Unapologetically, Chlöe: The R&B Star On Finding Love, Self-Acceptance & Boldly Using Her Voice
On set inside of a mid-city Los Angeles studio, it’s all eyes on Chlöe. She slightly shifts her body against a dark backdrop amidst camera clicks and whirs, giving a seductive pout here, and piercing eye contact there. Her chocolate locs are adorned with a few jewels that she requested to spice up the look, and on her shoulders rests a jeweled piece that she asked to be turned around to better showcase her neck (“I feel a bit old,” she said of the original direction). Her shapely figure is tucked into a strapless bodysuit with a deep v-neck that complements her décolletage.
Though subtle, her quiet wardrobe directives give the air of a woman who’s been here before, and certainly knows what she’s doing. At 24 years young, she’s a “Bossy” chick in training— one who’s politely unapologetic and learning the power of her own voice.
“I'm hesitant sometimes to truly speak my mind and speak up for myself and what I believe,” she later confessed to me a couple of weeks after the photoshoot. “It's always scary for me, but now I'm realizing that I have to, in order to gain respect as a Black woman— a young Black woman— who's still navigating who she is. And you know, I'm realizing that closed mouths don't get fed. And if I keep my mouth shut just because I'm afraid of what people's opinions of me will be or turn into, then that's not any way to live.”
For Chlöe, the journey into womanhood is about embracing who she is, without succumbing to the perceptions of what others think of her. From the waist up she’s everything you’d imagine. A gorgeous goddess with the kind of sex appeal that some work hard to embrace but fail to exude. But unbeknownst to anyone not on set, her bottom half is covered by a white robe, surprising coming from the girl who boasts “'Cause my booty so big, Lord, have mercy” on her first hit single “Have Mercy.”
But that’s the beauty of Chlöe. There’s more to her than meets the eye. More than what a few sensual photos sprinkled throughout an Instagram feed could ever tell you. Just like the photo-framing illusion of her portrayed from the waist up, what we know about the songstress is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more beneath the surface.
Some hours later Chlöe leans back in a high chair as her locs are transformed from a formal updo to a seemingly Basquiat-inspired one. It’s pure art, and at her request, no wigs are a part of the day’s ensemble. She’s fully embracing her natural hair, a decision that wasn’t always a socially accepted one.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, (Mableton, to be exact) Chlöe began to explore the foundation of her self-image. At an early age she and her younger sister, Halle, demonstrated a vocal prowess and knack for being in front of the camera that caught their parents’ attention. Soon after, they were sent on a parade of local talent shows and auditions, and eventually broke into the digital space with song covers on YouTube.
It was during these early years that Chlöe first learned that the entertainment industry could be unforgiving to those who didn’t fit a particular beauty standard. Despite the then three-year-old snagging a role as the younger version of Beyoncé’s character, Lilly, in Fighting Temptations, casting agents requested that her natural locs be exchanged for more Eurocentric tresses. Ironic, considering that growing up Chlöe saw her hair as no different than that of her peers. “I remember specifically in pre-K we had to do self-portraits and I drew myself with a regular straight ponytail, like how I would put my locs in a ponytail,” she says. “I just never saw myself any different.”
Chlöe would also learn the true meaning of a phrase that would later become an affirmation posted on her bedroom mirror: “Don’t Let the World Dim Your Light.” After attempting to wear wigs to fit in, the Bailey sisters instead chose to rock their locs with pride, which undoubtedly cost them casting roles. Yet they would have the last laugh when making headlines as the “Teen Dreadlocked Duo” who landed a million-dollar contract with Parkwood Entertainment, and the coveted opportunity to be groomed under the tutelage of a world-renowned superstar.
Credit: Derek Blanks
While that could be the end of a beautiful fairytale of self-empowerment, the reality is that it’s just the beginning of the story of her evolution. For most girls, the transition into womanhood takes place in the comfort of their own worlds, often limited to the number of people they allow to have access to them. But for Chlöe, it’s happening in front of millions of critiquing eyes just waiting for an opportunity to either uplift or dissect her through unwarranted commentary.
Many in her position wouldn’t be able to take that kind of pressure. But Chlöe is handling it with grace. “I feel like all of us as humans, we have the right to interpret things how we want,” she says. “I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
Chlöe isn’t the first artist to receive criticism for her carnal content, and she certainly won’t be the last. In 2010, Ciara writhed and rode her way to banishment on BET when the then 24-year-old released her video for “Ride.” In 2006, 25-year-old Beyoncé received backlash for “Déjà Vu."
"I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
So much so that over 5,000 fans signed an online petition demanding that her label re-shoot the video because it was “too sexual.” Even 27-year-old Janet didn’t escape critical headlines when she shed her image of innocence for a more risqué appearance with the 1993 release of janet.
