Take Chloe and Halle Bailey at their word: as the title of their debut album claims, these kids are alright. At just 19 and 17 years old, the sisters have staked their territory as two of pop’s most ethereal rising voices. First finding an audience with a series of YouTube covers as kids, Chloe and Halle (stylized Chloe x Halle) also caught the ear of their idol Beyoncé, leading her to sign them to her record label, Parkwood Entertainment. A few years later, they’ve uprooted from Atlanta to L.A., landed roles in the Black-ish TV show spinoff Grown-ish, opened for Beyoncé and put out an EP and a mixtape. Now, they’re finally releasing their debut album — all while making at least a song a day together in their family’s living room.
If it sounds like a modern-day fairytale, perhaps it’s because they have Beyoncé as their fairy godmother. “One of the things [Beyoncé] says is to let the world catch up to you; don’t dumb down your art,” older sister Chloe told TIME of her mentor’s best advice. “As fans of hers and two young girls, hearing that from her was an ‘aha’ moment — and a confirmation that we were headed in the right direction.”
That precocious message is heard loud and clear on The Kids Are Alright, a haunting meditation on growing up and finding their footing as young women. The duo shines as vocalists and hands-on musicians on the album: Halle plays guitar while Chloe is the production whiz, and both are credited as songwriters on every track.
Just after a morning dance class, Chloe and Halle chatted with TIME about the making of The Kids Are Alright, the important role their generation is bound to play and the lessons they’ve learned from Beyoncé — who, clearly, has helped set them up for a bright future.
TIME: Your family isn’t originally from California; you were first raised in Atlanta. Why did you move out west?
Halle Bailey: We moved to L.A. about five and a half years ago on the dream of living out what we want to do. We knew that being out here was definitely better for the music scene. Our mom and dad made the decision to move us with our family. We instantly fell in love; the sun was shining. It makes you a happier person.
When did you two decide that music was something you wanted to pursue as a career?
Chloe Bailey: We started off performing around Atlanta. It was fun, but deep in our hearts we always knew it was something we wanted to take seriously. But how it actually happened was when we posted our YouTube covers. The very first YouTube cover we ever posted was to “Best Thing I Never Had” by Beyonce. I think I was 13 years old, and my sister was 11. We were in our basement; our older sister recorded it for us. We didn’t expect much; we were happy about the first 100 views. But then our covers started blowing up. From there we went to the Ellen Show, we did some stuff with Radio Disney, and then we just kept singing our hearts out and it opened up so many doors for us.
How long has The Kids Are Alright been in the works?
Halle: We’ve been working on this album since three years ago, since before our EP, and before our mixtape. We were choosing from a catalogue of over 400 songs, since we were creating every day. But we think of all our songs as our babies, so it’s really hard to choose. That’s why the mixtape, we put it out there as the album rejects — but we still love those songs. Working on the album, it took a lot of preciseness to figure out what we wanted to include. We feel like this album is our baby.
You two are mostly self-taught, and you’ve written and produced on every song on this album, with just a few other collaborators. How did you learn?
Chloe: Ever since we were little girls, our dad instilled in us the importance of not having to rely on anyone, and having a do-it-yourself attitude. So since he saw how much we loved to sing, he was like, “Well, girls, why don’t you learn how to write a song?” So we all sat at the dining room table in Atlanta, when I was 10 and my sister was 8, and our dad would research song structure. He printed out all these things to read about applying figurative language to your lyrics — like using similes and metaphors and personification — because really a song is just poetry put to music.
So from 10 and 8 we just wrote our own songs, and that’s how we learned. And the more we did it, the better we got. And how I learned to play my keys and do production — it was on YouTube or Google. If I didn’t know something, I’d just research it, and that’s how I picked it up. I think our production and music style sounds different and out-of-the-box because we’re just such big fans of music and we never force it, so it just naturally comes out like a big fusion of all these genres.
Tell me about the things that musically inspired you in the making of this album.
