Class is back in session for the grown-ish cast as the series makes its return for the second half of its senior-year saga. Freeform’s hit show premieres Thursday, Jan. 27 picking things up where they left off, amid a heated quarrel between the two ends of a love triangle with Aaron (Trevor Jackson), Luca (Luka Sabbat), — and Zoey, Yara Shahidi’s character, at the center of the beef. And whether you’re right at the peak of your college experience, or a few years removed, complicated dating entanglements, break-ups, and make-ups are realities we can all identify with.
Although it’s never fun to live out the growing pains of one’s youthful evolution, in its four seasons, grown-ishhas served as a vehicle to navigate the rough water of young adulthood through its character’s journey to self-discovery — from losing your virginity, friendship breakups, to dropping out — with all eyes pointing back to Zoey Johnson.
Over the years, we’ve watched Zoey evolve from the always-stylish and sometimes-selfish eldest daughter of the Johnson family in Kenya Barris’ ABC series black-ish, into a young woman split between her family’s expectations and the needs of her friends and lovers. She has done this all while attempting to not lose sight of her own needs and vision for her life in her spin-off, grown-ish.
It’s a delicate balance that young Black women often experience IRL, but are rarely given the space to explore on-screen in coming-of-age stories.
That’s why, for Yara Shahidi, the 21-year-old producer, and Harvard student, it’s important to not just have representation but to also have good representation that showcases women of color from an authentic and sometimes imperfect lens. “When we talk about good representation, I think the conversation has evolved so much even in the last [couple of] years. I think at first, it used to be this very static idea, of being ‘the good guy’ versus what’s shifted now, being allowed to be fully human,” Shahidi tells xoNecole.
In the second half of the fourth season premiering this week, fans will be able to explore Zoey’s story from a place that leans into her own self-choosing. And although she might now always get things right the first time, there’s always be a beautiful lesson that can come from a messy situation. Shahidi shares, “You can agree or disagree with her decisions, but the idea that she has the privilege of being a full brown and Black woman on screen is really what the beauty of her character is.”
“You can agree or disagree with her decisions, but the idea that she has the privilege of being a full brown and Black woman on screen is really what the beauty of her character is.”
Self-choosing, no matter what age or stage of life you find yourself in, can be uncomfortable and even disorienting, especially when your love life, friendships, and career are all tangled in a web that hangs on your every decision. As Yara reflects on her character’s growth over the seasons, she illuminates Zoey’s progress into self-awareness by putting herself first while expanding her outlook to see how her decisions can impact the people she cares about the most.
“For a second, she really did struggle with being selfish, and we see that in the pilot episode [of the show], she leaves Ana in the pool at a party. So, there’s a full-circle moment that after having gone through the full exercise, this is what it means to care deeply about people and put them first. She’s now returning to herself.” She continues, “How can [Zoey] still put herself first, not as an act of selfishness, but as an act of self-care.”
Zoey’s character this season shows the full scope of what it means to come of age on screen, with all the missteps, toxic unlearning, and moments of clarity that can only come from a hiccup or two. It’s to show that young Black women don’t always have to be in a role that saves others nor do they always need saving. But we can challenge the norms and have the space to live out decisions and grow from into the women we choose to be.
Shahidi adds, “It’s especially important that we see some of the dilemmas that are really unique to being a woman, and really unique to being a brown woman, in terms of feeling like, in order to pursue what you want, there will be sacrifice.”
Watch new episodes of grown-ish on Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on Freeform and the next day on Hulu.
Featured image by Leon Bennett/Getty Images
Aley Arion is a writer and digital storyteller from the South, currently living in sunny Los Angeles. Her site, yagirlaley.com, serves as a digital diary to document personal essays, cultural commentary, and her insights into the Black Millennial experience. Follow her at @yagirlaley on all platforms!
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
5 Realistic Ways To Kick The Sunday Scaries To The Curb For Good
Ah, the Sunday Scaries. It seems a catchy title or cliche name has been given to almost all common age-old experiences, especially with the power and reach of social media. But real talk, the anxiety that hits many of us when we think about facing yet another Monday, is horrifyingly annoying, especially since a lot of times it’s tied to financial and family obligations that we can’t ignore.
For me, I’ve made friends with the Sunday Scaries at various times in my career journey. In the early years, they were prompted by the eagerness to please and move up the ladder at my first few dream jobs in publishing. In later years, as I set out for full-time self-employment, the Sunday Scaries showed their face again, this time due to the utter trepidation that comes with not only attracting and keeping clients and getting steady work but the process of juggling multiple deliverables for those clients.
