Chlöe Bailey begins the ninth track of her debut solo album, In Pieces, by reciting a mantra of sorts. "No matter how many times I break/I put myself back together every damn time," she says during the spoken intro of "Make It Look Easy," a vulnerable meditation on finding inner strength in the face of intense criticism and adversity. She likely didn't imagine when she co-wrote and recorded the song that she'd need the reminder so frequently during what has proven to be a prolific, yet fraught, year of public reintroduction for the singer.
Bailey first attracted an audience more than a decade ago as one-half of the duo Chloe x Halle with her sister Halle Bailey. The act rose to prominence on YouTube when they were both preteens, with their soulful renditions of contemporary pop songs garnering the praise of one of the artists they covered — Beyoncé — who in 2015 signed the pair to her label and management company, Parkwood Entertainment.
Chloe x Halle went on to release two Grammy-nominated studio albums, including 2020's critically acclaimed Ungodly Hour, before announcing forthcoming solo projects in 2021. In May of this year, Halle made her lead acting debut in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, and her first solo single, "Angel," premiered earlier this month. Meanwhile, Chlöe's 2023 output has included the release of In Pieces, a starring role in the film Praise This, a recurring role in the TV series Swarm, and a tour in support of her album. The second leg kicked off earlier this month in California and concludes with a show at Revolution Live on Sunday, September 10.
She's in the middle of tour rehearsals when she speaks to New Times and apologizes profusely for being about ten minutes late to the call. Even she seems taken aback by the pace of life these days: "Oh, wow, all of that did happen this year," she says, surprised when asked about her productive 2023. Amid the whirlwind, she also sustained a foot injury that left her in a cast and boot for a month. Now fully healed, she says her emotions vacillate between "a combination of exhilarated, feeling completely grateful, filled with the utmost gratitude, and, like, maybe twenty percent exhausted."
Among the battle scars of her busy year is a hardened skin resulting from brutally harsh critiques of her work. In mid-March, after the release of Swarm, she became a days-long trending topic on Twitter when she was slut-shamed for filming a sex scene for the series, even as her scene partner Damson Idris received zero flack for his portrayal.
Asked about the absurd uproar, Chlöe is clear-eyed and defiant: "I feel like, because it's me, people like to nitpick it a little more than they would if I was any other woman. I'm 25. I'm an actress. I mean, I can't do little-kid projects all my life. Art is a representation of life. So, if you are showing life in all its forms, I don't see how a sex scene should be excluded."
She's adept at responding to this particular critique because she's faced a lot of it since she dropped her debut solo single, "Have Mercy," in 2021. Some of the public who got to know her on YouTube have struggled to catch up and accept her for who she is today: a sexually liberated woman in her mid-twenties who has experienced the complexities of adult relationships and wants to write and sing about them.
That tension was made apparent when In Pieces was released two weeks after the premiere of Swarm. The album failed to meet sales expectations, eliciting yet another public pile-on. When asked about the disappointing response, she's surprisingly candid.
"I'm not gonna lie. It really messed with me mentally, you know, the way everybody was attacking me about that," she tells New Times. "But I think, just as with the sex scene, because it's me, people criticized things more heavily."
She says more of the album's initial detractors are coming around, noting how "cohesive and artful" In Pieces is. Still, she admits, "When I started creating again, it took me a while to believe in myself again. I was asking myself if I'm talented, if I'm gifted, you know, Do I not know what I'm doing musically? Maybe I shouldn't produce anymore. I think, as any creative, if you put your heart into something and people criticize it, of course, that's gonna make you second-guess the gift that you were given."
She says she's worked through that self-doubt, realizing the only element of public feedback she can control is how she responds. She's pleased with the catharsis she accomplished with In Pieces, and she's continuing to work on new music: "I'm constantly working."
With vocally and lyrically layered tracks, including "Hear Me Cry" and "Worried," told from a woman's perspective experiencing her first transformative adult experiences, In Pieces is worth a second look. Judging from the audiences who have packed clubs and theaters on its supporting tour, the album is slowly but surely resonating.
"I feel like the crowds and the people that came to the shows during that first leg kept me going," says Chlöe. "I would hear and see what people would say about the project online and the sales. And then, a couple [of] hours later, I'd go out on stage and perform at sold-out venues where everyone's screaming the lyrics word for word."
The album she says she created to heal herself serves that purpose once again. "I'm really happy with what In Pieces did," she reflects. "As I came into this solo career of mine musically, it was hard to believe in myself. I was coming from a broken standpoint of healing from things I've been dealing [with] in my life personally. And that's why I created In Pieces — because I wanted to be honest and open with who I am, and now I'm coming out of that shell and that sadness, and I'm coming into celebrating who I am."
Chlöe. With Rosegold. 7 p.m. Sunday, September 10, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-449-1025; jointherevolution.net. Tickets cost $33 via ticketmaster.com.