Like all music, R&B has evolved over time. From doo wop, to new jack swing, to neo soul, each generation has left their own mark on rhythm and blues. However, over the last 20 years there’s been a shift away from one R&B mainstay that has endured through every mutation of the genre: groups. Whether it’s due to artists seeking individual fame or labels seeking to cut costs as the industry shifts from the physical to the digital, it’s clear that the element that was once mainstay has become a bygone relic.
Enter Chloe x Halle.
Bringing back the harmonies (Albeit two-part harmony. Baby steps.) that have been missing from most popular black music, sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey fill the void with their debut album “The Kids Are Alright”. Over the span of 18 tracks, the duo beautifully blends their voices to deliver an album that is as tenacious as it is delicate.
After easing us into the album with “Hello Friend (Intro)”, the title track, and “Grown”, which serves as the theme song for the hit sitcom Grown-ish in which they co-star, Chloe x Halle take us straight into angelic harmonies over trap drums. Born in 1998 and 2000 respectively, the duo astutely incorporates melody and the musicality of their contemporaries with the tracks “Hi Lo”, “Fake”, and the innovative track “Everywhere”. On “Everywhere”, the sisters sing what on the surface seems like braggadocios “look how much money I have” lyrics, but instead are the praises of hard work which brings multiple streams of income. Lyrics such as “I painted my way up / I hustled my way up / I'm dealing my way up / I work for everything I do” speak to wisdom beyond their years and knowledge that nothing in this life is given.
My favorite track on the album is ‘Happy Without Me” featuring Joey Bada$$. The downtempo song about seeing your ex happily move on while you try to mend a broken heart is sung with such sincerity that it takes me back to my high school days and the memory of my own first heartbreak. And just like I’m sure we all did, the girls sheepishly hope for a day in the future when their unrequited love would return, but has that ever worked for anyone?
Immediately after ‘Happy Without Me” the album takes a darker turn. The hard driving guitar of “Babybird” almost serves as a response to the previous track where the singers snap out of their innocence to face the harsh realities of the unforgiving world that awaits us all each day. Followed by “Warrior” from A Wrinkle In Time, and “Cool People” which provides a brief respite from the darker tones, the prodigies return to more somber tones to close out the album.
While the sisters who were winners of the Radio Disney's Next BIG Thing competition show glimpses of being pop accessible throughout this album, they also display a depth and dexterity that is uncharacteristic of top 40 radio. These skills coupled with the harmonies that have been missing from genre, Chloe and Halle seem poised to double-handedly extend the life of R&B groups into the future.
Watch the short film that accompanies their debut album here: