Chlöe is in a fight for her life. It might not seem like it to the outside world that’s witnessing her rise to solo pop stardom. After all, the songstress, best known as the older sister in the singing duo Chloe x Halle, is at the top of her game following the September release of her debut single, “Have Mercy,” which debuted in the top five of Billboard’s Hot R&B digital and streaming charts and at #28 on Billboard’s Hot 100 — the highest yet in her career. A quick look at her social media pages — a highlight reel of her boss bitch beauty, otherworldly vocal abilities and unfolding production genius — might lead one to believe she’s living on cloud nine. And she is.
“Even before the song came out, seeing how it was going viral online, I was stunned and so grateful,” she tells R29Unbothered during a recent interview over Zoom, her camera off. I can hear the excitement in her voice. “I'm just so happy people are still bumping the song.”
But by the end of our conversation, it’s clear that the 23-year-old is also grappling with what it’s like to come of age — and of sexy — in front of the world. “If I had to choose just one word to describe this era of my life, it would be ‘complicated,’” she shares. Self-love is the battlefield. And though Chlöe is more than a conqueror in that special tradition of Black women who’ve come before her, doubt and insecurities are formidable opponents.
That’s all to say that by 2021, the world figured we knew all there was to know about the dynamic singing sisters, who have Beyoncé’s stamp of approval. We thought we knew their sound: a vibey, Afrofuturtistic meld of every genre that is grounded and ethereal, powerful and angelic. We thought we knew their style, throwing around loaded words like “cute,” “tasteful” and “age-appropriate” to mask our allegiance to respectability.
I‘m finding myself through the music, as I‘m creating it.
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“Some of the challenges that I’m navigating that no one really sees is that I’m still battling anxiety and I think I have imposter syndrome, because no matter what I do, I feel like it’s never good enough,” she shares. “I’m always trying to beat myself and outdo myself. If I can’t or if there’s like the slightest struggle, I tend to beat myself up.”
For Chlöe, music is both the cause and cure. “When I make music, I get out of my head and I stop overthinking and that’s when I feel great,” she says. “It's like I'm finding myself through the music, as I'm creating it.”
For as long as we’ve known Chlöe, we’ve also known her sister, Halle. Born and raised in the Atlanta area, the pair have been singing since they were adolescents. The story goes that their father, a former stockbroker, recognised their love of music early and encouraged them to learn how to write their own songs. They were 10 and 8 at the time. After songwriting came learning how to play the piano and delving into music production, both of which Chlöe taught herself via YouTube and Google searches. When she was 13, she and Halle got permission from their parents to record a cover of Beyoncé’s “Best Thing I Never Had” and post it to YouTube. Having amassed well over 6.7 million views, it’s raw in that special, now-nostalgic way that 2011 videos were, but there is no doubt about the duo’s talent.
Slowly, the pair built an audience off of their covers, even performing on The Ellen Show in 2012. Months later, they won Radio Disney’s “Next Big Thing.” A year after that, their cover of another Beyoncé classic, “Pretty Hurts,” went viral, garnering the Queen’s attention. In 2015, Chloe x Halle signed to Bey’s Parkwood Entertainment, and their careers have continued to rise ever since. They’ve since starred alongside Yara Shahidi in the Black-ish spin-off Grown-ish on Freeform, released two critically acclaimed albums, and been nominated for multiple Grammys.
I would be doing a disservice to myself if I tried to be less than who I am and dim my light.
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And then Chlöe created her own social media pages, initially posting photos and videos that only her friends and family had seen on her Finsta. (Prior, the sisters shared singular public accounts.) One of Chlöe’s earliest posts on her solo accounts, a #bussitchallenge video featuring her transition from a robe and bonnet to full glam, getting her eagle on, stupefied the internet. But whereas Chlöe just wanted to begin (re)introducing herself to the world as an individual — while Halle was overseas filming her starring role as Ariel in the live-action Disney remake of “The Little Mermaid” — the move also opened Chlöe up to commentary, both positive and negative, that she could no longer shoulder with someone.
“At times, it felt overwhelming. Other times, I was happy that people were loving the content that I was producing online, and they were seeing me and accepting me,” she says. “I think it's beautiful to pay attention to the positivity [rather] than the negativity and the hate. There was so much love and it was definitely the foundation for myself.”
But the comments about her body have only grown alongside her spotlight. She wrote “Have Mercy,” a defiantly sublime anthem of body positivity, in response. “You can't get this thickness out of your mind,” she sings on the track.
