Chloe x Halle Are Here to Save—No, Take Over—the Rest of Your 2020
Grammy-nominated sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey haven’t been waiting their whole lives for this moment—they’ve been working for it. Who knew it’d feel so weird?
- Sep 9, 2020
Their style. (Impeccable.)Their energy. (Good, v good.)Their voices and harmonies. (Transcendent—the sound makes you feel held one minute and like you’re levitating the next.)They’re in full control of their careers. Of their songwriting, their production, their image.Beyoncé is their *mentor*.And oh, yeah: They dropped one of the most creative projects to come out of quarantine—no, 2020. Let’s throw in 2021 too.
So you should know by now that when it comes to music, the sisters are a singular force. So singular, in fact, that when asked if they could be interviewed individually for this cover story, their publicist politely explained that no, “Chloe x Halle is one artist, together.”
That synergy is what elevates their most recent album, Ungodly Hour, above basically everything else. It’s Chloe x Halle’s all-grown-up offering after their adolescent 2018 debut, and it’s a proclamation to the world—a reintroduction, if you will—that Chloe, 22, and Halle, 20, are women now. And while they’re moving through all that growth gracefully, “I’m so…am I on edge?” Chloe asks her sister.
“Yes,” Halle replies without missing a beat or looking up from her coloring book.
Yes, they’re coloring. It’s their new wind-down activity—a way to tap into that inner-child energy they sing about staying connected to on Ungodly Hour’s ode to self-love, “Baby Girl.” The part of you that’s unjaded and hopeful.
“I’ve gotten hooked because I don’t really communicate how I feel inside,” Chloe tells me of her new hobby on a quiet mid-July morning in Los Angeles, her cute bubblegum-pink spaghetti-strap bodycon dress begging to be let out of the house, her locs swinging around her shoulders as she fills in a trippy-looking stag’s head. She shares this deeply real revelation fewer than five minutes into our Zoom call. She refuses to share, however, the title of her coloring book, one of two Halle got her for her birthday. Instead, she holds both up to the laptop camera: Calm the F*ck Down and Fuckity Fucker. Halle, coolly flexing in a high ponytail, pristine lip gloss, and a Chloe x Halle hoodie from their merch collection, is smirking. “I color when I’m upset or just feeling anxious,” Chloe continues. She’s the type of person who likes to stay busy, to have a plan, to know exactly what’s coming next. Without that sense of control, she says, “I get very anxious.”
It’s called being an early-20something. That time when you’re bursting with aspirations and convictions about arriving at the fully adult-woman version of yourself that feels like it’s taken forever to reach. It’s a transition filled with a whirlwind of realizations, frustrations, and disappointments.
Now imagine experiencing all that with the entire world watching. Now imagine experiencing all that with the entire world watching and there’s an urgent civil rights movement sweeping the nation and there’s a pandemic taking over the world that’s made everything feel even more unsettled, more daunting, more like it’s moving in slow motion.
So yes, Chloe’s been pretty anxious lately.
During the mood-boarding process for Ungodly Hour—which Chloe describes as “like, four posters we taped together with red duct tape on a wall in our studio”—they cut out and attached the phrase “the trouble with angels” because it resonated with the layers they wanted to reveal. The album name they wrote as a result symbolizes, for them, the idea that there’s room for error and self-acceptance even at their flawed and most impious moments. “It’s okay to accept all that you are, all of your layers,” Chloe explains. “You at the ungodly hours.”
Of course, that’s easier said than done. During the first two months of their album-writing process, the pressure to make instant radio bops—which was, admittedly, fully self-imposed—was front and center. It’s what happens when you’re ready to show the world your 2.0 version: the spiral of wanting to be seen but not wanting to be seen as anything less than a hundred percent how you see yourself, and somewhere in there, feeling like you’re getting in your own way. “We got in our heads and were creating the worst stuff,” Chloe remembers. “Even the beats I was making were trash.” (“They were never trash,” Halle lovingly shoots back.)
