Review: Chloe x Halle emerge into complicated, sultry adulthood with ‘Ungodly Hour’
Chloe x Halle explore their sexuality and more on their new album. (Photo via YouTube)
In “Wonder What She Thinks of Me,” the second-to-last track off Chloe x Halle’s sophomore album Ungodly Hour, the duo sings, “I wonder what she thinks of me/ when she sees my name on your phone screen/ You drop everything just for me.” The song is a slick and sexy lullaby about the perils of being the side chick — and a tangible break from innocence.
Chloe and Halle Bailey, the R&B duo largely known for their viral YouTube cover of Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts,” are frequently labeled “angelic” by critics and fans alike. Their first album, The Kids Are Alright, featured an array of optimistic songs about their generation.
But on Chloe x Halle’s second album — a coherent, tighter collection that is far easier to dance to than their previous work — the sisters make it clear that they have layers. Though their soaring harmonies still conjure up biblical allusions, their lyrics may remind you more of Delilah than Gabriel.
In addition to being a declaration of sexuality, Ungodly Hour is a tribute to the moral complexities of young adulthood. The album’s 13 songs frequently reference late night hijinks, drunken texts and trysts cut short by insecurity and betrayal.
“Busy Boy,” a playful track with 2000s R&B influence, pokes fun at two-timers and players. “Tipsy,” the moody fifth track on the album, imagines Chloe and Halle as avenging murderesses: “I’ll take you to the afterlife/ Boy, if you ain’t actin’ right/ Key your car and crash the lights/ Hit your head, I’m not polite.” And “Do It” celebrates a night out with friends, free of boys or drama. (In Ungodly Hour, the two are often interchangeable.)
Much like their first album, the duo continues to embrace a variety of genres, usually with success. The album’s titular track is set to a low, wavering house beat. It’s very difficult not to dance to. Somersaulting vocal runs in “Busy Boy” bring to mind early Destiny’s Child. “Catch Up,” which appears midway through the album, features vocals by Swae Lee. Its heavy autotune switch-up is a bit jarring — a moment where Chloe x Halle’s entry into more gritty material feels a bit overdone — though the futuristic “visualizer” that goes with the song is strangely mesmerizing. “Don’t Make It Harder On Me” cuts through the album’s sleek darkness with a lovely soul melody.
Chloe x Halle are often at their strongest on this album when they work against the angelic quality that gained them popularity. “Wonder What She Thinks of Me” subverts the candy-apple wickedness of the “other woman” trope with the initial sweetness of Halle’s ethereal soprano. By the middle of the song, Chloe joins in, both voices building into a crescendo that suggests building emotion and desperation. “You’ve done this before, so/ who are you to judge me? Me?” they repeat, hinting at a deep insecurity that follows the casual, confident veneer at the song’s start.
This cracking mirror, the ragged edges that define being young, lustful and growing, are the best parts of Ungodly Hour, a confident album that dissects its own swagger and emerges ultimately successful.
Chloe x Halle delayed the release of the album — originally slated to come out June 5 — by a week to amplify the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the weeks since the release of lead single “Do It,” the dance featured in the song’s music video has gained popularity on the video platform TikTok. The dancers, many of them young Black women, have recreated the dance in backyards and sunny streets, with graduation tassels and in family kitchens.
Though the release of the “Do It” video preceded the Black Lives Matter protests of the past several weeks, these videos can feel a bit like their own form of protest. Dancing has played a large part in the protests themselves, often involving large groups of people and underscoring somber moments of remembrance.
Chloe x Halle chose to delay the album’s release in the interest of not taking the attention off Black Lives Matter. But their album does not dampen the movement. Instead, it supports it — by making art which celebrates young Black joy. Ungodly Hour recognizes the full humanity of Black girls, giving them permission to go out, make mistakes and enjoy their lives without worrying about the consequences. That merits dancing.