It Girl

Coco Jones Works For Herself

She went viral for being “an employee.” Now, the new version of the singer and actor is “very decisive, very opinionated, and very, very choosy.”

In 2020, Coco Jones went live for 32 minutes on YouTube talking about her experience as a Disney Channel star, routinely passed over for roles for being a dark-skinned Black woman. Though she joked and switched accents and punctuated important points with a vocal-fried “period,” she also matter-of-factly walked viewers through the hurt and bitter realizations that would make a then-22-year-old think deeply about how they wanted to work — but also how they wanted to live. “And you would do it too for a check — I was an employee!” became the TikTok sound heard ’round the world, but four years later, Coco Jones is doing it for herself.

Historically, the narrative around Jones has gone something like this: She was a promising young actor and singer who should have reached mainstream crossover success — except she was dropped by her record label and largely mishandled by an industry that didn’t know what to do with her. But she kept going, made TikToks, and came out with an album-length EP titled What I Didn’t Tell You, which this magazine called soulful and reminiscent of the golden days of R&B. Then she was nominated for five Grammys — and won for best traditional R&B performance. To most anyone else, the recognition might’ve been a sign that the tears and trauma had been worth it. But for Jones, it was only more motivation to keep leveling up.

David Koma clothing, Givenchy sunglasses, Jennifer Fisher earrings, René Caovilla shoes

When we chat in mid-March, Jones has been a Grammy winner for a little more than a month and, more recently, a two-time NAACP Image Award recipient. (In her Disney days, she and her Let It Shine co-stars once performed at a nominees’ luncheon for the latter.) But though she has yet to deliver the gilded gramophone to her mom’s house, where a space among “all her kids’ awards and championship rings” has been dusted in preparation, Jones is already on to the next: her new album, which she says she hopes will arrive by the end of the summer. With it, she’ll share “a new version of me that’s very decisive, very opinionated, and very, very choosy.”

Esenshel hat, Jenny Bird earrings
Hermès clothing, Jenny Bird jewelry, Emilio Cavallini tights, Gianvito Rossi shoes

“I think my debut EP version of myself was ‘I don't know, y’all tell me,’” she says. “‘I don’t know what should be on this album. I don’t know what it should be called. I don’t know what I should wear.’ But so much has changed in my personal life and in my work dynamic with people that I’m like, ‘OK, I’ve got to know.’ Because if not me, then who’s going to tell me who I'm supposed to be? It has to come from me because I’m the only consistent thing here.”

And while Jones is pushing herself with the types of sounds on the record and the team of writers and producers she’s assembled, she says these “songs I’ll carry for the rest of my life” are the result of a lot of hard work on her writing and her melodies — and even more introspection. “All my epiphanies happen either when I’m spending time with God or when I’m in therapy,” she notes. Part of that inward looking, I’m surprised to learn, involves putting some distance between herself and the oft-repeated anecdote of how she once took a photo of Beyoncé cradling an armful of trophies and pasted her own face over top. “My definition of success has become less specifically what I saw from one person’s life because I wasn’t really in that life,” she says. Now, the more “mentally protective” way she thinks about her goals is to recognize the duality of wanting to go on a world tour but also wanting to be healthy; of wanting multiple Top 10 Billboard songs but also balance. (Her exact quote, by the way, is “going to have multiple Top 10 Billboard songs.”) A husband, a family, and two dogs — specifically a Japanese Akita and a “something-doodle” — are on the list as well. She wants it all, she says, not one thing in exchange for another.

Ferrari clothing and sunglasses, stylist own gloves, Misho necklace (worn as anklet), Heist Studios tights, The Attico shoes
Hermès top, Jenny Bird jewelry

Which brings us to the part where Coco Jones realizes that after discovering her most authentic self and plumbing the depths to make art, she will, one day, have to shift her attention outward.

“I know [what] I have to accomplish careerwise so I can be satisfied with the version of Coco that just had to do Coco,” she says. “And then there’ll be me that’s married, and I’ll have to give of myself to another person, and we’ll have to compromise so we can do life together. And that Coco’s a little more selfless. And then when I have freaking kids, it’s like, ‘Well, damn.’ So by the time I get there, I’ll need whatever I did in my ‘only about me’ stage to really carry over so I can be an individual, but I don’t have to grind it out with no end in sight.”

Schiaparelli dress, Esenshel hat, Jenny Bird earrings and ear cuff, Alexis Bittar bracelet, Calzedonia tights, Jimmy Choo shoes

But before that, she’ll finish filming the third season of Bel-Air in a few months; probably shoot more of her own high-gloss photos to have some semblance of control over what images people add to their mood boards (“Well, somebody’s going to need to look at some pictures of me, so let me put something out there”); and maybe release a country song that brings her back to her childhood in Nashville singing in talent competitions and lounges, anywhere they needed a little girl with a powerful voice. Right now, the work might be all for Coco Jones and her many magnificent dreams, but she says it’s for the fans, too — so that when she does finally ride off to live her non-“Coco career” life, we’ll have something remarkable to miss her by.

David Koma clothing, Givenchy sunglasses, Jennifer Fisher earrings

Top image credits: Ferrari jacket and sunglasses, stylist’s own gloves

Photographs by Travys Owen

Styling by Jan-Michael Quammie

Hair: Jacob Dillon

Makeup: Diana Shin

Manicure: Yoko Sakakura

Talent Bookings: Special Projects

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Editor in Chief: Lauren McCarthy

SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid

SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert