If you’re ‘into aliens’, you may have heard of something called the ‘Fermi paradox’. If you haven’t, here’s a very simplified version of it: in a universe as expansive as this one, with so many suns similar to ours, there’s a very high probability that extraterrestrial life exists. And if we accept that it does, then why haven’t aliens visited us yet?
There could be a few reasons for their silence. Maybe they are so different to us, so ‘alien’, that we can’t even detect their attempts. Maybe they lack the advanced technology. Maybe they have deliberately isolated our planet. Or maybe – and this is weirdly my favourite explanation – our existence is miraculous. As in, maybe most planets like ours haven’t lasted this long – they’ve been wiped out by comets or whatever – and essentially we’re on borrowed time. There’s a good article about this in The Atlantic, and honest to god, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since it was published in March.
This is what pop artist Chloë Black and I are speaking about in detail when she FaceTimes me from her garden in the Hollywood Hills. It’s 9AM where she is, her platinum blonde hair framed by lazy-looking plant life and morning sunshine, whereas I’m tucked in a dark corner of the office at 5PM in London, wrapped around my iPhone, whispering about aliens into the glowing rectangular screen. The reason we’re chatting so intently about this is because of Chloë’s latest track, “Spaceman,” a pure shot of pop music which we’re premiering below. The blue and silver artwork – styled by Brooke Candy – is brilliant, like a camp, trashy sci-fi movie, reflecting Chloë’s own fascination with the cosmos, alongside the themes of the track.
“I was also using ‘Spaceman’ as a metaphor for romance,” Chloë tells me, once we’ve paused the Fermi paradox chat. “You know… they have to be extraordinary – a spaceman – somebody who is worth your time. And even though it’s a gendered term, I don’t necessarily see it as a man, or even a person.”
You might recognise Chloë’s name. Originally from Paris, then based in Seattle, then in Sydney, she moved to LA when she was 18 and landed a major label deal with Warner Music relatively quickly. But things soon soured, as they sometimes do when a major wants to shape and mould a young person into a commercial product. “I had no idea what I was doing,” she explains. “The label I was signed to was incredibly ‘pop’, so I was just trying to fit in with that. Then after I got dropped, I was like, ‘fuck it,’ and decided to move to London.”
Once she’d moved to London, she was signed again, this time to Sony Music. “I made the same mistake,” she says. “It wasn’t quite as bad in terms of my creative vision – they were great in that they allowed me to have artistic freedom – but the major label machine is insanely restrictive, and you can only put out music the way they want, when they want. And I got dropped by Sony at the start of 2016. They’d had a dispute with Soundcloud for a couple of years where they pulled the entire Sony catalogue off there, and the way I’d gotten any attention was through Soundcloud with my song “27 Club”. So with my next single, I wasn’t able to work like that. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t do as well as the first song, and that was that.”
But Chloë wasn’t put off making music, even though that in that same year her manager quit, her publishing deal ended, and – tragically – her PR manager died by suicide. Instead, she took these difficulties as a sign that she needed to step back and take a breather, reevaluate her creative process and do things her way. She returned to Hollywood – hoping to soak up some of the vitamin D, as well as the cultural legacy of the place – and slowly started working on new material, pulling together some of her favourite producers and creatives, and directing her own weird, bold visuals. “I’ve been taking the reigns and doing everything myself, which has been really empowering,” she tells me. “Anything that needs to get done, I’m doing – and in some ways it’s working out better.”
These days, her music is still vivid, glossy pop, but there’s a seedy underbelly to it, too, and her visuals are especially enchanting. “Waterbed,” for instance, was filmed in a 50s-themed hotel room in Los Alamos, California, and sees her dance around on a neon-lit bed that doubles up as a Cadillac. And then there’s May’s “Good Times,” a dreamy, romantic song paired with a feverish, colourful video featuring a lot of beautiful people in a lot of silky loungewear. Her syrupy vocals and dark lyrics will inevitably draw comparisons to Lana Del Rey, but she also just sounds like Hollywood in general, embracing a style and aesthetic that lives there: neon colours, plump lips, motel rooms and cult cinema.
Chloë has a productive few months ahead. After our chat, she tells me she’s going to have breakfast, and then spend the day in the studio, making more music for an upcoming EP, as well as songwriting for other people (a recent endeavour). She also tells me she’s been working on the visuals for “Spaceman,” which so far has involved hours spent “painting little cardboard planets and rockets and UFOs by hand”. The result will be like a trashy atompunk movie – or “a B-grade Wes Anderson” – where you can see the fishing wire, the silver spray paint having barely dried.
Before we say goodbye, I ask her to show me around the garden, and she rotates her screen to show the burning blue sky, a few leaning palm trees swaying in the breeze and some scattered benches in the grass. Whatever the future holds – whether for Chloë, me, you, the planet, the universe – it looks peaceful from here, for a moment at least. Maybe it doesn’t even matter anyway, if there’s no one else out there.
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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.