Chlöe Has a Message for the ‘People Who Told Me I Couldn’t Do This’
For Chlöe Bailey, all is fair in love and art. Over the past two years, the singer has publicly cycled through a series of stops and starts while building her musical identity outside of Chlöe x Halle, the R&B duo she forms with her younger sister. The six months in between her first two solo singles, “Have Mercy” and “Treat Me,” left an opinionated online audience with much time on their hands to busy themselves with probing analyses of her body and identity — commenting on who they think that she thinks she is, before she had a chance to tell them.
For Chlöe, 24, that kind of public debate plays right into what she wants to tell the world with her solo debut. “You don’t have to be confident without feeling insecure,” she says over Zoom a few days ahead of the album’s March 31 release. “You don’t have to be so, by society standards, pretty, and not feel like you’re the ugliest one in the room. All of that can exist all at the same time, and that’s exactly why I called the record In Pieces.”
The album takes a closer look at the small parts that make up the whole of Chlöe. It’s a celebration of her autonomy as a woman, paired with stories about navigating relationships with men where she weaves between vengeful and vulnerable. Sometimes, like on the Future-assisted “Cheat Back,” she occupies both moods. (While the two pre-release singles were strong showcases of her range as a vocalist, neither made the record’s standard 14-song track list.)
“From far away, you get this perfect image: Nothing’s wrong with the person,” she continues. “Then when you get closer, that’s when the little tiny cracks of having to re-glue and re-piece themselves back together time and time again are appearing. So it’s all about perception. All of us are going through a lot.”
Chlöe says she finds comfort in surrendering control of the final outcome. “The times where I’m worrying about if people will pay attention to me — if people even know I have an album — all of these things work together in a special way that only God can really work out,” she says.
In the lead-up to In Pieces‘ release, there’s been plenty of discussion of how Chlöe chooses to protect and praise her own body — a prevailing theme across the album, and a conversation that should start and stop with her rightful autonomy as a woman. Her choice to collaborate with Chris Brown on the In Pieces single “How Does It Feel,” meanwhile, has made her part of a different conversation about the industry’s platforming of admitted domestic abusers. (Asked about that backlash at a red-carpet event in February, Bailey said, “I just want the music and art to speak for itself.” A representative for Bailey had no comment.)
For Chlöe, it’s important to see any creative breakthroughs or doubts in the context of her role as a vessel for a higher power, however that may present itself. “I don’t fault people for not liking my music, and I don’t love people more just because they love my music,” she firmly states. “It’s art, and whoever’s supposed to enjoy it and digest it in that moment, that’s who the music will go to.”
What felt like the biggest risk you took on In Pieces?
The biggest risk is the whole album itself. There were so many people in my life — I’m not talking about online internet trolls, but people I was close to — who told me I couldn’t do this. Who said I wouldn’t be good enough to do this on my own. That was scary as shit actually doing it, because there were times where I believed them. I believed the negative things being told to me. I just had to keep trusting myself, and it’s still hard even now to try to not doubt myself and talk myself out of the blessings that I’m receiving.
Working as both a producer, vocalist, and songwriter, how has your understanding of your voice changed? Are there approaches or arrangements that you hadn’t considered before that you feel like you unlocked in the process of making this record?
I think to me, personally, it is the best work I’ve done, and I’m happy because it means I’m growing every day. I hope my next project beats this one. I think as I’m evolving as a human being, so is my artistry. When I go into the studio with the likes of Dream and P2J and Metro Boomin and incredible songwriters that I collab with as well — like Theron [Thomas] who I wrote “Told Ya,” “Have Mercy,” and “Cheat Back” with — I’m learning so much and I’m ever-evolving. I definitely surprised myself in terms of vocally, arrangement-wise. I would be in the studio from 3 p.m. all the way to 10 in the morning the next day.
In that whole time, I’d just be a whole melting pot of ideas. And some would be trash, some would be great, but I was just allowing myself to be guided by the creativity. When I listen back, my eyes would be shocked. Because it’s like, creating something from nothing and it actually being good — whoa. I definitely feel like there’s a higher power and I’m just being a vessel. I’m just a vessel being used. So anytime the creative juices flow and there’s no mental block, I definitely thank God for that. Because as a creative, you never know when you’ll get in that block or how long it will last. So I cherish each moment where it comes out in a successful way.