But the way around your own self-blocking is, of course, an obvious one: Trust your instincts. “There came a moment when it was just like, you know what? We do music because we love it,” Chloe recalls. “And we love the way it makes us feel. It’s our right to be creative and do anything we want.” That includes owning their rawest feelings and turning them into fuel.
“What does this mean? What’s happening? Is this going somewhere, or is it not...?” Halle says, describing where her mind goes when a relationship feels like it’s heading left. “I have to let go and say, ‘Listen, this might be in my life plans, it might not be, so I’m going to see what happens and use this juice for creativity.” Similarly, for Chloe, being good to herself is all about setting boundaries. “Anytime something doesn’t work out,” she explains, “it’s not really healthy to say, ‘I was the reason it messed up.’ I’m still learning that. I’m learning that your happiness, you can’t put on someone else.”
Unngodly Hour quickly landed on Rolling Stone’s top-50 list for the best albums of 2020 and debuted in the top 20 of the Billboard chart, their highest ranking to date. It even made Twitter actually bearable in the 24ish hours after its June 12 release with funny, gushing confessions like, “Listening to Ungodly Hour for the 19th time today. (I’m not joking. )” But the moment was still fraught.
The original plan had been to release the album a week earlier. But following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and too many others, and as the country poured out into streets to mourn and protest the brutality of systemic racism and police violence, Chloe and Halle were emotionally fragile and “not in the right state of mind to release our project.”
They worried it’d feel disrespectful in some way. Or that it would take up space when the movement around fighting for Black lives needed all of the spotlight. In the end, they put it out there—but not because some record-label exec said they had to. Because it suddenly felt necessary. “Music has been such a healer for the Black community since the beginning of time,” Halle says. “Maybe it could help some people distract their minds from quarantine and what’s going on in the world today with hope and positivity.”
And if you can call the vibrant, elaborate, professional performances they produced from home for the likes of the Today show and the BET Awards or the electric backyard photo shoots they’ve brought to life for their latest Fendi campaign (and, you know, this magazine) “distracting,” then yes. They did that. You can also call it their “breakthrough moment.”
They’ve been at this for a while, having been discovered by Beyoncé in 2014 when the then-teens were uploading YouTube covers of tracks like “Pretty Hurts.” Beyoncé signed them to her label, Parkwood Entertainment, a year later. Since then, they’ve dropped a debut album that earned them two Grammy noms and a well-received spot on the Coachella festival lineup, opened for Jay-Z and Beyoncé on their On the Run II Tour, and amassed a loyal following in the millions, with whom they regularly connect and interact on Instagram. And for the past two and half years, they’ve also costarred on Freeform’s Grown-ish, playing twin sisters Jazz and Sky on the popular teen spin-off of ABC’s Black-ish.
But *this* is it. The moment when things go from huge to astronomical. Just weeks after Ungodly Hour’s release, Chloe x Halle earned what’s sure to be the first of many award nominations from the BET Awards (Best Group) and MTV Video Music Awards (Best R&B for “Do It” and Best Quarantine Performance). Their press tour has included high-profile stops in high-profile places like Billboard, Vogue (both Teen and regular), Hot97, Time, NPR, Vulture, and the Wall Street Journal. And on top of all that, they’re simultaneously wrapping up a little side project called Becoming Famous Actresses.
Chloe has recently finished production for Russell Crowe’s upcoming thriller, The Georgetown Project, while Halle is preparing for her breakout lead role as Ariel in the much-hyped, no doubt box-office (or stream)-smashing live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. (She’s recording the soundtrack too.) The outcry from racist trolls that followed Halle’s casting announcement last year was disheartening, but it couldn’t take away from the excitement. This is history-making. A welcome chance to breathe new, better life into a much-loved problematic fave.
