When I catch Coco Jones on the phone three days before the 66th Grammy Awards, where she’s up for Best New Artist, she’s in the midst of an errand-filled day. Earlier that morning, she had a fitting for her dress — “I will just say that it's custom and fits me like a glove,” she demures — and followed that with a business lunch with her lawyers. And she’s clearly still on the go, her voice echoing from different parts of the room. “I have this ‘protect my mind’ mentality where I can literally dissociate from anything that could possibly make me nervous,” she says. “I just focus on things I can control.”
Compartmentalizing is something Jones has perfected as an actress (and former Disney star), and she’ll be using that skill this weekend as she attends the slew of industry gatherings in the leadup to Sunday’s main event. On Feb. 2, she and Grey Goose will host her own pre-fête where she’ll introduce the “Coco” signature cocktail, her twist on a refreshing cucumber-vodka spritz. But what she’s most looking forward to is finally being in the same room as the “other amazing women in R&B,” she says. “They all inspire me so much, Victoria [Monét], SZA … I can’t wait to just see all my fellow Black women getting their shine.”
It’s a historic year for the Grammys in that sense: More women than ever are nominated across all categories, and that includes Black women who are majorly represented in the main and R&B fields. In addition to her Best New Artist nod, Jones is up for four more awards in Best R&B Album for her 2023 What I Didn’t Tell You (Deluxe) EP, Best Traditional R&B Performance for a collaboration with Babyface, and Best R&B Song and Best R&B performance, for her soaring ballad “ICU.”
A smoldering belter about being unable to let go of an ex, “ICU” was originally a footnote Jones finished in just 20 minutes with help from her friend and co-writer Roy Keisha Rockette. But upon its release, “ICU” debuted at No. 88 on the Billboard Hot 100, her first appearance on the charts, before peaking at No. 62. “I felt like I had made something really worthwhile,” Jones says, “but all these accolades … that was news to me.”
Jones says she believes a lot of its success lies not only in the autobiographical nature of its lyrics (they’re about a real ex she was still healing from) but also the number of impressive vocal runs she delivers, an indication that people are looking for capital-S singers again. Until “ICU,” she’d released quirky pop tunes but never a song as vocally complex as this one. (If you were wondering, she says she still has no embarrassment about her Disney era.)
For Jones, “ICU” is but a drop in a wider, shifting tide taking place in R&B. The genre’s resurgence on the charts in recent years, spearheaded by intimate songwriters like SZA, Jazmine Sullivan, and Jones herself, as well as its domination at this year’s Grammys, shows just how much Black women are at the helm, steering the ship. “SZA, Victoria, Summer [Walker], we really can put R&B on the map in a different way and modernize it,” Jones says.
Come Sunday, Jones will be rooting for her peers alongside her mom, who she’s taking to the ceremony. “She's always known what the world is just finding out,” she says. She’ll go to the afterparties and come home and eat, because she’ll have been too anxious to actually enjoy dinner. And then she’ll journal about the night before getting right back to work: There’s a tour to prepare for, upcoming festival dates, and her eventual debut album, which she’s already started work on. She welcomes the busyness, because, as she puts it, “life is life-ing.”