“Looze U,” to me, felt like a rumination on how perceptions change — whether that’s how you view yourself as you learn from your experiences, or how other people view you externally. How do you conceptualize that shift?
Well, that’s the thing. When I had a creative block for the album, that was because I was so caught up in having my eyes and ears on what I think people expect from me and caring too much. That’s when my creativity and artistry got suffocated and I wasn’t creating the way that I was meant to. I feel like we all have a gift and we’re all vessels of that gift. When I worry too much about outside opinions, or who can I please the most or who will I not please, that will defeat the whole purpose of what art is about. Not everybody’s supposed to like art. It’s all about perspective. And, you know, not everybody will see or hear the same thing the same.
As you think about what purpose your music may serve for someone else, as something healing or revelatory, how do you connect to those same lessons yourself?
Just because I write about it doesn’t mean I find the answers. We’re all works in progress. I’m just using it as my diary to document how I’m feeling about it at a certain time. I think that’s why this album feels like I am claiming who I am and I’m taking my power back, because I’m saying I’m flawed. I’m imperfect. But just because of that, that doesn’t mean you can take my freedom away. And that’s what I love about this, because things that I have been afraid to say to the people who inspired these songs — who either broke my heart, or cheated on me, or backstabbed me — friends and family, it blew my world up. I started looking at myself like it was something I’ve done. Like, why am I not good enough? What’s wrong with me? But hurt people hurt people. And if somebody pushes me down where I fall and break, I will piece myself back together, even if I have to have the glue in my hand, stitch by stitch, whatever I got to do. I’m not letting anyone take that power from me.
That reminds me of the conversation we hear at the end of “Falling 4 U,” which is this woman talking about being able to take control and make choices for her own best interest.
OK, so the funny thing about that — not funny, but an interesting fact — is that the woman speaking is my godmom, who is also my manager. We were in the car leaving a shoot, and it was me, a stylist, and the driver. He was opening up to us about his romantic dealings and stuff and it was a really loving debate about the power of a woman, the power of a man, how we can coexist, things of that nature. My godmom is from St. Lucia — she’s Caribbean. And I just love how she gets her point across, so I pulled out my phone and I taped her. She didn’t know I was, and it was like a 10-minute conversation. I sent it to Halle, I sent it around to everybody that I could, even when I was in the studio with Dream I was dying laughing about it and I played it for him. We listened to the whole 10 minutes of it and he was like, “Yo, that could be a dope interlude, you should sample that.” I said, “Oh wait, you right.”
Because I really did agree with what she was saying. Everything that I felt about being a woman, it was perfectly described by her. Not even trying to find the home for it yet, my friend sent me this track — he sent me like 20 tracks — and he sent me this and then I wrote “Fallin 4 U” over it. When I love, I fall in completely with all of me, like there’s no holding back, to the point where I lose myself. You kind of hear me speak on that in “Looze U.” And when we were listening to it and I was trying to write an actual verse to it — because it was really just a hook — it was like I had an “aha” moment. And in that moment, I realized that’s where I wanted to put the interlude, because whenever we’re in love with somebody, and we want to get engulfed in them, at the same time we can’t forget about ourselves.
It starts off a hopeless romantic talking about I’m falling for you. I lose myself within you. Then it’s like, no. Fuck that. I can still love you, but it’s my choice to love you this way. It’s my choice if I want to decide to cook you food or clean, or if it’s my choice if I just want you to do all of it. Like, at the end of the day, how I love, there’s no right or wrong answer as long as it’s my choice. And I just thought it was so perfect together, because it follows the internal battle that us as women, specifically, have when we’re in love with a man. We constantly put them first or we put their needs before ours, or we make choices off of what we might think they want from us in a relationship. But it’s like nope, skrt skrt. I still got to put myself first through it all and even if I do choose to hopelessly fall in love with you and be there for you with everything — it’s my choice. It’s not because somebody dictated to me.
What was the process of choosing the sequencing for this record? Why was “Fallin 4 U” the precursor to “How Does It Feel?”
