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Young, Fresh And New: Chlöe Interviewed

“People are about to see the 360° me. Up until now they’ve only seen little pieces and fragments…”

No longer an ingénue, a new mononym comes of age under the glare of the spotlight. With a solo era promising passion and prowess, she asks: Are you ready to be entertained?

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When Chlöe Bailey began her performance at this year’s Video Music Awards, emerging as a cloaked siren – a vision of hot pink amidst a maelstrom of blinding pyrotechnics – manifestation became reality. The sheer magnitude of that occasion is not lost on her: To perform on the hallowed VMAs stage is to have your name enshrined in the great pop pantheon.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve dreamt of being on stages like this. No one knows how competitive it is to get your time to shine at the VMAs,” Chlöe tells me from New York, in between the cavalcade of promo, rehearsals and recording sessions. “No one sees the grind behind the scenes, the work that goes into making something memorable. I was so nervous; I cried a lot. I’ve always wanted to put on a show. For it to happen on one of the biggest stages in music…that’s a moment I will never forget.”

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Last year, I interviewed Chlöe and Halle after the release of their sophomore album, ‘Ungodly Hour’, lauded by critics both sides of the Atlantic as one of the defining albums of the year; a warm musical salve for a world hurtling from peril to peril. One year on, I speak with Chlöe the day before she performs her debut solo single ‘Have Mercy’ for only the second time – or as she prefaces, her “Big Booty Sonata in C-sharp minor.”

When Chlöe performs, the stage is her personal dominion. A kind of ceremonial ritual takes place before your eyes, a voyeuristic exchange between artist and audience. No one performance looks and sounds the same: The day after our tête-à-tête, she performs a symphonic version of her single on The Tonight Show, opening with a string quartet before launching into a frenzied one-woman hip-hopera. Vocally transitioning between operatic trills and a smoky staccato in the space of seconds, Chlöe sings her songs with unbridled conviction, as if she’s reciting a dramatic monologue.

In an age where the art of performing has been compromised by a dependency on effects and deafening backing tracks to make up for a lack of talent and showmanship, Chlöe is that rare breed of artist who commands the stage as if her future depends on it. “I’ll re-watch my performances and visualise the ways I can improve and build upon it. I love that I can reinvent myself every time on stage. That’s what I live for as a musician because if you can’t put on a show, if you can’t keep your audience engaged, what are you doing?” she asks.

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Moving between vivacity and bracing self-examination, Chlöe is a seasoned pro in conversation mode, knowing when to engage and when to circumvent – she has after all been positioned for stardom since she was a child. Recognising a latent ability in his daughters, Chlöe and Halle’s Father encouraged them to compose their own songs: Enthused by the maverick spirit of a long line of Atlanta pioneers, including OutKast and TLC, Chlöe would forge her own path by learning how to self-produce at the age of 11.

“Back in Atlanta, my sister and I would write our own songs and we were eager to find someone experienced who was willing to produce them but no one was really biting. The mentality was instilled in me then; that if you don’t know how to do something, you figure it out on your own,” she explains. “I’ve always loved technology. Music is math, music is technical – it’s about building and constructing. That’s why I was so captivated by beat-making and why I picked it up at such a young age.”

After launching their own YouTube channel performing covers of well-known hits, Chlöe and Halle were signed by Beyoncé to her Parkwood imprint, who recognised the pair’s raw vocal virtuosity early on. Under Parkwood, the duo produced four projects in the span of five years, charting their journey from innocuous, reverent teens to young women crossing the threshold into adulthood. Garnering four Grammy nominations, a plethora of industry co-signs and a cult following along the way, Chlöe and Halle became the new vanguard of soft and strident, kaleidoscopic R&B.

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Where chasms in musical groups expose a clash between personalities and egos, Chlöe and Halle’s bond as sisters and co-creators is impermeable. For this reason, Chlöe’s embrace of a solo venture, whilst her sister began her own, was never a point of contention but in fact preordained. “Going solo happened so organically and I think that surprises people. I’m always producing music, I’m always in the studio but it struck me that I could create a body of work that reflected me, entirely, at this moment in time,” Chlöe shares. “I’m so grateful that Halle and I have accomplished so much together that we feel comfortable enough to do separate things. Actually, I think it’s important we do.”

Still, did Chlöe yearn for that sisterly synergy? “Oh absolutely! It was weird in the beginning not having someone there you trust implicitly, to bounce off and say: “What do you think of this?’ ‘What should I add there?’ Did she make a conscious decision to pivot away from the sound and image they’d cultivated together? “Honestly, no. The beautiful thing about my sister and I, is that yes, we’re so synchronised but we’re also two complete individuals with different musical tastes. I love the more electronic, beat-driven side of music and Halle’s a real jazz head. The two of us coming together is what makes Chloe and Halle so unique.”

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So, here’s what we know about Chlöe’s solo album: She’s decided on a title; a hundred songs from sessions dating back to last year are archived – thirty of those potential contenders for a spot on the album; a collaboration with The Neptunes could make its way onto the album; expect more of a pop-leaning auditory experience with glimmers of the more amorphous production she has an affinity for.

