In 2013, Beyoncé put her superstar power to work in a sold-out arena show to help launch the inaugural BET Experience in downtown Los Angeles. Three years later, the singer isn’t expected to perform at the annual music festival and confab, but she’ll be present (at least in spirit) in a different way: as a budding impresario.
Among the acts scheduled to appear at BET’s 2016 edition — which this weekend will bring concerts, panel discussions, film screenings and more to L.A. Live — is Chloe x Halle, a young sister duo signed to Beyoncé’s record label, Parkwood Entertainment.
The two got their start singing covers on YouTube. But this past spring they released “Sugar Symphony,” an impressive EP with five of their own songs.
And now they have performances lined up for Saturday afternoon and, according to Parkwood, on Sunday evening’s televised BET Awards — all of it thanks in part to the valuable endorsement of the woman often referred to as Queen Bey.
“Beyoncé is just the most amazing person that could ever be,” said 16-year-old Halle Bailey with a laugh. “I know everyone says that, but it’s true.”
The Bailey sisters (Chloe is 17) aren’t the only emerging artists on Parkwood’s roster. There’s also Sophie Beem, a singer-songwriter with a new self-titled EP, and Ingrid, a rapper from Beyoncé’s hometown of Houston who co-wrote a track on the star’s recent “Lemonade” album.
Nor are Chloe x Halle the only young act on the bill at BET, which in addition to established A-listers like Usher, the Roots and Lil Wayne will feature new talent including Bibi Bourelly and Kodie Shane.
Yet with their visible charisma and distinctive sound — not to mention the devoted following they built for themselves on YouTube — the Baileys might be the most promising of these varied up-and-comers.
“It was apparent from the moment I met them that they were stars,” said Steve Pamon, Parkwood’s chief operating officer. “They have a unique quality you know when you’re around it. They’re people you want to root for.”
Raised in Atlanta (but now based in L.A.), the sisters began posting videos on YouTube around 2008: earnest but skilled renditions of well-known pop tunes like Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and “Story of My Life” by One Direction.
The videos steadily attracted an audience, but things took off near the end of 2013 when their stripped-down version of Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts” went viral, racking up more than 10 million views — and attracting the interest of Beyoncé herself, who signed the girls to a six-album deal reportedly worth $1 million.
Halle said she and her sister were working on original material as the YouTube covers grew in popularity. “But we were nervous to put it out,” she admitted. “We were like, ‘Will they understand it?’ It’s not your typical-sounding music.”
Indeed, the songs on “Sugar Symphony” have a spacey, appealingly off-kilter vibe, with the singers’ tightly braided voices over skittering beats they largely produced themselves. One inspiration, according to Chloe, was Tune-Yards, the brainy art-pop project fronted by the singer and producer Merrill Garbus.
But Chloe x Halle were also thinking, of course, of Beyoncé’s group Destiny’s Child — “the way they always put so much heart into everything they did,” Chloe said.
Those diverse influences led to music that feels proudly homemade even as it aims for a mainstream audience; the weird edges haven’t been sanded from “Sugar Symphony,” which makes the music stand out in much the same way that the fiercely personal “Lemonade” does. (Watch the film that accompanies Beyoncé’s album and you’ll spot the Baileys alongside Zendaya and another sister duo, Ibeyi).
Parkwood’s Pamon said protecting that individuality is the label’s goal with Chloe x Halle.
“There’s no pressure on them to do anything but be themselves,” he said, describing a sense of freedom Halle said she feels lucky to have at a moment when the record industry is increasingly desperate for sure things.
“As we’re growing into young women, we’re always experimenting and changing our minds,” she said. “And you hear these stories from artists who have to constrict themselves. It breaks my heart.”
Which doesn’t mean Pamon lacks commercial ambitions for the duo. Following the BET Experience, Chloe x Halle are planning to connect with more fans at the Essence Festival in New Orleans. And the executive hopes to have them participate in the upcoming European leg of Beyoncé’s “Formation” world tour — as big a platform as any in music right now.
But he’s not in any rush, he insisted, and that’s because of Beyoncé.
“Part of the currency she has bought is the ability to do the right thing in the right way at the right time,” Pamon said of his widely adored business partner. “That’s our competitive differentiation.
“I mean, who wouldn’t want to be part of Parkwood and have Beyoncé as your adviser?”