Chloe x Halle On Embracing Individuality While Evolving As Women & Musicians Together

"I don't know what I'd do without her so God knew what He was doing when he put us together."

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"We don't really care about the trends you like to follow…"

These are the first lyrics that pop into my head when I think of Chloe x Halle. These undeniably talented sisters are single-handedly responsible for the Grammy-nominated soundtrack of my life, The Kids Are Alright. Their artistry has evolved from their days as YouTube famous cover artists with viral renditions of Beyonce's "Pretty Hurts" and John Legend's "All Of You". They've taken over the music charts, our television screens as the Forster twins on Freeform's Grown-ish, and graced the stages of their mentor's On The Run II Tour. Additionally, the two will be gracing the big screens showing off their separate cinematic acting chops in Miramax's The Georgetown Project and the live-action remake of Disney's The Little Mermaid. Need I say more about how incredibly talented these multihyphenates are?

When first connecting with the "Forgive Me" songstresses, I could feel their positive energy radiating through the merged call from the moment they clicked over. Before the interview started, I had to praise them for their uplifting virtual tribute for my alma mater, Spelman College, and using their platform to amplify Black voices during these times of racial injustice and heightened systemic racism. As always, I asked the Grammy-nominated "Do It" duo about their mental health and if they were OK to proceed with the interview before starting. "Right now, I'm feeling very grateful and so tired, but so grateful and happy," Chloe Bailey answered. "And I'm feeling hopeful in a way too with everything going on and seeing everyone raise their voices to make a greater change. I'm in a positive vibe right now."

I had the pleasure of speaking with Chloe x Halle about the creation and inspiration behind their latest album Ungodly Hour, their growth as musicians and actresses, and their appreciation for Gen Z activism against police brutality.

xoNecole: When did you two know that music was your God-given talent?

Chloe Bailey: I remember my parents and my aunts telling me they would hear me sing in the car when I was like two in my diaper (laughs). When I knew that Halle and I had something special together singing was actually when we had our very first performance and it was at the Spelman Summer Camp Variety Show; we sang "Summertime" and we were 5 and 7 and we won. I remember in that moment, I was like, "Hey, this might be our little thing." So, ever since we were 5 and 7. It kind of progressed from there.

You two have always been transparent about your self-taught musical abilities with production, arranging and writing. Now that your artistry and your popularity has grown and blossomed before our eyes, do you still find great importance in having a creative hand in your own work?

Halle Bailey: Absolutely, my sister and I, we definitely take ownership in every single thing that we do. Our musicianship is very important to us. Our dad always instilled in us - our dad and our mom - that we can do anything we put our minds to and you don't have to wait on other people to do these things for you; you can learn them yourself. My beautiful sister is an amazing producer, she produced both of our records front to back. We write every single word that we sing, and that is so very important to us because it's our story and we want it to be truthful and we want it to be healing and we want people to be able to relate to what we're saying. We feel like when it comes from the heart, it's best and we definitely take full ownership of everything that we do and remind each other that we can do this.

"We write every single word that we sing, and that is so very important to us because it's our story and we want it to be truthful and we want it to be healing and we want people to be able to relate to what we're saying. We feel like when it comes from the heart, it's best and we definitely take full ownership of everything that we do and remind each other that we can do this."

Photo Credit: Robin Harper

Who were some of your major musical influences growing up? Did you two have the same or did you have a different sense of musical styling?

Chloe: It was different. For me, I grew up loving Destiny's Child, Toni Braxton, Nina Simone, Jill Scott [and] would always be playing [those artists] in our household. And Erykah Badu and Outkast. There's so many people that we have been inspired by. As I've gotten older, I've really been inspired by Kelis - I love her so much. I love Imogen Heap and Grime. That's for me. Oh, and Donna Summer!

Halle: For me, I've always been a super big jazz-head since I was 5. I discovered Billie Holiday because I saw that her CD was pink and I was like, "Oh, this is cool" (laughs). I've always been a big jazz-head so Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan - those have been my go-to. That's what really inspired me to want to continue to sing.

How would you describe your sound? Obviously the lyrics are powerful and the harmonies are definitely there, but there’s a lot of variety and interesting textures that play throughout the background of your music. Do you two have a creative process when you’re in the studio or writing music, and does it differ from one another’s?

Halle: Our creative process in the studio is actually very exciting and fun. We are two very completely different human beings, so it kind of stems from one of us [starting] it and then we finish it off together. For me, I like to sit on the floor when I'm in the studio (laughs). Like I'm [an] on-the-floor-rolling-around-on-the-carpet type of girl, and [I'm] playing my guitar and just playing anything until I get inspired - starting there, for me.

