The road to Chlöe Bailey's debut solo single "Have Mercy" was long, arduous, and sometimes even plagued by toxic comments from strangers who refused to let her own her confidence. But with a wildly bold and inventive new video directed by Karena Evans that lets Chlöe present herself precisely how she wants the world to see her, she's truly arrived.
As she tells MTV News ahead of the debut performance of "Have Mercy" at the 2021 VMAs on Sunday, September 12, executing her vision as she saw it was paramount to the song's rollout. "Men can glorify ass in their videos. I want to do it with this in an artful, really fun, beautiful way," she tells MTV News correspondent Dometi Pongo. "I think it's so great how women can claim ownership of their bodies and not let the world do it. We get to do it in the way that we want to."
In the dizzying clip, a dominating Chlöe steals every moment of spotlight as she fills the frame in look after look on sorority row, all while a loose narrative of missing men plays throughout. By the end, it's clear she's turning these guys (boys, really) to stone. But the cornerstone of the entire concept resides in simple shots of Chlöe in front of pink backgrounds.
The visual found its origins in that color, which led to the idea of Greek life, and Chlöe herself suggested the darker twist of the "modern-day Medusa" tale, epitomized by a series of frightening and erratic choreography by Chlöe bathed in harsh nightmare lighting.
"I wanted to make it all about ass, but in an artistic way," she says. "I think it's so cool how women have this incredible power. They can leave men in a trance with their bodies and their spirits and the way they carry themselves."
She felt like a different person on set, and throughout her interview, the difference between the protagonist of "Have Mercy" and the gentler Chlöe we knew are palpable. That said, she's happy to keep the experience of embodying such a confident and sexual persona in her own personal reserves — she never knows when she might need to "tap back into" it. Part of her positivity about the shoot comes from the "family vibe" they established thanks to director Evans, her creative lead, Andrew Makadsi, and even a quick cameo from Beyoncé's mom, Tina Knowles-Lawson.
"I think it's amazing how Karena gets it because she's a woman, she's a Black woman, and there's some things that I didn't even have to really explain because she knows it by living life," she says. "You get to see the power that we hold within the music video. I felt sexy doing it, but it's also very empowering."
"Have Mercy" will likely appear on Chlöe's forthcoming debut album, the solid roots of which took hold in 2020. After her and sister Halle embarked on their so-called "backyard tour" for their 2019 album Ungodly Hour, Halle went into production on Disney's The Little Mermaid update. Chlöe, meanwhile, dove right into her solo music. Of the estimated 100 songs she recorded for possible inclusion, Chlöe currently has it narrowed down to about 30 — and in a streaming era marked by much longer albums, maybe she only has to lose about 10 to make it work.
So far, it seems like it'll span pop and R&B, as both "Have Mercy" and her Chloe x Halle work have. Although, she's teasing that we haven't quite heard what she's fully capable of. "I love how my tone sounds on pop records, which you guys really haven't even heard yet," she says.
What we have heard? "Have Mercy," though we still haven't seen what Chlöe will do with it when she debuts it live at the VMAs. If the video is any indication of where her head is at now, we're in for a ride. "I'm going to be honest: I'm very scared," she says of the showcase moment. "But I'm really grateful... [to] finally show the world who I am completely."