Coco & Clair Clair Were Making TikTok Music Before TikTok Music Was A Thing

Shervin

Coco & Clair Clair Were Making TikTok Music Before TikTok Music Was A Thing

Shervin

There aren’t many experiences in life so nonsensically singular and private as the 4AM hysteria you get at a best friend’s sleepover. But Coco & Clair Clair — two best friends and Atlanta, Georgia suburbanites who met on Twitter in late 2013 — bottle that hysterical particularity into song, making it something for everyone to experience.

Rapping over RuneScape-type beats and dusky SoundCloud-era production and framing their sound with a Blingee-era internet aesthetic — a package that’s now reverse-engineered on TikTok — Coco & Clair Clair have amassed a steady following (as well as viral hits and tens of millions of Spotify streams, if that’s a metric that means anything to you).

Since 2017, the duo has been making fame fun again; filtering delusions of grandeur through Motorola Rzr screens, retaining the stakeless fun of two girls at a slumber party, pretending they’re in a music video. They are, like any pair of best friends, built on a subculture and lingua franca of their own making. But with their debut album Sexy, the world is invited to their very chaotic, very perverse, very funny sleepover.

Over a Zoom call, the pair talked dog weddings, pranking celebrities, and how the music industry is full of nerds.

To get us into the swing of things: Fuck, marry, kill: Betty White, Chloë Sevigny, Bill Callahan.

COCO: Oh, not that.

CLAIR: I know mine. Kill Betty White ’cause she’s dead. Marry Chloë cos she’s my favorite it girl. Fuck Bill Callahan.

COCO: I would marry Bill Callahan, smash Chloe, and yeah, kill Betty.

CLAIR: But we do love Betty.

COCO: Yeah, bless her.

Do you remember what initially made you want to follow each other on Twitter all those years ago?

COCO: I remember the first picture I ever saw of Clair. She was at The High Museum posing with a statue. I was like oh, how artistic! [ laughs]

CLAIR: I remember the first message. I went through her page, liking a bunch of tweets. I was new-ish to Twitter, so I didn’t know what that looked like — that kind of crazy obsessive going through someone’s whole page. She messaged me like, “Hey girl! I see you!”

Were you each other’s first Twitter friends?

CLAIR: Twitter, yeah. I had a bunch of online friends after high school. I stayed and went to a local college, and a lot of my friends went to different colleges. And I got really online and met a ton of friends through Instagram and Tumblr. I used to go to California and meet kids from the internet.

COCO: I used to make a lot of internet friends too ’cause I was an only child. Where could I find similar people who liked the same things as me? Online.

Is it true that you’re blocked by the Safdie Brothers?

COCO: [laughs] Yeah. I don’t know how I got their number. I used to be a troll or whatever.

CLAIR: She’s always finding a way to talk to celebrities; finding secret Venmos, requesting money from Drake.

COCO: Yeah, it was one of those days when I saw the Safdies’ first film with Robert Pattinson and was like oh, I’m gonna text them. And I think I sent a bunch of memes and Josh replied saying, “Who is this?” Then they stopped delivering and I said to Clair, can you quickly send this meme to Josh Safdie, please?

CLAIR: I was at work, I did not know who that was. So I sent a meme, he replied saying, “Who is this?” and I said “Jonah Hill.” Then I was immediately blocked.

Once we were having a sleepover and there was a big leak of celebrity phone numbers, and we found Erykah Badu’s number. She answered!

COCO: Yeah, her voice was so good.

CLAIR: She said, “Is Daniel there?” And then texted us something ominous.

Did Drake ever send you money?

COCO: No, he declined. Like wow, I only asked for $50 college tuition.

CLAIR: I tried one time and requested an “on set fee,” trying to make it seem like we’d worked together — I was sure it would work, but then two years later I got a notification saying that he’d declined it.

Did you have any aspirations for fame growing up?

CLAIR: Maybe when I was really little. I was obsessed with pop stars. But I also think growing up in the ’90s and early 2000s, it was a lot more appealing than it is now. It seemed cooler. As a kid it seemed like a harmless, really cool thing, but I never thought I’d try and become famous myself.

