Earlier this year, Chloe and Halle Bailey made the leap from YouTube fame to the biggest music video of 2016. The Atlanta-born teenage sisters, known professionally as Chloe x Halle, were featured among pop-culture powerhouses like Serena Williams, Zendaya and Amandla Stenberg in Beyoncé‘s Lemonade, which premiered in April, less than a week before they released their own five-song debut EP, Sugar Symphony. “Something magic was in the air there in New Orleans,” 16-year-old Halle recalls of filming the project. “We were all saying, ‘What a time to be alive.’ Just to even witness somebody like Beyoncé make such a statement and invite us … how lucky are we?”
Featuring the sisters in Lemonade is not all the pop megastar has done to shepherd the girls into the limelight. Chloe x Halle launched their YouTube channel at the ages of 13 and 11, respectively, with a cover of Beyoncé’s “Best Thing I Never Had” that their older sister filmed for them. Later, their angelic harmonies on a version of the singer’s “Pretty Hurts” led to their breakthrough. “Beyoncé saw our YouTube video online, and that’s because so many people shared it, and it created a buzz,” 17-year-old Chloe explains. Beyoncé shared the clip on her Facebook page and a year later, in 2015, the girls secured a $1 million dollar contract with the singer’s label Parkwood Entertainment.
From the time their ages were in the single digits, the Bailey sisters were exploring their talents. For Halle, watching her older sister sing or dance encouraged her. “I realized after I started [following her] that I’m not just imitating,” she recalls. “I really had a passion for singing, acting and all this stuff we did together.”
When Chloe was 10 years old and Halle was eight, their dad started to teach them how to write, focusing on basic song structure. “The first few songs we wrote were horrible,” the youngest sister admits. “But as time went on, they turned into something beautiful.” After playing around Atlanta they began posting covers online, and from there a fan base grew that would one day include First Lady Michelle Obama, who invited the sisters to open for her 2016 South by Southwest Keynote and appear on her song “This Is for My Girls.”
Though high-profile co-signs have been essential to their career, Chloe x Halle have a do-it-yourself mentality. “A couple years ago I started producing more seriously, and my sister and I would do everything together,” says Chloe. The sisters recorded their EP and many of their originals in their Los Angeles home studio. “I was so happy to have someone there to tell me what sounded good and to give me a confidence booster because trusting in yourself is important.”
“I’ll just see her freestyling and doing all these incredible acrobatics on the guitar, and I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s my sister.'” –Chloe Bailey
Both girls learned their instruments on YouTube, watching tutorials on how to play their favorite songs. “I still consider myself an amateur guitar player because I’m always trying to grow and I’m always trying to learn,” Halle, a huge fan of Lenny Kravitz and Jimi Hendrix, offers. The teen has been playing the instrument for close to four years now.
“In rehearsals I’ll just see her freestyling and doing all these incredible acrobatics on the guitar, and I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s my sister,'” Chloe adds. “I’m so proud of her.”
Both Chloe’s production skills and Halle’s guitar tricks can be heard best on the hauntingly hypnotic “Drop,” a maniacally catchy, anti-pop-structure pop song. “We got a call from [Beyoncé] and she was like ‘Oh, my gosh, girls, this is amazing. You guys are so talented. Your head is in the right direction,'” Halle reveals of their mentor’s reaction. Feeling encouraged by their label, the girls finally knew they were onto something with their genre-bending style.
“We have an open ear for anything, and I think that really plays into our music,” Chloe explains. Halle considers herself a “jazz-head” and has been listening to Billie Holiday since she was five years old, drawn to the singer’s “pink CD with her beautiful flower in her hair.” A childlike fascination with a beautiful album cover soon led to a serious study of female jazz vocalists, and the sisters cite both Holiday and Sarah Vaughan as inspirations for the bridge on “Drop.”
“I admire how Halle loves jazz so much,” Chloe adds. “I feel like I’m the younger sister sometimes.” The 17-year-old counts herself as a superfan of Frank Ocean, FKA Twigs, Tune-Yards and Twenty One Pilots, describing her taste as “anything that gets my heart pumping and my ears perking up.”
Their diverse listening diet has come in handy for the Baileys, leading them to creating one of the year’s best and most unusual pop debuts. “Our dad taught us to do everything on our own,” Chloe explains. “This music industry is so dominated by men and older people. You have to look into yourself and say, ‘I can do this. I’m bomb too. I can have wonderful ideas.'”