This whole album is definitely based off of a story. You know, it starts with “Someone’s Calling (Chlöe),” and that’s a sample of Louis Armstrong’s swamp song. It means a lot to me because my grandfather sang that song to me since I was a little girl. He’d go [singing] “Chlöe, Chlöe.” Even then as a little girl, I said one day I’m gonna use it in a project. Here I am now, years and years later, doing that.
From there, going into “Pray It Away,” it’s like when somebody does us dirty, we just want to get them back so they know that I’m not gonna let them have the power to affect me in that way and change how I love in my heart. And from there it goes into “Body Do” where it starts off: “Do you ever wonder who else is fucking your man?” So, you know he’s messing around, you know he’s doing you dirty, but it’s like you crave for something familiar. And it’s like, I just want to see what that body do, I just need a familiar touch.
I’s a story arc through the body of work. So now flipping back to “Fallin 4 U” into “How Does It Feel?,” it’s because “How Does It Feel?” is about longing for the one who you knew had your back the most, who loves you unconditionally the most. So it’s saying, I’ve woken up out of this daze of constantly putting you before me, constantly putting you before my feelings, and I’m OK with walking away. So how does it feel knowing that you lost me?
Tell me about working with Future on “Cheat Back.” Obviously the title gives a lot away about what to expect thematically, but the song itself is really tender.
This has been my favorite song for a while. The reason why I love it is because we’re human. We want people to feel the pain that they caused us. The pain that they caused us to make us feel like we’re not good enough and where it’s like, why didn’t you love me enough? Why didn’t you love me enough to stay with me and be faithful? You know what, my crying isn’t doing anything. My begging and pleading isn’t doing anything. Let me just cheat back and show you firsthand how it really feels. As petty and toxic as it is, it’s real. And Future, I love him on it because he’s telling the male perspective. And I’m telling the female perspective.
What was your experience collaborating with Missy Elliot on “Told Ya”? You’re used to working with and alongside powerful Black women in music as well as in film and television, but I’m curious about what lessons you’ve learned from that.
I hope I’m remembered as someone who gave another person the freedom to be themselves, and I hope I’m remembered as someone who was never afraid to talk about how important it is to protect your mental health. How important it is to know that you’re not alone and how important it is to know that it’s OK when you don’t have all your shit together because none of us do. We’re just better at playing it off.
Missy has been one of my biggest inspirations for a very, very, very, very, very long time. I was just happy and honored that I got to have her voice grace my debut album. When I received her vocals, I cried on the floor for 20 minutes. On a record that I wrote to tell everyone who’s underestimated me, “I told you I’d make it” even though I fully didn’t believe it myself — for her to be on that record specifically, it really meant a lot. It’s almost like proving to myself that, hey Chlöe, you are doing it. You’re on the right path.
What is your mindset in blocking out doubt and those external voices?
I stay off social media. I keep myself surrounded by my small circle of people who I know love me and will have my back forever. That includes Halle, my godmom, my sister Skye, my little brother Branson, my godbrother Joe. I have people who genuinely love me around me to keep me grounded. They tell me when my shit stinks and they tell me when it doesn’t. It’s also a lot of constant prayer, to be honest with you, because if it was just music, I’d be stress-free. But everything else in between, sometimes it makes you want to give up. But you have to outweigh your love of something, versus the problems. And the love of this and what I do will always outweigh any trial, any obstacle that comes at me.
How does seeing people physically show up for your music at shows feed into how you think about your connection with your audience?
It means so much to me. My godmom says it’s like my medicine when I go on stage, because she says I’m on a high for like the next two, three days — just so, so happy. As stressful as putting a tour together is, I know I’m going to be the happiest I’ve been in a minute when the tour takes place. People are coming to buy tickets to see me, and they don’t realize how much they’re fueling my spirit as well. So it’s a nice energy return kind of thing.
As you’re building your live show, how are you putting the singles that didn’t make the album into conversation with the ones that did?
Well, if I tell you that, there’ll be no surprises. But with the current songs on In Pieces, I want people to feel my heart when I’m on that stage. I want them to be able to look at that stage and connect with me even more. And just be like, I can relate, this is how I feel, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I feel like when more people are vocal and honest about their trials and tribulations and obstacles, it makes all of us feel less alone.