It’s almost as if public reproach is a rite of passage for young Black women R&B singers on the road to stardom. Good girls seemingly “go bad” whenever they embrace the depths of their femininity, and fans only like you on top figuratively. But Chlöe has learned not to bow down to other people’s opinions, but to boss up and control the narrative. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. If sex appeal is her weapon, she wields it well.
On set, Chlöe exudes the energy of Aphrodite in an apple red, off-shoulder dress with a sexy high split. In between shots, she mouths the lyrics to Yebba’s “Boomerang” as it echoes throughout the space in steady repetition at my recommendation. The hour grows late, yet Chlöe is heating things up as eyes stare in deep mesmerization of the girl on fire.
Credit: Derek Blanks
Through music, she explores the depths of her being, a journey that seems to be, at its foundation, rooted in self-discovery. Whereas their debut album The Kids Are Alright (2018) boasts a young Chloe x Halle empowering their generation to embrace who they are while finding their place in the world, their second album Ungodly Hour (2020) shows the Bailey sisters shedding the veil of innocence for a more unapologetic bravado.
What fans looked forward to seeing is who Chlöe shows herself to be on her debut solo album In Pieces. In an interview with PEOPLE, she confesses that releasing her first project without her sister was “scary.” "It was a moment of self-doubt where I was like, 'Can I do this without my sister?’”
Chlöe has never been shy about sharing her insecurities or her vulnerabilities, all of which are laced throughout the 14-track album. “I want people to have fun when they listen to it and to just realize that they're not alone and it's okay to be vulnerable and raw and open because none of us are perfect; we're all far from it. And I think it's healing when we all admit to that instead of putting up a facade.”
The gift of time has given the self-professed “big lover girl” more encounters with romance and heartbreak. Love songs once sung for their beautiful riffs and melodies become more than just abstract lyrics and are replaced by real-life experiences, which she tells me is definitely in the music.
In her single “Pray It Away,” for example, she contemplates going to God for healing instead of going at her ex-lover for revenge for his infidelities. “With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable,” she says. “I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
Has Chlöe been in love? That still remains to be said. Of course, she’s been linked to a few potential baes, but dating in the digital age isn’t as easy as a double tap or drop of a heart-eyes emoji. It requires a level of trust and vulnerability that’s hard to earn, and easy to mishandle. To let her guard down means to potentially set herself up for disappointment. “It’s difficult dating right now, honestly, because you really have to kind of keep your guard up and pay attention to who's really there for you. And you know, I'm such an affectionate person and I love hard.
"So when I meet the one person that I really, really am into, it's hard for me to see any others and I get attached pretty easily. And you know, I don't know, it's…it's a scary thing.”
Credit: Derek Blanks
“With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable. I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
While broken hearts yield good music (queue Adele), what’s in Chlöe’s prayer is the desire to be happy. What does that look like? Well, she’s still figuring that out herself. “Honestly, I'm the type of person who I don't truly learn unless I experience it. So it's like I can view and watch my parents and watch the loving relationships that I see in my life and be like, ‘Oh, I want that. I would love to have that.’ But then I also have to experience [love] on my own and see what my flaws or my faults might be or see what my good things about myself are. I feel like it's really all about self-reflection. And even though our base is our family and that's our foundation, we are still our own individuals and we have to find out specifically the things about ourselves that may be different from what we saw from our parents when we were growing up.”
Her ideal beau, she tells me, is someone she can feel safe to be her fun, goofy self with, but who also gives her the space to be the boss chick chasing her dreams. A man who understands that just because the world compliments her doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to hear those words from his lips or feel it in his touch. A bonus if he shows up on set after a long hard day of work with vegan cinnamon rolls. You know, the basic necessities. “I like whoever I'm with to constantly tell me they love me and that I look beautiful because I do the same. I am a very mushy person, and if I see something or you look good, I will never shy away from saying it out loud. And I want whoever I'm with to do the same, be very vocal. Tell me that you love me. Tell me what you love about me because I'm doing the same for you because that's just the person I am.”
Until she meets her match she’s married to the game, and for now, that seems to be perfect matrimony.
Credit: Derek Blanks
On stage at the 2021 American Music Awards, Chlöe solidified her position as a force to be reckoned with. It was a full-circle moment. In 2012, bright-eyed and baby-faced Chloe and Halle would walk onto the set of The Ellen Degeneres Show and blow the audience away as they bellowed out their future mentor’s song. Ellen would present the sisters with tickets to attend the AMAs, assuring them that they would be back and had a promising future. Nine years later, Chlöe descends from the sky cloaked in a snow-white cape and matching midriff-baring bodysuit for her debut performance. It’s the first time she’s graced the stage of the very award show that she was once an audience member of.
