Coco Jones came bursting into homes around the world in 2012 as Roxy in the Disney Channel Original Movie “Let It Shine,” with her impressive voice and stage presence at just 14-years-old. She continued to make music, dropping her iconic hit “Holla at the DJ.” Coco didn’t receive much attention from Disney or mainstream coverage for many years after, but after her “What Really Happened” video went wildly viral on YouTube and TikTok, she reentered many people’s lines of vision. That video wasn’t some grand return, though. Coco has been creating music for years and pushing her way through the industry’s barriers of what is acceptable in “Hollyweird.”
When I got to catch up with Coco, I found a strong artist full of jokes, laughter, compassion and the ability to sing words in the middle of telling a story.
Renewed Internet Fame
Coco Jones’ YouTube video “What Really Happened” went viral, with millions of views on YouTube, attention on Twitter and sounds that ruled For You Pages across TikTok. Coco explained the way humor is part of who she is, “Comedy has been a huge part of me and family growing up. I don’t think it’s always used as a coping mechanism or a cop-out from saying how I truly feel because I know how to express my feelings, but I do think it makes an unfortunate situation more lighthearted. Like when I did the video, I told my hard truth in areas, that was a little hard to say, and then I would throw a couple of jokes in there because I’m not upset, I’m not hurt. Hurtful things have happened to me, but that’s not the current state of my emotions, so I kind of wanted to tell my story without it leading on a negative note. So I guess I use comedy for that. And as well as me growing up around actual comedians. I’m not even the funniest in my family!”
She wasn’t worried that people making audios of your her on TikTok diminished the story she were trying to tell, “I think it shined a light on my story, more than I ever expected, and caused an uproar of support that I had no idea was going to come from the video. I’m so grateful to [Daniel] who made the sound, because it changed the game.”
Colorism in Hollyweird
In her video and when discussing her life, Coco described the ways colorism has played a part in deciding much of her fate. She described the work she put into growing her career, and the way she was often cast aside because of corporate neglect. She didn’t blame anyone or disagree with Disney’s choices, but she discussed the influence of the changing power dynamics in Hollywood.
“[Colorism] is a very real trait in the world, but very much [present] in the entertainment industry, where who you’re watching on TV can affect nations of people. It’s definitely here, it’s still a thing, it’s getting better with time because a lot more African American, Black people get in places of power where they can choose who plays the roles. But for a majority of the time, it was worse, because the roles and the shows were all designed by a certain group of people, and that certain group of people relate to people who look like them. So the more different ethnicities write stories where they control the narrative and decide who’s casted, the more colorism will become a smaller problem — and it’s getting better, for sure, but yes, it’s not gone,” Coco explained.
This is referenced in her song “Hollyweird.” Coco said that her biggest “hollyweird” moment was when she kept getting close to movie roles, when her casting director asked her to “come back whiter.” She described going to the hair store and buying wigs, contacts, clothes and changing the way she spoke. Coco shared, “I remember looking at my reflection as I was walking into my audition, and I was like, ‘Huh, I think I’m gonna turn my emotions off, because I don’t like the way this makes me feel.’ But looking back on it, I definitely felt like, ‘Man, if I don’t portray this, I’m missing out on a huge opportunity’…It’s crazy the way that this industry, specifically, will make someone who isn’t the ‘marketable’ type of person feel…”
Coco shared that “hurtful things have happened to me,” but that she’s focused on her next steps. She is not willing to sacrifice her principles for a shot at furthering her career. She shared, “I feel like I could have done a lot more to be a lot bigger, but I do think I definitely would have given away who I was for a check. When I say I was an employee, I mean to a degree…There’s not an opportunity that would make me go against my morals, which is why [there are] certain shows you haven’t seen me on, there are movies I’ve turned down, because I know I’m going to do everything to the best of my abilities and that’s where my employee quote comes from, but I’m not purchasable…I won’t go outside that range of who I am just for a momentary gratification…”
Music & Growth
“Hollyweird” is full of Coco’s powerful vocals and includes the production of Harmony Samuels and Sons of Sonix. Coco appreciated the consistent guidance and work of Sons of Sonix, sharing that they had her back in the industry when not everyone had her best interest at heart. Music is the most important thing to her. Coco shared that “music is like [her] version of art,” and that her songs are the canvases. When you listen to the power behind Coco’s vocals and the care she works to weave in influences of writing, vocalizing and production like SZA and PartyNextDoor.
When it comes to Coco’s fans, there is genuine appreciation. She takes time to specifically interact with them, because she says that she would want someone to do the same for her if she were a big fan. These people have also been wildly loyal to Coco through some of her most formative years, and she clearly values that, after it took some time for her to “really see” her fanbase.
She shared that she had a platform during her youth, but the concept of internet fame was younger than she was at the time, “I definitely did have [a platform]. I just didn’t know what it meant, at the time. The support I’m seeing now reminds me of when I was at the peak of my ‘Let It Shine’ success. Just people really listening, really paying attention, really supporting me and waiting on my next whatever, project, post. I’ve seen this kind of engagement before, I just didn’t know what it meant when I was 14 and now that I’m 22 and I see all of these influencers who have created brands and long term careers off of this engagement, I know what it means now. It’s more important and it’s more impactful and I can do more with it, now that I know what it means.”
Coco is now very secure in her identity. She explained that of course there were times that were difficult for her growing up in the industry. Coco said, “I don’t regret anything, because everything has made me who I am.” There were times when she struggled, and felt frustrated by the path she chose. She laughed, saying there were times she wished her parents had made her go to college or pursue a more typical life path, “I would regret my parents believing in me.” Today, she thrives on a sense of accomplishment and has found a sense of security. She said that after she identified who she isn’t, her strength in her choices was fortified. Coco laughed, “I know me, I know her pretty well. She’s cool.”
Coco shared that she wants to make a positive impact in peoples’ lives with her voice – whether that’s on screen or through song. She says she wants to be “bright” and “be a light” in peoples’ lives with her craft. With her appreciation for her journey, her determination and her raw talent, there is certainly a future for her in the industry in which she has grown up. While Coco Jones believes that “everything that glitters isn’t gold,” her music and presence is a shimmering 24 karat force with which to be reckoned.