The temperature is north of 80 degrees when musicians Chloe and Halle Bailey turn up for their InStyle shoot in Los Angeles’s Ladera Heights. Everyone else on set is melting or hiding under umbrellas, but the sisters—who at 18 and 17, respectively, already count Michelle Obama, Missy Elliott, and Erykah Badu as fans—dance their way through the nine-hour day, unfazed by the heat and wardrobe changes. If the two seem camera-ready beyond their years, it’s because they learned from a seasoned pro. “We used to love America’s Next Top Model,” says Chloe. “Tyra would always tell you to hold yourself like this and ‘smize.’ ”
Knowingly or not, Tyra Banks isn’t the only one who guided their growing success. It all started in 2008, when the self-taught Atlantans established their own YouTube channel and began posting clips of themselves performing covers of Adele, Rihanna, Katy Perry, and others. With Chloe on piano and Halle on guitar, they built a strong, devoted following and even won a televised contest on Disney’s Next Big Thing.
But it wasn’t until 2013 that they broke the Internet with their cover of Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts.” It caught the attention of Queen B herself, whose camp quickly got in touch to ask whether Chloe and Halle were signed to a label. In 2015, the sisters became one of the first acts to join their idol’s powerful Parkwood Entertainment brand. As with The Voice, this deal (reportedly for six albums and a million dollars) comes with mentorship—from Beyoncé. The sisters not only joined the European leg of her 2016 Formation tour but also appeared in the video for “Freedom,” off her visual album, Lemonade.
Not coincidentally, six days after Lemonade dropped, so did Chloe and Halle’s début EP, Sugar Symphony, to rave reviews. As they prep for the release of their still-unnamed first album later this summer, they are getting feedback from Beyoncé through regular meetings, emails, and phone calls. “She’s always encouraging us to stay true to ourselves,” says Chloe. “One thing she told us is, ‘ Don’t try to lessen yourself for the world; let the world catch up to you.’ ”
Good luck with that, world. The teens now live in L.A., where their family of six sacrifices the living room so Chloe and Halle can hit their self-imposed quota of creating a song a day. And if household noises make it into their jams, so be it. “You can hear the leash of our dog, Common, in the song ‘Red Lights,’ ” says Halle with a laugh.
Their catalogue now boasts roughly 300 songs, each of which they wrote and produced. Starting points vary from observations—“the sky is blue”—to a certain phrase or melody. “It feels cool because we’re not only growing as musicians but also as young girls,” says Halle, who was first hooked on becoming a singer after listening to Billie Holiday. “We’re experimenting with different styles that reflect who we really are inside, and that is so exciting, figuring out who you are as an individual. I think you can hear that through the music. You know, the self-reflection.”
In March, the Bailey sisters dropped a hint of things to come by releasing a 17-song YouTube compendium, titled The Two of Us, teeming with female-empowerment messages. In “Too Much Sauce,” Halle kicks things off with a verse that could serve as a rallying cry for millennial girls worldwide: “Boys texting me and/begging me to see ’em/You can’t schedule an appointment with a queen like me/I’m the forbidden fruit … ,” while Chloe follows up with “All in my glory/Hittin’ my phone and/reading my stories/Man, are you lonely?/Leave me alone … ”
When pressed on how they can confidently pull off such mature themes, the sisters demur. “It comes from a place of us being teenage girls,” says Chloe, who along with her sister decided to become a vegan about five years ago. “Some of the stuff we write happened, and some of it didn’t. That’s so fun to do sometimes, when you haven’t gone through something, but you’re imagining, ‘What is this like?’ ”
The girls won’t confess to anything other than celebrity crushes like Shia LaBeouf and Bruno Mars, because who has time for boys, anyway? When they’re not working, they like to go for distance runs (they did the San Francisco half marathon a while back), walk in fashion shows (as they did for Dolce & Gabbana last February), or hang with friends, including Black-ish’s Yara Shahidi. “She came over to our house last Halloween, and we had so much fun,” says Chloe. “I was Willy Wonka/Flavor Flav. She was Kim Possible.” Adds Halle, “I was Li’l Black Riding Hood because I had a black hood; it was kind of last-minute for me.”
Though they draw inspiration from other powerful sister duos such as Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz of the French-Cuban group Ibeyi and designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, the Baileys occasionally have their sparring moments. “If we argue, it’s over the little things, like lip gloss or coconut oil,” says Halle.
“It never lasts long,” says Chloe. “Whether I was right or wrong,” she laughs, “I just apologize.”
Photographed by Matthew Sprout. Fashion editor: James Valeri. Hair: Kim Mcallister. Makeup: Fiona Stiles for Starworks Artists. Manicure: Michelle Saunders for Forward Artists. Production: Kelsey Stevens Production.