Halle: Our experiences in our life as we’re growing into young women, because every day the world seems newer and more exciting. For me, I’m 17 and turn 18 on March 27. I’m already thinking about what can I do when I’m 18! It’s funny because our music documents this time in our lives so perfectly. When I’m older, I can look back on a song like “Grown” [the Grown-ish theme song] and remember feeling an exact way.
But in terms of music, I’ve always been inspired by jazz. Billie Holiday is one of my biggest influences. I discovered her voice when I was 5 years old. Just that sound she emits and the feeling she gives you is pure love and joy and relaxation. I feel like I’ve taken those melodies that she’s given me and incorporated them into my repertoire. It comes out when we’re doing songs together. Chloe brings her awesome hard beats and 808s to it, and incorporating that with some classic melodies, it turns it into a really different and interesting sound.
What does the phrase The Kids Are Alright mean to you two?
Chloe: The title means so much to us; we’re speaking about ourselves as we’re growing into young women, telling ourselves we’re going to be OK. We’ll make mistakes and we’ll have obstacles, but we’ll overcome them. But then also in a general sense, with this generation and how the world has gone mad and all these crazy things that are left for this generation to handle, it’s just proclaiming that we will be alright no matter what, and they shouldn’t worry about us. I love being part of this generation because we’re not afraid to let our voices be heard, and we’re not afraid to speak our mind.
Do you feel like you’re part of a generational shift?
Halle: We feel like the youth are definitely going to make a change in everything that we’re doing. We’re just happy to be a part of that conversation, and use our art as a gateway for people to see our message of love and empowerment. We hope it inspires other young people. I hope it’s a ripple effect.
What has been the hardest part for you two, growing up in the spotlight and becoming these voices that speak for other young women?
Chloe: Sometimes it’s been hard for us to believe in ourselves, but we have such a great support system in our parents and Beyoncé, who’s always letting us know to trust our art and our instincts. As women growing up in this male-dominated industry, sometimes we’re like, “Well, we’re just two young girls making music in our living room, what do we know?” But as we’ve experienced more and worked with really great musicians, we’ve learned that, You know what? We do have this. We’re figuring this out within through music.
What’s the best piece of advice that Beyoncé has given you?
Halle: Beyoncé has always relayed that same message to us: your music is ahead of its time, and it’s beautiful in that way, and we need more of that. Because our music is not the status quo, it’s not like everything you hear. It’s different for your ear. We make it because we like different stuff, but sometimes other people are like, “Oh…that’s interesting.” But that’s what we want — that’s what’s exciting, when music is evolving in that way. That’s definitely taught us to stay true to ourselves.
Has she ever given any advice that hasn’t worked out for you?
Chloe: No, that’s impossible for her! She’s been in this game for so long, she’s learned so much herself and is just passing off the knowledge to us. We love her.
How did your collaboration with Wrinkle in Time director Ava DuVernay come together?
Chloe: We love Miss Ava DuVernay so much! We’ve always been such fans. We look up to her because she’s such a strong black woman — and she has locs, just like us, so she’s been such a big inspiration. One day she reached out to us looking for music for A Wrinkle in Time. My sister and I were like, “What? That’s so cool!” We looked through our current catalogue of songs, but we didn’t really find anything that spoke to us for this movie. So we were like, “You know what, let’s just write another one!”
We were in our living room; we watched the trailer and we wrote the song in an hour. We sent it to her and she loved it, she just asked for it to feel a little more cinematic and a little more universal because [the character in the movie] was talking to her dad, not just a lover. And we made those tiny notes and, bam, it was in a movie! It was our first movie placement. The video just dropped; Storm [Reid] and our dear friend Rowan [Blanchard] [both of whom star in A Wrinkle in Time] are in it.
With movies like Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time and shows like Grown-ish becoming so popular, it seems like young women of color are finally getting to be seen. What does this wave mean to you?
Halle: I think that’s a beautiful thing where you can think, “Wow, I see Lupita [Nyong’o] up there, I can go for that audition. I can do music because I see Beyoncé, and she’s succeeding, and she’s confident in herself.” I think we definitely need that representation, and I’m just proud to be alive during a time when it’s being shown.