When I ask Chlöe when the album will grace our ears, she lets out a light chuckle, proceeding with an unflappable answer that comes straight from the Parkwood playbook: “It’s coming – not tomorrow, but it’s coming. I’ve got one more month of recording to make sure I get everything off my chest that I need to and really make sure the music is as strong as possible. But there’s so much music right now, too much in fact. You’ll have to wait and see.”

Over the course of 2021, Chloe emerged as a savvy digital raconteur, bridging the distance between herself and her fans with off-the-cuff tweets, titillating reels of her in production mode and impromptu chats on the set of ‘Grown-ish’ and upcoming film, ‘Jane’. “If you think about it, the internet is how we started out. We started on YouTube singing covers and I’ve come full circle with the kind of content I post now. It’s not and never has been a new thing for me. It’s actually helped build me up bit by bit, helped with my confidence and self-esteem,” she explains.

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When Chlöe posted a 15-second video teaser of ‘Have Mercy’ on her 23rd birthday, awakening from a slumber, performing a split and mouthing the words: “All this ass up in my jeans/You can’t get all up in between/You tryna get a piece of me/I can teach you a couple things,” she sent the internet into a tailspin: The Chlöe effect was in full swing. “That was crazy,” she recalls. “It was so nice to see how the intro to have ‘Have Mercy’ was resonating online; just a teaser being played again and again. That kind of power and feedback isn’t lost on me. I took my time releasing the song, but it was so reassuring knowing the anticipation was there.”

Overlaid with a mainline and background vocal that moves through scales with ease, ‘Have Mercy’s’ uniformity belies its harmonic subtlety, which to Chlöe is an integral part of her process as a composer and a distinguishing part of any CxH experience: “It’s another piece of the puzzle to figure out. The beat for ‘Have Mercy’ was a loop when I got it and I wanted it to progress but I didn’t want additional production to detract from the simplicity. It occurred to me I could embellish it with my voice. if you listen to any song we’ve put out, there’s so much vocal detail.”

Merging erotically-charged braggadocio with syrupy hooks, Chlöe and producer Murda Beatz designed a militant bounce anthem that placed women not as ornamental wallflowers but central instigators.

The accompanying video played out the song’s pink fantasia, with Chloe embodying a Medusa-esque madam, ensnaring stupefied young men into her sorority horror show. “I envisioned the colour pink when I first heard the song,” Chloe reveals. “I wanted the video to have a bunch of asses shaking but from a different narrative viewpoint to the one we’re used to seeing. Guys can have women shaking asses in their videos but it’s a problem when women are centring themselves. We had an incredible Black director, Karena Evans, who executed that vision beautifully.”  

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Yet, for all the song’s brazen absurdity, it had a more confessional origin, doubling as a laconic response to the pugnacious commentary around Chlöe’s online presence. “This song was created in the midst of everyone talking about me, picking apart the motive behind the way I was portraying myself online. I took what was being said and exaggerated everything to the max,” she shares.

The constant haranguing compelled Chlöe to post a video on her Instagram, to quell the narrative that her raunchy dance numbers and stylized portraits were a plea for attention, shining a light on the difficult journey she’d taken to reach a place of personal equilibrium. But with the veneer cracked open, we witnessed the pulverising effects of mass-mediated hysteria surrounding black female expression, not too disparate from the kind that Janet Jackson was subject to when she emancipated herself from her “good girl” image decades ago.

As puritanical rules around black women continue to this day, I ask Chlöe how she copes with the viral outrage surrounding the exploration of her sexuality: “It hurts. Words hurt, but I take that pain and let it fuel me. I’m only human, you know? I’m growing, I’m maturing, I’m exploring things about myself. I’m also not the first person in music to explore my sexuality and I won’t be the last. But I recognise that it comes with being a public figure. I make music because it gives me a euphoric high that no can take away from me. In that moment I remember why I do all of this.”

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Approaching her solo era by ridding herself of any barriers to self-actualisation, Chlöe is ready to voice her unadulterated truth. Recognising her divine purpose as a vessel for authenticity, Chlöe understands the importance of transfusing her art with universal messages of empowerment for the next generation of Black girls finding their voices.

“As I’ve been creating this music, I’m finding myself and learning who I am. Music has given me strength in my public and personal life and the two have never felt more interconnected. People are about to see the 360° me. Up until now they’ve only seen little pieces and fragments of me,” Chlöe shares before delivering her final sermon. “It’s why I’m inspired by artists like Kelis, Queen Bey and Nina Simone; these strong, radical voices. I’m still figuring out my own path, my voice and where that will lead me but I hope I can inspire and empower young women because I’m leading with integrity and being true to myself.”

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Words: Shahzaib Hussain
Photography: Ryan James Carruthers
Fashion: Nikki Cortez
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers

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Source: https://www.clashmusic.com/features/young-fresh-and-new-chl%C3%B6e-interviewed

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