“I need my man to have Dwight energy about me, okay! I will be the Michael to your Dwight,” Coco Jones declares in between laughter. As the actor and talented singer-songwriter puts it: “He’s a hustler, and I respect a hustler.” Jones, who is one of the stars of the new drama Bel-Air, a reimagining of the hit ’90s comedy The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, is sharing her love for unwinding with an episode of The Office (her favorite character is Dwight) and delicious food, like a comforting takeout order of ramen, during her off hours.
If you initially felt skeptical when news broke that Fresh Prince was being refitted to a present-day lens for NBC’s streamer Peacock, you’re not alone. Certain beloved classics elicit a strong Why mess with a good thing? from longtime fans. But part of what makes Bel-Air so good is that it doesn’t try to replicate the secret sauce of the original—it has its very own.
In creator and executive producer Morgan Cooper’s refreshed version, Jones plays eldest sister Hilary Banks, a savvy chef and influencer with a passion for honoring the dishes of her heritage and creating communal moments around food. When we meet the down-to-earth Banks sibling, she’s left college after feeling disconnected from traditional schooling and seeing the power of social media, instead opting to pave her own creative lane as she figures things out, much to the chagrin of her mother.
The chemistry among Bel-Air’s tight-knit cast paired with the balance of being a series light-hearted enough to binge-watch and meaty enough to invest in the characters is a delight. We see Black characters crafted with empathy and a humanizing messiness as they navigate a variety of real-life experiences: the pain that can arise from being disconnected from your community while growing up in a white, affluent bubble, pursuing what fulfills you even when loved ones don’t fully see the vision and support you, and Black boys and men bringing a refreshing emotional vulnerability to their relationships with one another, and the girls and women in their lives.
The tenacity of this reimagined Hilary Banks deeply resonated with Jones when settling into the role. “Being in an industry that’s not necessarily catered to you, having opportunities that require you to tone down your Blackness, I relate to those things so much because I’m in an industry where colorism is definitely in effect. It’s getting better for sure, but it’s rough out here,” she says, referencing the entertainment industry’s notorious preferential treatment of performers of color with the closest proximity to whiteness: light skin, straight or loose curly hair, and features that fit comfortably into historically Eurocentric notions of beauty. “Hilary refuses to alter what she brings to the table, she just continues to believe that she is enough and the right people and the right opportunities will get that,” continues Jones. “I relate to that a lot with my journey.”
Many early supporters of Jones were introduced to her by way of her role in the popular Disney musical Let It Shine. Fans expected her to follow the familiar path blazed by other starlets before her, à la Raven-Symoné, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez. She thought she was supposed to appear in a hit film, become a regular in other big Hollywood productions, and star in another show and more movies along the way. When this didn’t happen and Jones stepped away from the spotlight for a handful of years, fans weren’t shy about voicing their curiosity and disappointment.
In an act of vulnerability and bravery, Jones decided to respond to a viral tweet asking what had happened with her career via YouTube in 2020. She filled fans in on obstacles she’d faced as a dark-skinned Black girl in both the acting and music industry and was met with an outpour of support.
“It reignited me dreaming big dreams,” Jones says of the endearing online experience. From there, she began speaking positive affirmations, claiming the creative endeavors she longed to sink her teeth into, and creating digital vision boards that would become her cell phone lock screen to remind herself what she was working toward.
The time away from the limelight gave her the opportunity to experience normalcy in a way many childhood stars miss out on, says Jones, and to develop a strong sense of self outside of sharing her gifts for public consumption. She found herself meditating on questions like, What are sources of peace I can access that are within my control? “I didn’t know the answer to that until everything around me stopped, and that’s a crucial thing to know about yourself,” she says of the formative period.
Since then, a more realized version of herself has emerged—more in tune with her wants and needs, more firm on concessions she’s uninterested in making in her professional and romantic life, and she’s proudly committed to her self-care, from lavishing her face with a solid skincare routine to regularly going to therapy. “My favorite thing to do for self-care is probably therapy,” shares Jones, which she began attending last year during the ongoing pandemic. “Honestly, you don’t know what you’re keeping in the back of your mind or just suppressing when you’re on the go until having that chunk of time to unload everything that you’re thinking. It’s so helpful for growth.”
That energy of being intentional about loving herself well emanates in Jones’s music, like her sensual, bass-heavy new single “Caliber.” The ballad feels tailor-made for vibing out with your girlfriends on the way to a function or simply embracing a healthy dose of lusty, boss energy.
“I wanted to talk about something different than just sex. I wanted to talk about the cat and mouse that is before that thought for me,” Jones says of putting the single together. “I like a guy that’s showing me effort, that’s showing me that energy, who makes it clear with his actions that he sees me as a prize to attain, may the best man win. I was like, let me talk that talk, like if you wanna win the game, you gotta follow these rules and get on my level.”
A song equal parts breezy and empowering, encouraging women to celebrate themselves and honor their inherent value, even if people and the environments they’re in fail to see it, is a welcome reminder that is always on time. “Sometimes I would forget or I would choose to forget that those should be my standards because of something that was more convenient at the time,” Jones says, reflecting on the experiences that helped her co-write “Caliber.” “Throughout my life, I knew how I’m supposed to think of myself, and I knew the truth, which is that I am the prize, but you know, sometimes—you be bored, and you’re like, I’m just gonna forget this little rule really quick. But I realized all those times it never led to anything, so I might as well keep my standards.”
Jones has long been an undeniable star—she’s got the voice, acting skills and comedic chops that demand a rom-com leading role, charisma that feels rooted in sincerity and authenticity, and she’s only just warming up. Like any girl finding her way in a culture that can often be unkind, she’s had her moments where she’s not fully tapped into her greatness, but make no mistake, she’s evolving more into her best self each day. While Jones may just be entering the radar of some, she has always been That Girl.