I normally start with my guitar, lyrics flow and then we finish out the song together. Or maybe it varies where Chloe makes a really cool beat and we kind of build up from there and finish up the song. It's never an exact way. It's never a formula and that's what keeps it so exciting because that's the creative process. It's fun to be different and it's fun to not to do the same thing every single time. I really respect that my sister and I have two completely different creative processes because when it comes together, it's really nice.

And, what would you say is your favorite part about producing your music?

Chloe: My favorite part is that we have complete creative control and I also love having this moment when you listen back and realize what you've created from absolutely nothing. That's always a great feeling when you know it's good and not like, bad (laughs).

You two say in nearly every interview I’ve ever seen that personally you two are complete opposites. I need to know how and what do you two love about each other?

Halle: I'm an Aries and a very fiery type of person, very passionate. If I feel some type of way about something, I'm the first one to say it and to scream it and to get it out. My beautiful sister is a Cancer; she's more sensitive and when it comes to her communication style, she is a bit calm in a way. Like if we're discussing something business-related or not seeing eye-to-eye about something, she's kind of the one to walk away or hold her tongue, but me, I'm kind of the opposite. What I love about my sister is that we learn from each other, you know? I learned from her to embrace more of my sensitive side and to open myself up a bit more, and I think she has had to kind of speak up for herself and not let people walk over her in a way.

Chloe: Yes! (laughs)

Halle: We kind of learn from each other in that way and that's cool.

And Chloe, what do you love about Halle?

Chloe: I love how she knows what she wants. She'll never really take 'no' for an answer. She's so headstrong and when she puts her mind to something, she can make it happen. That's what I love about her and that's really inspiring to me, and I forget that she's my little sister constantly. She's so mature, so wise and I don't know what I'd do without her so God knew what He was doing when He put us together.

Photo Credit: Robin Harper

How do you two manage your sisterhood and your business relationship? Is there a fine line between the two relationships or can you not have one without the other?

Chloe: You know, I feel like it's really all we know. We make it work so well because we have a balance, like we're each other's best friends. Even before we create the music, we're always just laughing about situations or things the other one is dealing with. When it comes to making the music, we're just baring our souls and that's a way that we express ourselves - not only individually, but together - and it's therapeutic for us. Because we know each other so well, it makes it that much easier. In terms of the business standpoint, we don't have to sugarcoat anything with each other, we don't have to walk around the bush, we can be honest and upfront and I think it's the best product, you know, and I truly feel like we bring out the best in each other.

So much of who you are is rooted in your identity as Chloe x Halle, however it’s extremely obvious you two are individuals within your own unit. How do you embrace your individuality while being a duo?

Halle: I would say I embrace my individuality by just taking little moments to myself. I mean, my sister and I are really great at respecting each other's space when it comes to doing press all day together and at the end of the day being tired and just separately going our own way in our room. I kind of meditate and pray just to center myself or have a spa night to reset myself. But the most exciting thing is always going back to my sister. I mean, that's my best friend. At the end of the day, I am the little sister so I'm kind of the one who wants to be around her all the time, but at the same time, it's a beautiful thing to have your own identity and really have somebody who respects that and supports that and will lift you up in every single way. That's just natural and very easy for us.

And, Chloe? How do you embrace your individuality?

Chloe: Because we are individuals, naturally, it's easy. We just have to be ourselves. It's not really hard to try to be someone I'm not because that's really impossible for me (laughs). We're naturally two completely different beings, so I'm just myself. I love the water; I love working out because I overthink so much and the pain on my legs and arms, I'm thinking about that instead of everyday life (laughs), so that helps me, too. I love praying - that always helps center me because I'm learning that I can't control everything in my life and I'm learning to be OK with that. I love how we are two completely different individuals, especially with our music, too. Even our tones; a lot of times [with] siblings, their tones will sound similar, but I think because we both were inspired by completely different types of music, that definitely was an influence on our tone.

Speaking of music, your latest project was very grown and sexy in comparison to your other music. From your first project, 'The Two of Us', to your recent 'Ungodly Hour', how have you two grown as artists and how is 'Ungodly Hour' a reflection of that?

Halle: I feel like we truly have grown as artists in every way very naturally. I'm 20 now and my sister's about to be 22 in two weeks. It's easy to make music that reflects the times going on in your life. When people are like, "Oh, it's so grown," or "It's so different from what we've heard from you," it's like, yes, of course because we're growing as individuals. Every single day, there's an evolutions that's going on. We're experiencing more things. We're learning to love ourselves. We're embracing our insecurities and we're putting that all into the music. So, of course it's gonna be a bit more evolved than three years ago with our debut album, The Kids Are Alright, because for that album, we were kids. In a way, as we're becoming women, we have been documenting that into this album Ungodly Hour, which is just a story of us finding ourselves while also kind of knowing who we are and navigating our life through love, relationships and figuring out what we want and what we don't want in life and taking our power back. That's definitely a natural evolution that happened for us just because of us growing.