As she shakes and shimmies and boom kack kacks out her eight counts, it’s clear that she’s in her element. Just like her VMA performance a couple of months prior, and the many more stages she’ll continue to grace, she brings an energy that has earned her comparisons to the beloved Queen Bey herself. An honorable statement, considering few R&B songstresses are getting accolades for their entertainment capabilities. It’s on these very stages, in front of hundreds of astonished eyes and millions more glued to their televisions at home, that she tells me she feels most sexy. Powerful, even.
But off stage, it’s a different story.
It’s more than just the commentary about her image and media-flamed rumors that get to her. Mentally, she’s in competition with herself. The desire to be the best burns at the back of her mind with every performance, every production, and every time she steps into the booth. Before, she could share the weight of this burden with her sister. Being a part of a duo meant she could turn to Halle for quiet confirmation and encouragement without a word being exchanged. But lately stepping on the stage means stepping out on her own. And despite being a breathtaking, five-time Grammy-nominated star, Chlöe doesn’t escape the reality that sometimes we can be our own worst critics.
Over the last year, she’s been coming to terms with who she is on her own while overcoming the fear of failing to become who she’s destined to be. While the world waits to see how Chlöe wins, the real triumph is in every day that she chooses herself and continues to walk in her purpose. “I don't really have anything all figured out, honestly. But what I try to do, a lot of prayer. I talk to God more and I just try to do things that calm my mind down and just breathe.”
To whom much is given, much will be required. She’s been chosen to walk this path for a reason. Once she fully embraces that everything she’s meant to be is already inside of her, she’ll be an unstoppable force. “My grandma, Elizabeth, she just passed away and my middle name is her [first] name. So I feel like I truly have a responsibility to live up to her legacy that she's left on this earth. I hope I can do that.”
There’s no doubt that she will. With a role in The Fighting Temptations at three years old, a million-dollar record deal, a main role on five seasons of Grown-ish, five Grammy nominations, a number one solo record in Urban and Rhythmic Radio, a debut solo album, and starring roles in recently released movies Praise Thisand Swarm (just to name a few), Chlöe’s certainly already made her mark, and she’s just getting started.
Photographer & Creative Director: Derek Blanks
Executive Producer: Necole Kane
Co-Executive Producer: EJ Jamele
Producer: Erica Turnbull
Digitech: Chris Keller
DP: Alex Nikishin
Gaffer: Simeon Mihaylov
Photo Assistant: Chris Paschal
2nd Photo Assistant: Tyler Umprey
Features Editor: Kiah McBride
Special Projects: Tyeal Howell
Hair: Malcolm Marquez
Makeup: Yolonda Frederick
Fashion Styling: Ashley Sean Thomas
For More: Cover Story: Issa Rae Comes Full Circle
Why Friend Envy Doesn't Have To Be The Downfall Of Your Friendships
I'll never forget the day a good friend of mine I met at work finally got her acceptance letter from medical school. I was one of her biggest cheerleaders along the way, her “Oprah,” as she called me endearingly, her supportive cast, the person that nurtured her through her anxiety of facing the unknown of leveling up. In turn, she helped me, the sheepish girl in the cubicle next to her wearing all black and covered in cat hair, to embrace my inner badass along the way.
She exposed me to a new way of life, actually going into the world doing things that I wanted to do, wearing the clothes that I wanted to wear, and simply not giving a damn about how other people felt. I got to see that the present was a gift and I was dope in real life, not just the internet. She coached me from only feeling comfortable posting mirror pics to flexing in full-body pictures embracing every curve on my body, and knowing that I am a baddie. She encouraged me to go for opportunities I thought were way out of my league, like this one right here…being paid to share my thoughts with you.
So, you could imagine my confusion as I jumped and screamed "congratulations" on the other end of the phone upon hearing the news of her acceptance, like she just won a Grammy, and hung up in just about tears asking her, "What does this mean for me?"
At that moment, it just felt like she received her golden ticket out of the position that we hated, and I was just being left behind. The feeling wasn’t jealousy. I couldn't fathom treating her badly because she accomplished her goal, but I felt less than her and stuck in my circumstances.
I was envious.
I wanted that fearlessness that she had, that audacity to have faith in myself, that knowing that there was something bigger and better out there for me, and that drive to not stop until I got it regardless of my present circumstances. I wanted to be the main character in my story too.
But at that moment, as much as I loved, adored, and was inspired by her, I didn't want to be her, I simply wanted to become the kind of person that had the heart to live the life I wanted to live. She was merely just a teacher and a catalyst of change in my life that I will forever be grateful for, and as they say, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears."
It was her time to go and my time to put in the work to design my own life, and inspire others through my pursuit, just as she had done for me.