Whether you’re a Disney-head or not, being crowned a princess is mega. And it’s a stage Halle’s standing on alone, sans sis. But when it comes up, there isn’t even the slightest sense of tension or reluctance that comes through the Zoom window. As Chloe describes how their parents raised them to “stand in our power,” to be as strong individually as they are together, you get the sense that she’s honestly too evolved for something as petty as jealousy. In fact, Chloe showed up for Halle, staying with her during the first month into Halle’s three-month UK shoot to help ease her younger sister into being away from home. (Halle’s own stay was cut short when production stopped suddenly over COVID-19 safety concerns, just days before filming was slated to start.) Chloe’s support made her feel confident that she could actually do this on her own, Halle says.
“Whenever we’re apart, I feel like my right arm is missing,” she adds, smiling at her sister. “I say this all the time: I’m not sure what I would do if I was by myself going through this whole thing.” Since she could remember, Halle has looked up to her big sister, to her talent, to her potential—“You are so nice!” Chloe interrupts.
“But it’s true,” Halle continues. “Whenever individual opportunities come, it’s exciting because when one of us wins, the other one does too.”
And those individual opportunities aren’t a manufactured attempt at building their own brands. “Whatever we bring to the table,” Chloe says, “it’s not like we’re trying to come up with, ‘Okay, I’ll be this way and you be that way.’” But it does speak to the fact that yeah, Chloe x Halle may be one artist, but Chloe and Halle are two different women. Take, for instance, that Chloe does most of the talking, while Halle doesn’t rush to speak.
Halle laughs as she muses about her inner Aries (translation: fiery, passionate, overly honest) coming out in relationships, while Chloe’s big-sister energy comes off as nurturing, analytical, and tender. (She’s a Cancer.) They may naturally complement each other, but it is natural. “We’re not trying to force anything or purposely construct two different narratives or suffocate the other into one type of way,” Chloe says.
The thing they are though: fully in control of those narratives. It’s the same as the one-not-two interview rule. Or the not-really-negotiable, definitely-very-exact number of minutes (71, if you count the follow-up call) they’ll allot for that interview. It’s not about being difficult, because they aren’t. It’s about being deliberate, autonomous, self-assured. They know precisely what parts of themselves they want to give you, how much you’ll need, and how to deliver it. It’s gracious in its thoughtfulness. Call it the Beyoncé Method. Having a strong sense of agency is crucial in an industry that often tries its best to morph young Black artists, especially women, to fit its repressive standards and expectations. It’s no wonder, then, that for fans, it feels like a privilege to watch them figure it all out.
Although they don’t name it outright, Chloe and Halle, who were raised rooted in spirituality, are putting their faith in faith to help them do that. “The divine plan is always better than whatever I could ever come up with,” Chloe says with a smile. “And it always ends up working out the best.” Despite the bumps they may hit in their journeys, showing up for each other and their fans will always feel true. As artists—but more importantly, as sisters—growing into their own impressions of womanhood.
For now, all that love and transformation is happening from home, often in front of their coloring books, until the world opens and they’re able to step out again. And that’s just fine. “I’ve realized the things that matter to me are my happiness, my family, being around the people I love and keeping my spirit clean with their positive energy,” Halle says. “As long as I have that, no matter what happens, I am gucci, I am good.”
Fashion by Cassie Anderson. Hair and makeup by the ladies themselves, advised over Zoom by Tinisha Meeks and Christiana Cassell. Manicure by Mimi D for The Gel Bottle. Props by Natalie Shriver at Art Department. Production by Crawford & Co Productions.
Lawn chair look: On Chloe: Baja East dress; Fenty heels; Tom Wood ear cuff. On Halle: Baja East top and skirt; Tom Wood ear cuffs. Bird's eye view look: On Halle: Area Couture top. On Chloe: Miu Miu top and skirt; Tom Wood ear cuff. Full-length lawn chair look: On Chloe: Baja East dress; Fenty heels. On Halle: Baja East top and skirt; By Far heels; Tom Wood ear cuffs. Close-up look: On Chloe and Halle: Monse dresses. Cover look: On Chloe and Halle: Monse dresses, Valentino eyewear.Story by Lakin Starling Lakin Imani Starling is a music and culture writer from Philadelphia and based in Brooklyn.
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