("Crazy For Me," "Caliber") to uncertainty and jilted fury ("Double Back," "Headline") in the matter of a few minutes.
"I really just wanted to introduce myself, or reintroduce myself, and all the different sides that are me," Jones explained. "Me when I'm excited to go to the club, me talking my shit, thinking I'm that girl. Me with my high standards for who I let into my energy. Me in love, me losing love."
The closing track, "Plan B," is a slow-burn R&B showpiece that warns a man to pledge his loyalty to Jones — or risk losing her forever.
"I will never settle for option two. I have to get that energy, whether it's through myself or through the people that I come across," Jones said of the song's inspiration. "Especially when I work this hard and I care this much, it must be top two — and not number two."
Despite the roadblocks Jones faced at a young age, this was always the plan: to be the clear successor in a long line of R&B greats. Jones grew up worshipping vocal acrobats like Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey. She remembers singing CeCe Winans at her church and catching her basketball coach "bawling" in his pew.
"That's when I was like, 'This might be more than a cute little hobby,'" she recalled. "I think that this is my purpose."
Like many Gen-Z music lovers, Jones also came of age during the reign of Taylor Swift. She was awed by Swift's songwriting craft and her business savvy.
"Taylor Swift can write her ass off. 'Love Story' had me in a chokehold," she laughed. "And I also really commend her for starting in one genre and then moving into that genre of pop, which I think is one of my down-the-line goals, to be R&B-based and pop as well."
Later, while discussing her future plans as an actor, Jones phrased her dream more directly: "Ideally, I want to be like J.Lo and have pop bops and blockbuster hits."
But for all her talk about musical heroes, Jones' songs don't sound like anyone else's.
Jones is on her own path in a crowded industry
Jones has collected millions of Spotify streams in the past year alone, including a BET Award and a Soul Train Award. She has released collaborations with Timberlake, legendary producer Babyface, and "Mean Girls" sensation Reneé Rapp.
She's found a kindred spirit in Rapp, another multihyphenate following a nonlinear path through TV, film, and performing. Jones was a fan of Rapp's HBO show "The Sex Lives of College Girls" before they sat next to each other at the MTV Video Music Awards and couldn't stop cracking jokes.
Not long after, she made a pitstop during her "What I Didn't Tell You" tour to record a guest verse for Rapp's fan-favorite song "Tummy Hurts." Later, she took another chunk out of her schedule to film the music video.
"I really do appreciate when another artist is conscious and is aware and trying to make things work," Jones said, referring to Rapp. "We worked together to figure it out because we knew we had ate that song up."
"That's when I know I'm going with the current because it all just flows like water," she added.
Earlier in our chat, Jones likened her decision-making compass to walking in a river; if she's pushing against the current, she'll simply turn around. Still, the current she's following must be awfully strong. I asked, how do you make the time and stay focused amid all of these commitments, amid everything that success demands of you?
"Some of the things that I fit into the day baffle me," Jones laughed.
I flashback to the Disney Channel itinerary Jones had laid out for me in her childhood: singing, acting, learning choreography, going to school, making friends, trying to be a normal kid, and growing up. Her déjà vu has become mine.
But once again, Jones seemed unruffled about her unusual life. She shrugged, smiled, and brushed off my concern with an air of mystical purpose.
"I'm a Capricorn," she said. "I know what I'm doing when I get on set."
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