I say this to say, to a certain extent, it is very healthy to have friends that you are envious of, but jealousy is very unhealthy. Simply put:
Jealousy is when you treat someone badly because they have something that you want but feel you cannot obtain. For example, you want their success, to achieve what they have achieved, to have the type of relationships they have and/or a material object that they have, so you put them down to make yourself feel better.
Envy can be geared towards many different factors, tangible or intangible. However, envy can be described as admiring someone else's traits, accomplishments, and possessions externally and internally, letting this shed a light on areas of yourself and your life you are discontent with. It does not have to be mean-hearted or mean-spirited and can be a huge catalyst for positive change in your own life.
It's an opportunity to open up a dialogue with someone else to compliment them and to let them know they inspire you. This, in turn, can easily turn into an exchange of resources, strategies, and admiration because often, the person who is feeling envy has admirable qualities too.
Someone acting negatively on jealousy looks like:
- Copying you without giving you credit. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when it gets to the point, someone is emulating your whole vibe and work without recognizing you and treating you less than desirably at the same time.
- Making everything a competition, constantly trying to one-up your thoughts, accomplishments, and skills both in your face and behind your back.
- Talking maliciously behind your back, never bringing up their less-than-favorable feelings to you personally as an opportunity to grow and deepen your bond.
- Not celebrating or praising you. It's very hard for them to applaud you when you have accomplished something big or small in a sincere way.
Acting negatively on envy looks like:
- When you accomplish a goal that they also want to accomplish, they can't show up to support you because this magnifies their feelings of insecurity and inferiority. They won't say anything negative, but it is hard to see past their own perceived failure when they are winning at that moment.
- They give you way too much too soon. Instead of letting a friendship evolve naturally over time, they want to grow extremely close. Their compliments are nonstop, with more of an undertone of superficiality instead of sincere observation.
- They make it seem like everything comes to you easily because they idealize you or your gifts while thinking their abilities are inferior. This one is tricky. Think of the word "pretty privilege" and the thought that someone obtains desirable things because of the way they look. This doesn't take into account how much time, effort, and energy goes into their looks and the idea they bring more to the table than looks.
- They can't stop putting themselves down when you try to uplift them. This one is very hard to spot because it comes off as complete self-depreciation at first. For example, you congratulate them on accomplishing a goal, and they point out how it's not equal to what you accomplished.
Feeling jealousy and envy is a normal part of life, but with maturity, we learn it's not wise to act on it or let those feelings fester. I realized a long time ago it's just right to mistreat someone else because I don't feel good about myself. Had I met my friend during my mean girl insecure era in high school, I would have ruined the whole relationship by highlighting our differences, covering them up as some type of relationship incompatibility, and looking down on her because she approached life differently than I had.
Through meeting women who are doing things that you consider to be extraordinary and befriending them in an organic and sincere way through gratitude and reciprocity, you both expose each other to ways to further develop and improve in your self-development. As the Bible says:
"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." - Proverbs 27:17.
When operating in lower energy, it's easy to belittle and treat a person who has traits or possessions that you desire deep down inside but are too afraid or ashamed to admit. However, showing up as your highest self with enough vulnerability to say, "Girl, I love the way you are doing your thing," opens up a whole new world of potential and resources because nine times out of 10, that woman doesn't mind sharing a few tips and pointing you in the right direction.
I've learned that when those feelings of envy come up, I don't have to feel insecure…I just have to get really curious.
I'm secure in myself to know I can accomplish anything I put my mind and energy into, but I'm wise enough to know I do not always know how to go about it. This is where acting positively on feeling envious of someone else has improved my life drastically because I realized the only difference between envy and inspiration is the belief that someone has something that I do not, and I create the life I desire too. I've realized that is dead wrong, and most likely, the person I envy initially has very similar feelings of insecurity as me but did not let that feeling turn into a belief that stopped them from executing.
In essence, they don't let their insecurities stop them from going after what they want.
In turn, I have become the type of person I used to envy. I take action aligned action toward my goals, no matter how it looks to others, and I make my happiness my responsibility. I am no longer afraid to leverage my network to get to where I want to go faster. I left my hometown and am the first person in my household to live independently out of the state. I wear clothes that I feel beautiful and sexy in, I travel often, and I demand more out of life and myself.
This is all because my friend modeled this to me, and I started to believe I could actually achieve these things.
Friendships have so many ebbs and flow that you find yourself mentoring one season and being a mentee the next. The key is being able to sit in and on that discomfort of watching someone's harvest while you are still in your planting season with the faith that you will blossom and the knowledge that celebrating her wins brings more fertilization to your seeds.
The unshakeable belief in abundance is the key to making envy a constructive emotion.
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Featured image by Vladimir Vladimirov/Getty Images