We chat with the rising R&B songstress and star of Peacock’s hit series Bel-Air.
It’s early morning in LA when singer and actress Coco Jones joins me on Zoom, rushing between what appears to be a jam-packed schedule. “It’s been hectic,” she says after an early start going from one interview to the next, with another booked straight after; yet the 25-year-old multi-talent sounds poised, vibrant and joyous as ever. “I’m so excited because I’m coming to London on Monday,” she tells me with more press mapped out in her non-stop diary. “I want to be all over the world. I want my music to introduce me to new countries and new languages.”
Courtney ‘Coco’ Jones is ready to receive her long overdue flowers. After signing onto Def Jam Recordings / High Standardz in 2022, the former Disney star released her successful debut EP, ‘What I Didn’t Tell You’, and is now working to release new music this summer. At the same time, Coco is expanding her acting chops by starring as Hilary Banks in Peacock’s ‘Fresh Prince’ reboot, ‘Bel-Air’.
Raised in “the home of country music”, AKA Tennessee, Coco first gained mainstream recognition when she starred as Roxie in the Disney original picture ‘Let It Shine’ (2012) alongside Tyler James Williams. During this period, Coco appeared on shows such as Disney’s ‘So Random!’, ‘Good Luck Charlie’ and the U.S. drama ‘Grandma’s House’. Coco has faced several challenges in an industry “where there are so many outside reasons on whether or not you get the opportunity, that has nothing to do with talent”. Many fans across the internet asked what happened to Coco and raised issues of colourism in Hollywood. Navigating the industry as a dark skin black woman can come with obstacles and false starts. Still, now Coco is continuing a successful streak with patience, perseverance, and the support of her “besties” – her family.
“The reason that I’m still doing all of the things that I’m doing right now is because I didn’t give up after rejection, I just kept going and that’s really what gets you where you want to go.” The ‘ICU’ singer was raised by parents with their own unconventional paths of “hard odds of success” – a dad in the NFL and a mum who was a background singer and a businesswoman. “I’m very competitive myself and so when I say that I want to do something, I’m ready to do it,” – this has been true from early on. Besides a kind heart and warm appeal, Coco has been determined from the get-go. At just 9 years old, the star took to a football pitch to sing the American national anthem. “I feel the same way that I felt when I was 9 every time I’m about to perform,” she reveals recalling the event. “I remember my mum kept trying to get me to eat chicken tenders but I was so excited that I wanted it to happen, I just couldn’t – I was like girl, moving on, I’m just ready to go!” Coco carries the same excitement and eagerness to get on stage and captivate the audience today. Nor does she need an alter-ego where she has charisma in buckets – “I feel like I’m different versions of myself [on stage]”.
Her multiplicity comes through in the singer’s genre-bending ability. “I want to be genre-less because I have favourite songs from all different genres. I want to be able to tap into all of them – gospel, country, indie/alt, soul, neo-soul, definitely pop.” But with going global in sight, certain genres trump others – “Pop is next though, after R&B, because I’m trying to be international up in here!” However, Coco does R&B exceedingly well, having received praise from the likes of Beyoncé as her profile takes off. “Kehlani was really impressed. Ella Mai and Doja Cat told me that they listened to one of the first EPs that I did independently – it was really crazy to hear that. Honestly, anytime that I perform live anywhere I feel like a lot of people really start messing with me.”
One of those people is the legendary musician Babyface. Coco’s duet and music video, ‘Simple’, with the 63-year-old singer is a masterclass in old-school R&B. “Working for Babyface was a great learning experience – I think because I’m a new artist I’m constantly trying to prove myself and a lot of the times I can get kind of anxious in wanting to create a certain outcome in every studio session, but watching him – the legend that he is – just let the great lyrics, and the great music come to him without forcing anything or putting too much pressure on it was inspiring to watch because he’s been here forever making songs and staying relevant. It kind of taught me that I can relax a little more in my creative process.”
Lyrically, Coco gifts us sweet, confident and sensual thoughts on ‘What I Didn’t Tell You’. “I love intentionality in my lyrics because words are so powerful, I don’t want to be over here speaking anything negative about myself or in general because I don’t want nobody singing that back to me,” she jokes. It’s about positivity, self-confidence, self-love and experimenting with new sounds for the breakout star. Diving into the tracks, Coco reveals “ICU is probably one of my more vulnerable topics and that stems from a relationship that I had a couple of years ago. We kind of popped off at the same time and had this momentum and it grew us apart in a way – but then we were trying to not be truthful and act blind to that. And as we kept going through that cycle it was like, okay, what are we doing here? And that’s kind of how ICU came about.”
R&B is typically a love-centric genre but the introduction of ‘situationships’ from gen-Zers is something the genre hasn’t seen before. “I try to keep them [my songs] very in touch with my real life, in my real relationships and my current situations.” Situationships, we agree, “are so boundaryless and yet, confusing”.
For now, Coco teases upcoming, exciting collaborations – but isn’t going to lift the lid on any yet. But after listening to her recent Spotify studio session with Leon Thomas III, I learn the two former children’s TV stars, both catching their big breaks at a similar time, previously created a song together. “It was just a cute little, teeny-bopper ballad – very High School Musical essence.” Sadly, it’s strictly for their ears only with Coco joking “it’s not out, definitely in the archives!”
Meanwhile, the songstress is putting on a show in the ‘Bel-Air’ remake as the brazen and social media-savvy Hilary Banks. “Me and Hilary are very similar – very headstrong, goal-oriented, opinionated, confident – she has better fashion than me though, but she’s also rich as hell!” Hilary dons the best looks, besides her mother, in the reboot switching from modern influencer chic to California prep. “The dress that Hilary wears on the yacht for Ashley’s birthday party in the first episode of season two” is Coco’s favourite outfit. “It’s a custom dress that Queen Sylvia, who was our costume director, designed from scratch with the seamstress, all the rhinestones are hand placed, and I got to watch the dress come to life.”
The only key difference between the star and her character would be the initial mother-daughter dynamic between Hilary and Vivian Banks surrounding her career goals. “They both want the same things which is for Hilary to do well, to be happy and to have a satisfying life. I just think the way that they go about it is different and kind of clashing, but I think that’s a very common mother-and-daughter plight, at the end of the day, it’s within love.”
Fast forward to Season Two, which premiered February 23rd and is currently streaming weekly on Peacock, Hilary has already shown personal and mental growth. “The difference is in season two where she’s very put together with her career, she’s kind of the opposite in her personal love life, her vulnerability and her emotions so she’s kind of trying to figure that out whilst being the boss of the influencer house.”
In terms of Hilary’s relationship with Jazz, Coco admits that they’re like “ying and yang” – “they both elevate each other by teaching different sides of life and offering perspective.” Regarding her own love life, “I like opposite careers because I don’t wanna talk about music and music careers all the time, I pretty much don’t want to ever talk about it unless it’s for work,” she laughs. But it’s all about personality and character for Coco, who – like her fans, the co-captains – values authenticity in all parts of life.
Coco wears full look Archival Tommy Hilfiger.