So, how did I ultimately conquer the Sunday Scaries for good? Here are a few helpful steps I took:
1. I got honest with myself about what was truly triggering the Sunday Scaries in the first place.
I began to write and noticed that there were various things that contributed to the nagging feeling on Sundays, which is how I was able to acknowledge that those feelings don’t necessarily mean I need to up and quit a job or give life to falsehoods like, ‘I just hate my life.’ For me, fear and insecurity were at the core of welcoming the Sunday Scaries into my weekly routine.
2. Based on those triggers, I wrote down solutions.
Sometimes, it was simply a lack of time management, a fear of failure, or over-commitment to work that I wasn’t really passionate about doing. I found I could implement solutions like:
- Shifting how I spend my Fridays so I’d have more time to spend strictly on self-love, pleasure, and fun.
- Talking with my clients or managers to find out if I could shift away from doing certain tasks and focus more on the work I loved and was great at doing.
- Letting go of projects, jobs, or clients that just didn’t serve my end goal or feed my creative advancement. (In one very unusual experience, I actually did quit after two weeks, and it was the best decision I could’ve made at the time.)
- Taking on weekend chores I really don’t like doing (like laundry, meal prepping, working out, or shopping) during the week.
- Constantly exploring new job and career opportunities and fun ways to feed my urge to live freely, explore other aspects of life, and avoid feelings of being caged in by routine or monotony. (I grew up in a strict Christian household, so, as an adult, I really don’t like anything that sparks feelings of extreme restriction or lack of control. I found that sometimes the Sunday Scaries were nothing but rebellion clothed in fear, so to balance that, I often explore all my options and create multiple plans of action for things I want to do in life.)
- Going to therapy to talk more about processing through triggers and healthy ways to combat or eliminate them. (I’m still a Christian and enjoy the good things about my upbringing, but there were a few toxic and traumatic routines and memories that really were at the core of why I’d get the Sunday Scaries.)
3. I weighed the return on investment for the essential but not-so-sexy tasks of my job or career.
As much as this is said and written a lot, you’re not going to like every single thing about your job, and the journey is not always consistently blissful. Sometimes certain parts of work cultures, project management processes, or whatever it takes to be a success at work can be downright annoying, nerve-wracking, challenging, and tedious.
As long as I enjoy more things about work than I hate—and the not-so-appetizing but necessary tasks serve a bigger picture of purpose in my career journey—I can realistically say to hell with the Sunday Scaries and take on all that my job entails with humility, confidence, and conviction.
4. I began waking up earlier and scheduling at least 30 minutes on Monday mornings just for my self-care.
No checking emails. No taking care of others. No prepping anything. No scrolling anything. I’d sit in silence, re-watch an episode of one of my favorite Netflix shows, read a book, pray, or make myself a great breakfast to my favorite morning playlist on Spotify or YouTube.
I’d also put my phone in a cabinet or drawer during my me-time, as it often tempts me to check an email or get too immersed in watching hundreds of Reels.
Luis Alvirez/Getty Images
5. I found something focused on wonder and play to do every Monday (or every other) so that I could look forward to it the night before.
For me, it’s planning a trip or doing something that takes me into another cultural experience as if I’m traveling, like visiting an authentic Greek or Mexican restaurant.
It also could be taking a new dance class, going for a walk in a new location I hadn’t explored, or hanging out with family. And I literally schedule this time on Mondays, like an appointment or meeting—on my calendar—where I am, for the most part, unavailable for anything else during that hour or so that I’ve given myself.
Bonus: I got radical and cleared out my calendar on Mondays.
I once worked with an executive who’d block out a certain day of the week just to go golfing. If you’re self-employed, a freelancer, or you have seniority in your department or company, clear out your Mondays on your calendar, sis. Be deliberate about eliminating the problem altogether. Set boundaries with your clients, teams, or others so that they know you’re simply unavailable and will not be working. Even if you’re not the boss, you can ask for that day off or shift your work week to Tuesday-Saturday. Another compromise: Work remotely on Mondays.
Get honest with yourself about why those Sunday Scaries keep disrupting your peace, and begin to advocate for yourself. Find out where there might be some ways for you to get the mental break you need on Mondays so that they’re not getting the best of you. Tap into your support system, and get rid of routines, so-called norms, and influences that do not serve your end goals or quality of life.
As ambitious, capable, and beautiful Black queens, we must own our time and honor the gift that God has given us—empowered and fearless.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Featured image by LaylaBird/Getty Images