Exploring popular media through the feminist lens
By: Simone Shadd
Spring is upon us and as the flowers bloom, burgeoning artists are blossoming into accidental philosophers shaping pop-culture and by extension, the people. Chloe x Halle, sisters and R&B duo, are no exception. Hypnotic beats, pulsing melodies and lyrics that ooze femininity and fortitude create a unique blend that teaches as much as it entertains. “Everywhere,” the fifth track off their freshman album The Kids Are Alright, is a testament to the power, control and finesse underestimated women so often possess. The pair use repetition coupled by heavy bass to lend impact to their lyrics and lean into the strength they are portraying. Alongside a highly variable rhythm, the aforementioned tools serve to illustrate the grace and capability of young women, especially women of color whose talents are most often undervalued. If it is up to millennials and Gen Z to speak truth to power, Chloe x Halle have chosen to pick up the microphone. Judging by the critical reception and Grammy nomination, their voices have been heard loud and clear.
Before one can dive into the depths offered by “Everywhere,” one must first explore the surface. Even when stripped to its most basic elements, this piece is about money and glory. It is a three minute and twenty second ode to themselves. Whether discussing their work ethic, loyalty or riches, Chloe x Halle want the audience to understand their unabashed pride. While women are often forced to plea for the affirmation they seek, these siblings are not posing a question to the audience. The singers are making an unsolicited but compelling statement about themselves and their womanhood.
Their contemporaries in the genre, like Miguel or The Weeknd, are praised for their exuberant confidence but women in R&B are expected to derive confidence from the approval of a love interest (who may not be, but is more than likely male). Chloe x Halle pay their respects to the genre by mentioning the smell of money “on the sheets;” and while this is more insinuation than explicit statement of a more-than-friendly encounter, it nods to the intimate and interpersonal emphasis of the genre. However, “Everywhere” also rejects R&B’s erasure of other equally important parts of the female experience. “On the sheets” is also the only line in the composition with romantic or sexual connotation underscoring the singers’ philosophy of adoration as one aspect of a much larger and complex existence that is not to be flattened into a one-dimensional love story.
Women are viewed as nurturers by nature. For women of color, society doubles-down on that assumption and reinforces its misguided beliefs with unflattering stereotypes including the mammy or the latinx nanny. The instinct to care for others is supposed to be innate, but “Everywhere” turns that expectation on its head. The two songstresses masterfully make nearly fifty “I,” statements throughout the work, demonstrating the dynamism of an ambitious woman’s story. Women of color demand to be valued as individuals, not solely for their utility as nurturers. Chloe x Halle have put themselves at the forefront of their lives and, like their male counterparts, will not be shy about it. While other artists sometimes self-deprecate or apologize to compensate for perceived arrogance, the pair decided against this approach. By avoiding such capitulations, they place themselves on equal ground with their male peers who would never be expected to apologize for their confidence.
The musicality of the song breathes life into the already vibrant lyrics. Both singers have very light voices, but they chose to pair their airy vocals with a hefty bass line. Contrasting sweet vocals to substantial instrumentals highlights the duality of femininity. Femininity is typically considered to comprise elegance, grace and the more demur vein of traits. But ability and power is also considered feminine. Ethereal vocals accompanied by intense synth and bass serve to repurpose this duality and apply it to a circumstance in which a woman displays delicate feminine qualities but has chosen to care for herself and finds strength in this choice.
Though “Everywhere” displays some weaknesses (materialism, vanity etc.) it is overall a triumph. Chloe x Halle, sisters and young women of color, don’t whisper their desires but rather shout them into existence. Ultimately, the prodigies lay the groundwork for other young female artists to stand on their own without concern for male interest or external validation. Instead of creating art out of the desire to be seen, Chloe x Halle advise listeners to create in a way that aligns with their passions and onlookers will come as a natural progression of that ingenuity. Womanhood is about individuality as much as it is about community, and this R&B duo tells a tale of womanhood at its fullest potential.