"In a way, as we're becoming women, we have been documenting that into this album Ungodly Hour, which is just a story of us finding ourselves while also kind of knowing who we are and navigating our life through love, relationships and figuring out what we want and what we don't want in life and taking our power back. That's definitely a natural evolution that happened for us just because of us growing."

Courtesy of the artists

When I think of the term “ungodly hour”, I think of a young man hitting me up way past my bedtime or my mom waking me up wicked early. How did you two come up with the title of the album?

Chloe: I love how the title can mean a variety of things. For us and how we were inspired, we were in this session with Disclosure and I had a phrase written in my notes, "ungodly hour", and me, Halle and the two brothers of Disclosure were like, "What can we say with this phrase?" We came up with "love me in the ungodly hour", which means love me when I'm not at my best, when I can't stay still, when my mind is going crazy and filled with insecurities, and love me when I'm the most vulnerable. So, we felt that that phrase really meant - well, really what the whole album was about. We're baring our full souls and you're not just seeing perfect angel version[s] of us; you're seeing multi-layered women. You're hearing what we're going through: heartbreak, love, learning to embrace our flaws. You hear all of that in the music and we're truly saying to the world, "love us at our ungodly hour," and that's what that title means to us.

As the album touches on more grown themes like sex and love, and really the duality of sexuality and femininity as women, do you two ever find time to date or explore romance? Do you two help each other with your love lives?

Chloe: Oh, we definitely make time because we're human beings. I feel like humans thrive off of human touch and human experience, and that's what is helping fuel the creativity and help write these songs when we go through these things. If we didn't really experience it firsthand, I don't think we'd be able to write lyrics as raw as we did because we actually were going through these things, so it felt so much more real and everyone who has one through heartbreak or love like we have, they can relate too because love is a common thing.

Even when you're with someone, it may feel so special and it's like the only thing is the world is just you two, but it's an entire world and we all have the same feelings and I'm glad that people are saying these songs reflect what they've gone through. So, definitely we make and find time - it's hard because we're working so hard and business always comes first, but whenever we have those little off-days, yeah (laughs).

How are you each putting your mental health first when it comes to creation and production of new music amidst everything that’s happening within the Black community culturally and politically?

Halle: For me, I'm honestly taking it day-by-day. I'm taking social media breaks when needed because as a Black person, it's traumatizing seeing your family get killed every single day. Sometimes I just need to step away. In terms of music, that has always been, and still is, therapy for me so when it comes to being creative during this time, we can [be a] vessel and put all of the pain into the words of your writing and singing. It just gets it out of our systems and it allows us to feel lighter and freer through all of this together. I definitely can say I've just been putting my head down, prayer, meditation, stepping away from social media when I need to and holding the ones that I love so much.

Chloe: Definitely music has been therapy and just immersing myself in that has always been therapeutic for me, and also prayer.

Right now, unfortunately we’re in a time where a lot of what’s going on in the Black community is being brought to light and you two have taken to your platforms to sing “Life Every Voice” and “We Shall Overcome”. You even pushed back the delivery date of your album. How’re you doing right now and how are you using your platform to raise awareness?

Halle: Right now, we're doing much better than we were a few weeks ago when everything kind of felt like it was piling on the world. Every time we see something like what happened to George Floyd, it's just so devastating. You get this horrible feeling in your stomach and for me, I think of my baby brother. I think of my father because it could've been them. [George Floyd] could've been our uncle. It's a terrible thing that's been happening in our community, to our people for a very long time and people are just now seeing it, or just now wanting to pay attention to it. All I can do right now, my job, is to lift people up with my voice and to stand up for what I believe in and to stand up for what's right, which is getting justice for all of our beautiful brothers and sisters who have lost their lives to senseless police brutality. That is our number one goal as this generation.

We are so proud to be part of this generation because we're not afraid to speak up, we're not afraid to yell and to demand justice. We want to be a part of that and do everything that we can. The reason why we pushed back our album was because in our souls, it did not feel right to release that during that moment and we wanted to shine the light on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and all of the others who need justice. That's why we decided to drop it a week later because at the end of the day, music is a healer and has always been healing our community for so many years ever since this has been happening to us. We have used music to heal us, so we only hope that this album has done that and eased the pain for some of us and helped us.

For more of Chloe x Halle, follow them on Instagram. Ungodly Hour is out now.

Featured image courtesy of the artists

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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