“It was about me responding to everyone and almost really owning who I am and accepting myself and my body,” she tells me before noting that the confidence exuded in the song and its music video is something she’s still trying to fully embody. “The person that I am on the song is where I'm trying to get mentally.”
She adds, “The journey of learning to love my body has its highs and lows. Some days I look in the mirror and love what I see and some days, not so much. I’m still learning to love it equally each day. But right now I haven’t mastered it.”
Black women (and femmes) aren’t often afforded the ability to be as bold, authentic and free as Chlöe is on social media, in her music, and during her onstage performances — not without consequences. When Black women speak up for themselves, they’re deemed “too loud.” When they own their bodies and sexualities, they’re “too sexy.” When they walk in the fullness of their brilliance, they’re simply “too much.” Each critique is an effort to knock them out of alignment with their truths.
Believe and fight for yourself. When you feel like your voice is small and no one can hear you, scream louder.
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“I don't purposely try to do ‘too much,’” Chlöe says, directly referencing a criticism she’s received on social media. “I'm just being who I am, unapologetically and completely, and if people think that's doing too much, well then, I guess I am. I would be doing a disservice to myself if I tried to be less than who I am and dim my light.”
She admits, though, that “words hurt.”
“No matter how big or small, what someone says about me will still hurt because I care,” she says, like the Cancerian she is. “As much as I try to be nonchalant or have ‘bad bitch energy’ or always keep my head held high, some things really do get to me. I’m learning to deal with that and to not let it get to me so much.”
But finding the courage to do so, and to believe in her own voice, she says, is difficult. “We all have our own struggles and challenges, so I don't want to say it's more difficult than another person's life or perspective, but it is hard and overwhelming at times.”
One of the ways she pushes past the doubt is “to remember that in what I'm doing, I'm giving back this gift that was given to me.”
It doesn’t hurt that the two definitions of her name, she shares with me, are “to bloom” and “to love.” With those marching orders given to her at birth, she leans into a single mantra to get her through moments of doubt: “I am enough.” An image of those words serve as her phone's screensaver.
“It's just reminding me that I deserve the love and the positivity that I give out, and I should never settle for less...whether it's relationships, people, or even experiences,” she says. “And when I think about that and when I have the moments where I'm on stage and I feel alive, it makes it all worth it.”
Every performance, it seems then, is another round in the ring, another battle in the war for control over what already belongs to her. Perhaps that’s why in her two major solo performances thus far — at the MTV Video Music Awards and on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon — audiences can feel her energy through the screen. Sure, we all recognise the training from the Beyoncé School of Performance. (After all, Chlöe did play the younger version of her mononymous mentor in the 2003 classic film, The Fighting Temptations.) But there’s also a presence and yearning all her own.
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“I get really, really nervous leading up to a performance,” she reveals. “My heart pounds really fast. My palms and feet start sweating. No matter how much I prepare for it, you kind of fear the unknown.” She likens her feelings stepping on stage to the rumbling that happens as a rocketship prepares to take flight. “And then it goes by so, so fast and kind of happens in front of you.”
Still, she’s not resting on her laurels as the heir apparent. “I know I still have a lot to prove,” she says. “As long as I just keep giving my all each chance I get, that's really all I can do.”
Thankfully, she’s not walking alone in this phase of her career. “I don't think I could handle any of this all on my own,” she says, ascribing her ability to withstand everything that comes her way to God. “I definitely pray a lot, and I’m a family girl so I talk to [them and] my god mom to kind of keep me centred.”
As she charts her path forward, the last two years or so of the pandemic have taught her lessons she can’t shake. “It’s taught me to live in the moment and cherish the little things, and that if you don't fight for yourself, no one else will.”
In putting together her solo album, having cited Kelis, Yebba and Imogen Heap among the artists keeping her inspired, Chlöe’s goal is to peel back some of the layers of celebrity foisted upon her to create a project that reveals her truth. She says of her album, “I hope it is a beautiful and complete representation of who I am not only as an artist but as a human being.” As for the message she hopes to convey to other young Black women, in her music and through her life, she says: "Believe and fight for yourself. When you feel like your voice is small and no one can hear you, scream louder."
“Have Mercy,” then, is not just about manifesting the self-love and confidences she’s working toward. It’s at once a bass-heavy battle cry and a signal of what’s to come. “Here I am,” she says. World, get ready.