When the lights went up on Cardi B’s burlesque-inspired performance of “Money” at the Grammy Awards, the first thing that everyone at home saw was a woman wearing an extravagant couture gown perched at a Swarovski crystal-studded piano. (It turned out that the piano had previously belonged to none other than Liberace.) She glared into the camera and hit the keys with dramatic flair, prompting awed viewers to ask: Who is this bad ass pianist?
Although the mainstream is just now finding out who Chloe Flower is, the 33-year-old classically trained musician and producer has been in the hip-hop world for nearly a decade. A piano player since the age of two, Chloe studied at the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard, and interned at Russell Simmons’ Rush Philanthropic. The artist-producer Babyface signed her to his now-defunct Def Jam imprint Sodapop in 2010. She’s collaborated with everyone from Questlove and Nas to Celine Dion and Deepak Chopra. And after learning how to produce by watching Babyface work, Chloe has recently been co-producing tracks for Meek Mill, Mike WiLL Made-It, and 2 Chainz.
Besides her behind-the-scenes work for others, Chloe has also become somewhat of a star in her own right. Over the past two years, she’s gained an online following for her piano covers of pop songs, which she records dripped out in fabulous outfits at her luxe New York City apartment. Even through Instagram videos, it’s clear that Chloe is a bad bitch; it’s no wonder why star choreographer Tanisha Scott, who creative directed the sultry Grammys performance, picked her to share the stage with Cardi. And after Cardi’s insistence that Chloe be prominently featured, the pianist ended up stealing the show.
Riding the high after her Grammys breakout, Chloe has announced that she is newly signed to Sony Music Masterworks, who will release her forthcoming debut album. Over the phone on the day after the Grammys, she talked to Pitchfork about working with Cardi, her connection to Liberace, and what’s next.
Congratulations on your performance! How are you feeling one day later?
Oh my god, it’s crazy. I was not expecting the kind of feedback I’ve gotten. I’m just so grateful and so excited and slightly shocked.
How much input did you have into what you were going to be playing?
They actually gave me complete creative control. They just said, “We want it to be pretty in the intro.” In the middle of the “Money” music video, there’s a slight interlude with no music. There’s just a wind sound playing and Cardi’s at the piano—pretty naked. So I was like, I’m just going to write to this and write myself a second interlude. And Cardi loved it.
What was Cardi like during the rehearsal period?
She was incredible; she really made the team focus on making me shine. She was like, “I want Chloe to look extravagant. I want her to stand out. I want her to have a moment in music, and I want her to have her moment in fashion.” She was very serious about that. You don’t get that from a lot of artists, especially a lot of big female artists. She was so gracious and so supportive of me. I almost cried. I wasn’t expecting that at all. I was in the center of the stage, and she was fine with that.
Initially, I was wearing something short, and she was like, “No, that’s not big enough. I need her to look more couture, more high fashion. I need her to stand out more.” I don’t know this designer [Fouad Sarkis] particularly well, but sometimes, you’ll find a piece and it works for what you’re doing. I felt like Maleficent, like Angelina Jolie.
When you were playing, you had a powerful stage presence. Did you get direction for how you were going to carry yourself?
Tanisha is an amazing creative director. I begged her for help. She was like, “Just do you.” The only direction she gave me was to look out, shift my body more towards the audience. Because you know, as a classical musician, we’re trained to face the keyboard, to zone out, and not acknowledge the audience. At the very end, she told me, “I want you to hold your pose. Whatever pose you do, hold it.” That was the only direction I got, girl. I was begging for more direction, but that’s all I got.
How did you end up getting Liberace’s piano for this performance?
It’s a really funny story. I’m not like a party girl—I don’t really party and I certainly don’t do drugs. So I went to this thing that I was told was a yoga retreat-type situation outside of Vegas. When I got there, everybody was in costumes and high and running around drunk. And I was like, “Oh no.” Literally got back in my Uber and I was like, “Just take me to the strip, I’m gonna find a hotel, I’m gonna figure this out.”
My friend came with me and I was like, “We’re gonna make this trip worth it somehow.” I found the Liberace museum [on Google]. But when I got there, it was shut down, it had closed. I went on the website and there was like this little comment form. I typed in it and I emailed the person at the foundation. I was like, “Hi, I’m Chloe Flower, I’m a pianist and I’m a huge fan of Liberace. I would love to come look at your stuff, do you have a new museum? I would love to get inspiration.” And [the president of the foundation Jonathan Warren] wrote me back right away. He was like, “Can you do a meeting tomorrow?” I met him at the Liberace garage on the way to the airport and the rest is history, I started working with him.
Liberace had left his entire estate to his foundation—nothing can be separated, nothing can be sold for auction or anything. That was the rule of his foundation. Everything is in one place, it’s in the basement of Thriller Villa where Michael Jackson lived in Vegas. He has rhinestone cars, his capes, his sheet music. I was the first person to go into his archives and I’m the first person that catalogued his unwritten sheet music. I spent four days with no sleep, cataloging it all to one day do an album of his unreleased music.
So what ended up happening is that Tanisha called me and she said, “We’re gonna do this piano thing.” I thought, you know, I have Liberace’s glass piano in my apartment on loan to me. But, the crystal piano is a bit smaller and it’s made out of Swarovski crystals. Shouldn’t Cardi be dancing on that? So I told Tanisha it was an option and Cardi was so excited about it. So they drove it from Las Vegas and set it up.
Why did they honor your request to loan it?
I requested it because I thought it would bring more attention to piano music. I’m always looking for new and interesting ways to bring classical music and what I do to a younger audience, primarily because I don’t sing. So I thought, maybe having this piano will be cool for younger musicians to see and they’ll be like, “Wow, there’s pianos like that.”
How did you transition from being a piano player to a producer?
I love orchestration and I love composing. When I signed with Babyface, I would watch him and his other producers work in the studio. And I’d be like, “Hey, what’s that program you’re using? Logic, oh, Pro Tools.“ My nickname began Chlo Tools because I learned how to use Pro Tools by myself. I became obsessed with learning how to use the software. I was like, “Wow, I can make this sound with the piano, and I can add cello here and I can add violin.” And then I was like, “Oh my god, I can add a 95-piece orchestra if I want, like, right now.”
Now that you’re signed to Sony Music Masterworks, what is next for you? What are you working on?
There’s not a lot of female producers out there. On the agenda is to really try and be a female producer. And the other thing is an album—but I’m not exactly sure what it’s gonna be. I’m thinking about instrumental covers. Or possibly something with more uptempo trap beats, which would be really fun.