Chloe Flower isn’t afraid to be the outlier. If anything, she embraces it. At just two years old she began her journey as a pianist, falling quickly into classical music — but she wanted more. “I went to all these different conservatories, but I didn’t really fit in,” she tells GRAZIA. Bach and Fat Joe aren’t two artists you’d normally hear together, and yet, Flower — while bored in a practice room at the Royal Academy of Music in London — was playing a rendition that would soon become her niche. “I remember listening to “Lean Back”by Fat Joe and sort of playing my Bach piece with it and it just worked. I mean, it didn’t work perfectly but it worked enough for me to have this lightbulb moment like ‘this could be something.’”
Classical music dates back to the 19th century with names like Bach and Beethoven at the helm. Although the 35-year-old’s foundation was classical music, an inclination to mix her first love with intricate pop, hip-hop, and trap beats is what led her to create her very own category, “popsical.” The adoration of Flower’s popsical genre — a term she coined herself — helped her gain a following of over 365,000 on Instagram. But before she was performing on Grammy stages, Flower was being kicked out of chamber groups and categorized as a “sell-out” by her colleagues.
“I was supposed to do a series of concerts in New York City. One of the girls that was in my chamber group actually wouldn’t let me play in it anymore,” she says. “She said ‘you’re doing too much hip-hop stuff, you’re a sellout.’ She kicked me out of this chamber group and I remember thinking: first of all, I could find another chamber group with no problem. But, I also remember thinking that whenever people feel strongly against something different, it doesn’t scare me. I leaned into [popsical] more because I felt like it was just sad to me that you would look at me and say ‘you can’t be in a chamber group just because you like playing hip-hop.’ I remember thinking right away that I wanted to continue doing this and do it the right way so that people like her would eventually come back and buy my album.”
“It’s a really funny way of describing somebody who’s trying something new,” Flower says of being called a sell-out. In her younger years, she felt more malleable and susceptible to criticism because she was leading a path no one in her community dared to do. “Whenever you’re doing something new and different you don’t have someone to look up to for validation,” she says. “You’re on your own in that way and I think that was the perfect timing for Babyface to come in.” Kenneth Brian Edmonds, better known by his stage name Babyface, is an American singer, songwriter, and record producer. He has written and produced over 26 number-one R&B hits throughout his career and has won 12 Grammy Awards.
Flower and Babyface joined forces over a decade ago. He gave the needed support for Chloe to chase her dreams unapologetically. “He took a chance on me because it was something he hadn’t seen before.” In the last eleven years, Flower has recorded more than 300 songs. Her debut album is set to release July 16 and her latest single “Bohemia” is out today, June 11. “I titled [this song] Bohemia because it’s about the love and passion I have for the arts,” she says. “I am an Asian woman and I was born here in the United States, but I never really fit into the Asian community in conservatory because I was too Americanized.” Flowers recalled even being booted from the Korean club because she was “too Americanized.”
“I didn’t really fit into the white community perfectly because I was Asian. I was used to this idea and the feeling of not fitting in. So “Bohemia” is a perfect representation of how I feel. Flower allows her emotions to carry her music creation. Although she’d been working on her freshman album for over a decade, she wrote the majority of it right before quarantine began. “I write how I feel at the time and Bohemia was something that I had started working on years ago and just finished right before the quarantine. It’s a real medley of pop, hip hop, and trap with a classical instrumental sound.
With her riveting take on classical music, Flower hopes to destigmatize people’s understanding of the genre. “Ever since I was younger, I always wanted people to look at classical music the way that I do, which is as an art form that is important and relevant today. I think being on stage with Cardi B and having that platform at that specific time allowed me to show a different aesthetic and a different side to classical music.”
In 2019, rap star Cardi B performed at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards for the first time. The “Big Paper” artist shared her monumental spotlight with Flower who gave a classical touch to the rapper’s hit song “Money.” The opportunity to perform alongside Cardi was not only pivotal to her career, but the chance to show young people that there aren’t limits to classical performance. “[Classical music] doesn’t have to just look like a man in a suit or even a woman in a ball gown. It can actually look cool and sound different,” Flowers says.
“Classical music has this stereotype that you have to be extremely talented, rich, and have a certain style,” she continues. “It’s just not true. I push music education so hard because I know how important it is not just to learn an instrument, but the empathy, cultural and emotional aspects that it teaches.”
Social media plays a huge role in many musician’s careers, and it’s no different for Flower. She is very familiar with viral social media posts. Her Instagram videos garner over 500,000 views as she sits stylishly at her piano in her New York apartment. “One of the best things I get from [viral videos] is kids and parents saying I want to learn to play piano,” she says. “Having that kind of experience when something goes viral lets you know you’re doing something motivating.” Flowers receives so much support from viewers, but she still seems to find people in the industry questioning her aesthetic. “Why are you wearing that outfit on Instagram?”
Well, because, she is a fashionista, which is clear once you’ve scrolled through her Instagram. You probably came for the music but stayed for the looks. Every video Flower posts of her top-notch piano skills are of course accompanied by a head-to-toe look. Whether it be Jacquemus, Balenciaga, or Mara Hoffman, Flower uses fashion as an attachment to her brand.
“I’ve always loved fashion since I was a young girl,” she says. “But what I found over the years was that I was compartmentalizing my classical music fashion and my regular fashion. It wasn’t until Instagram where I was like let me try wearing my going out clothes at the piano. I found it so important because I’m an instrumentalist and there are no lyrics in my songs. It’s such an important way to express not just my personality, but also amplify the feeling and emotion of my songs. Oftentimes my outfit will be a reflection of how I think about the music. And so that’s just another dimension or layer that I think is important for me as an artist that doesn’t have lyrics in her songs.”
Flower’s official debut is a labor of love. “I’ve been working on it for many years,” she notes. Her journey in the industry hasn’t been insular. Creating a niche genre that feels explorative and valuable came with a lot of naysayers, but she’s found comfort in adversity.
“The most important lesson is to not be afraid of the word ‘no,’” Flower says. “You’re going to hear it all the time, especially if you’re doing something new. People are going to tell you it doesn’t work or you can’t do it. Getting a ‘no’ doesn’t mean anything. You can ask the next person for help or ask the next person to listen to your music. Not being afraid of the word ‘no’ is so important because it’ll stop you from asking for help and it’ll stop you from doing something innovative.”