“Everyone seems to perceive my sister and me as two little perfect angels,” says Chloe Bailey. “They know us from YouTube and see us with big smiles on our faces. We wanted to show that we’re not perfect—and that it’s okay not to be.”
Chloe and her younger sister Halle are curled up on a couch talking about the inspiration behind their highly anticipated sophomore album 'Ungodly Hour' (Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia Records) and how much of the project was shaped by their desire to dismantle how we think of them.
With their doe eyes and hypnotic harmonies, Chloe x Halle brought a youthful insouciance to R&B with their honeyed melodies and empowering, Black girl magic anthems. Their breakout, Grammy-nominated debut 'The Kids Are Alright' wove bright tales of young adult love, sisterhood and self-acceptance over an adventurous infusion of jazz, indie rock, trap, synth-pop and soul.
Chloe x Halle’s music—which they write, arrange, produce and engineer themselves—is uplifting and delightfully enchanting, but the ladies were eager to show a different side of themselves.
In July, Chloe will be 22 and Halle turned 20 in March. They are lightyears away from the child actors we met on the big and small screen before capturing our hearts with impressive YouTube covers of John Legend, Alicia Keys, and Beyoncé, who signed them to her Parkwood Entertainment imprint in 2015 and took them on tour.
“We wanted this to feel sexier, a bit more fun,” Chloe says of the new album. “We’re learning to love ourselves and our flaws; and we’re learning to own our sexuality and our imperfections. We’re showing you who we are in the ungodly hour—that time at 3:33 a.m. when your thoughts are running away from you, when you’re most vulnerable and raw. That’s what we’re sharing on this album.”
“We wanted to spill all of our secrets,” Halle adds. “We’re older. We’ve had experiences. Our perspectives have changed.”
'Ungodly Hour' is a bold, sleekly produced statement that celebrates “the power and strength of being a woman” with music that’s edgier, darker and sexier than anything Chloe x Halle has done in the past, without sacrificing any of their signature sound.
Work on the album began around Christmas 2018 when the sisters and their younger brother, Branson, packed up the home studio and had a brief sojourn at a Malibu beach house they found on Airbnb.
“We had a beautiful ocean view and that was so inspiring,” Chloe remembers, noting that album closer “Rest of Your Life” (which they debuted in concert late last year) and the spirited, self-love jam “Baby Girl” came from those Malibu sessions. “That was the moment where we were like, ‘Okay, we know what we want to say as young women.’”
As they worked through ideas for the new music, the ladies began plastering mood boards with photos and phrases that spoke to the vibe and aesthetic they were looking to capture. “There was a lot of rawness,” Halle recalls of the collages that filled the walls.
A phrase, “The trouble with angels,” made it onto one of the mood boards and became the driving force of the album. That duality of darkness and light, good and bad, naughty and nice was something Chloe x Halle wanted to toy with. It’s why the album’s cover shows the sisters with metallic chrome angel wings emerging from their little black latex dresses.
It’s clear from 'Ungodly Hour's' sultry opening “Forgive Me” (written by Chloe Bailey, Halle Bailey, Nija Charles and produced by Sounwave and Chloe) that they are charting new terrain for themselves. Inspired by Chloe feeling rejected by a love interest choosing another girl over her, the fiery kiss-off sets the tone for an album packed with songs that are complex, deeply vulnerable, sometimes humorous, raw and completely relatable.
They fantasize about bloody revenge on a straying lover over a glitchy, country-inspired beat on the biting “Tipsy” (written by Chloe Bailey and Halle Bailey, produced by Chloe); on “Busy Boy” (written by Chloe Bailey, Halle Bailey, Nasri Atweh and Jeff “Gitty” Gitelman and produced by Gitty and Chloe) they have the last laugh at a bed hopping player; and on the smoldering “Wonder What She Thinks Of Me” (written and produced by Chloe x Halle) they ruminate on a torrid love affair.
