This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Genre: Pop R&B
Favorite Tracks: “Hi Lo (featuring GoldLink),” “Down,” “Happy Without Me (featuring Joey Bada$$),” “Galaxy,” “Fall”
I can not imagine what it feels like to be a child or a teen in today’s world. It’s startling to consider the ways in which the world and its media depict kids, especially black kids, as adults. With each viral tweet or video of a child unveiling their trauma to the world to speak about issues of inequality, I wonder if kids have any space to be kids anymore? Of course these issues aren’t new, only the platform we’re giving kids to talk about them is. Covering many of the themes we associate with youth, like first love, growing up, anxiety, fun, and responsibilities, Chloe and Halle Bailey’s debut album, THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, works to create a place for themselves in a world that’s trying its hardest to keep black kids from being kids.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT opens with a greeting and a prompt for conversation. As their voices echo, it becomes apparent that it is not an invitation for the listener to participate and is instead an invitation to witness a conversation the duo have with themselves. They are setting the stage to provide access to a level of introspection found elsewhere on the album. The effortlessly cool sisters have a quality of genuineness that is hard not to find alluring. Their experimental R&B vocals, paired with aesthetics that are otherworldly, position them as musicians to watch. Popular culture has stepped away from celebrating traditional R&B vocals the way it did during the neo-soul era of the late ‘90s, and “experimental” or “alternative R&B” has become a catchall to describe any and every thing. Chloe x Halle mix a willingness to experiment with compositional elements of the genre with superb vocal talents more reminiscent of the R&B of the early ‘00s and ‘90s. The duo is equal parts relatable and ethereal, a combination that is definitely inherently oxymoronic, but the two pull it off, especially on some of my favorite vocal performances on the album on the tracks “Down,” “Galaxy,” and “Fall.”
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT comes five years after the sisters from Atlanta went viral on YouTube for their covers of popular songs, namely a cover of “Pretty Hurts” from Beyonce’s self-titled. After catching Bey’s eye, she signed the duo to her management company Parkwood Entertainment. Since then, they have been hard at work releasing singles, their 2016 EP SUGAR SYMPHONY, and their 2017 mixtape THE TWO OF US, while also starring in the Freeform show GROWN-ISH. The relationship our culture has with the value we ascribe to “hard workers” is a complex one, but even for all of its nuances it seems natural to trust someone who you believe has worked hard to achieve what they have. So when the intro track seamlessly transitions into the title track and they say “the kids are alright,” I agree to set my natural skepticism aside, if only for the duration of the album.
It’s apparent that THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT is the result of years of growth. Even if you are not familiar with the pair’s earlier music, the tone that radiates through this is album is one of self-assurance. The kind of self-assurance that young people need to have as they prepare themselves to take on adulthood. It is the kind of music I could have used at their age: age-appropriate and wholly authentic, no doubt being the result of the sister duo being involved with the writing and producing all 18 tracks. The entire work is not all serious though. The pair have a little fun on tracks like “Fake” and “Everywhere,” which opens with the distant sing-songy yell of, “I got money everywhere falling off the trees.” The song, of course, cannot end without keeping the pair grounded, and closes with the second to last line being “all I know is that I’m grateful.” All in all, there’s no trace of any manipulation from a mega network or label pushing them to make music that is cringe-worthy, as young artists often do.
There is something to be said, too, about the relationship they have with each other. Not everyone who has a sibling is lucky enough to have that person also be their best friend. You hear the love radiating off of their effortless harmonies. This is true in my favorite track, “Happy Without Me,” featuring Joey Bada$$. Coming in a little over halfway through the album, it is a song about the heartbreak one feels when watching a past lover move on. While the lyrical content consistently evokes nostalgia, the vocal tone takes a turn towards joy near the song’s end due to the way Chloe and Halle’s voices form a chorus bouncing off of and folding into each other. It’s a technique the two employ elsewhere on the album, prominently with “Grown.”
In a world where black people face the risk of violence everywhere, we often have to grow up rather quickly. Listening to the album immediately after reading about the Parkland teenagers who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who were featured on the cover of Time, felt a bit surreal. The Time cover is just more evidence to show the ways in which black youth and white youth are treated differently. Both groups just want to live, yet one group is uplifted on magazine covers and the other is silenced and harrassed. Even though in some ways at only 22 years old I am “the youth,” I often worry about those younger than I am. It’s incredibly disheartening to witness the ways children have their youth taken from them without any remorse, but with violence being cyclical, it can be hard to imagine alternatives. Chloe and Halle’s debut, full of energetic, experimental R&B ballads and bangers, reminds me of the possibilities of black life, youth, and girlhood. It’s full of questioning and accepting while finding out about yourself and the people and things that matter to you. The album ends with an impeccable vocal performance on the sometimes somber “Fall,” a track about perseverance in the midst of chaos. At this point I don’t know if the kids will actually be alright, but I sure hope so.