'Ungodly Hour' is more upbeat than previous releases—a conscious decision from Chloe x Halle, who wanted the album to reflect the fun they had with each other as they laughed and exchanged the stories that provided the framework of the records.
The album’s surefire hit, “Do It” (written by Chloe Bailey, Halle Bailey, Victoria Monét and produced by Scott Storch, Vincent Van Den Ende, and Anton Kuhl), is the kind of fierce song of summer banger that would easily dominate the club if we weren’t confined to our homes amid a global pandemic.It’s an unabashed club record,which is a departure for them but judging from the instant viralness of the dance heavy visual that accompanies the record, the world is ready for this new era of Chloe x Halle.
While 'Ungodly Hour' has an effortless, assured cool to it, the ladies admit the recording process wasn’t breezy.
After amassing a cult following with the homegrown music they crafted in their living room (their debut EP 'Sugar Symphony' was released in 2016, followed by a critically acclaimed mixtape 'The Two Of Us' in 2017), Chloe x Halle truly took off with 2018’s 'The Kids Are Alright'.
The album catapulted the duo to R&B stardom as they were also getting buzz for their roles on the hit Freeform series "Grown-ish" (the show’s theme song is a standout on 'The Kids Are Alright' and their 2019 singles “Who Knew” and “Thinkin Bout Me” was featured on this past season) and would go on to earn them Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Urban Contemporary Album.
“All of a sudden this little underground album was put on a pedestal,” Halle says. She continues “You start to think, ‘How do we top that? What can we do?’”
There was “immense” pressure, albeit self-inflected,to create songs that had hit-potential and could live up to the hype that comes with Grammy recognition. They admit there was a period during the creation of 'Ungodly Hour' where they lost themselves creatively and had to find their way.
“With 'The Kids Were Alright', majority of it was done by my sister and I in our living room. It came together really naturally, but it also took us three years to create because we were trying to find our sound,” Chloe explains. “That was us experimenting in our living room and it got two Grammy nominations. There was this unspoken pressure to find this hit song. ‘How can we make ourselves more commercial? How can we make the music more digestible for people?’ For about a month or two, we were creating songs that didn’t really sound like us. We were hitting ourselves up against a wall for months trying to get out of that headspace of looking for a hit song.”
Adds Halle: “The reason we make music is it’s a passion. This is our diary; it’s therapeutic for us to release these feelings. And, yes, to have someone relate to it is the most beautiful thing in the world to us but we don’t do this for Grammy nominations, or validation from other people.”
Like their earlier work, Chloe x Halle remain at the center of the writing and producing of 'Ungodly Hour', but they also collaborated with a range of A-list talents. The album’s title, and its pulsating centerpiece track, was born out a studio session with British electro house duo Disclosure. The album also boasts features from Swae Lee, Mike Will Made-It.
“It’s beautiful when you get in the room with these amazing, iconic people and realize you’re just as good as them and just as capable,” Halle says of the superstar collaborations that dot the project.
Chloe x Halle are anxious for the world to hear how much they have grown, both as women and as artists.
Like everyone else, they are navigating life in the time of COVID-19. This conversation is happening over Zoom as we all remain in isolation. They actually weren’t even supposed to be together right now. Had the virus not upended life, Halle would be in London filming Disney’s live action "The Little Mermaid", her first major project without her sister. As they step further into adulthood, we can expect to see more solo projects from them (Chloe completed filming for Miramax's supernatural thriller "The Georgetown Project" before lockdown).
Chloe x Halle hope the new music brings a sense of comfort to their fans, especially the young women who look up to them, during these strange times. More than anything, though,they just want to be seen and heard for the women they are now.
“What I appreciate about this album is it has our integrity and our musicianship but it’s so fun,” Chloe says. “The music naturally evolved because we are evolving and growing as women. We don’t have to force anything. This album feels like the time we are in right now.”
'Ungodly Hour' Album:
"Forgive Me" [Music Video]:
Chloe x Halle's 'Ungodly Hour' album is also available to stream & cop on all major digital service providers