COCO: I feel like I had crazy job ideas, but never did I think I’d be singing, rapping, performing. I used to want to be a dentist, a veterinarian, a Victoria’s Secret model. Now here we are.

CLAIR: I feel like we’re both really shy, but with the internet we found a way. We were lucky to start making music in such a casual, natural way, when SoundCloud rap was blowing up and you were allowed to just put shit up and then move on and it not be a whole production. It was very DIY, which worked for us. We were both so internet, it made sense. We were like, let’s do this funny thing for our friends, and then it happened to get super public.

Like you said, with SoundCloud rap I feel like there was this period of a couple years where DIY artists could stay underground and casual without A&Rs sniffing around, but now with TikTok, you’ll get picked up and professionalized immediately. How do you keep things fun and casual?

COCO: I think we stay detached from that part of it. I just pretend that it’s not this big deal. I imagine it’s the same stakes as when we first started. It reminds me to keep doing what we want to do and not what other people want us to do.

CLAIR: I think we’re surprisingly detached from the weight of the project. When I think about it I still only think about it in terms of our friends. When we post about it, I just look at their comments. I kind of have to snap into “Oh shit, there are so many plays on that song.” You can go on the Spotify For Artists app and it’ll tell you how many people are listening right now, and I’m always like, wow a lot of people know who we are now. But we have to force ourselves to recognize that. We’ve tried not to lean into it.

When was TikTok first on your radar?

CLAIR: I got into TikTok during the quarantine, but I think for our songs — we always thought it might happen because we saw the other songs going viral on there, and it made sense for us. But it felt overnight. It wasn’t a slow, obvious climb; it just happened.

COCO: We had a different team before, and they were trying to get us to pay for TikTok campaigns and stuff to make it happen. And we were like, this doesn’t feel right, who cares, whatever, NO. And I think less than a month later we had Charli D’Amelio posting our stuff. So we were like, OK, we didn’t have to pay for that and we didn’t have to feed into the algorithm. Things can just happen organically. That’s kind of how our whole project has been. We trust our gut and to keep letting things happen naturally.

Do you feel nostalgic for the internet you grew up with?

COCO: I miss the days when we could have an anonymous blog, have all these followers, and post “school sucked today” and have them respond like, “yes girl.” But now I feel like if you post something kind of earnest everyone’s like “CRINGE!” I miss being able to be cringe online.

CLAIR: Yeah, the stage is just too big now.

At what point did you want to turn Coco & Clair Clair into a career?

CLAIR: During quarantine vibes, I think. But we also sort of played around with the idea around 2017. I had just moved to New York. Coco was finishing up school. There was the question of well, what are we doing? We were living in different cities, still putting out music. We were asking ourselves: Do we wanna dedicate more time to this? Do we wanna go on tours? We had a pretty solid fanbase by then, but it was a really scary idea, too — graduating school and then putting all our energy into this. It wasn’t making enough money to do that. When I was laid off during COVID and Coco graduated, it made sense to try it. Luckily the timing has been perfect.

You have a bunch of streams now, but how does that translate into real life? Do you get noticed on the street? Do you have money in the bank?

COCO: We get noticed at random times and places. Sometimes I go somewhere and I’m like, surely people are gonna know who we are, but then no one says anything. I’ll be on a hike looking like pure shit and someone will be like, “Oh my God! Are you Coco?” And yes, there’s some money in the bank.

CLAIR: Yeah, money’s better, but we’re not rolling in it. We’ve also maintained a really extreme amount of control over the project; we haven’t signed to a label, we controlled all our finances on our own for a while, we haven’t gone on huge tours—the things that make you a bunch of money. We’ve been pretty specific about how deep we get into it or how quickly. The fan recognizing thing is so funny because it only ever happens to me when I’m with Coco.

COCO: One time someone went up to her and said, “You’re not Clair Clair.”

Do you find that the further you get into the music industry the more nerds you’re confronted with?

COCO: Yeah, for sure.

CLAIR: Nerds who don’t have a clue what’s going on other than the numbers — which is fine, there’s power in that — but yeah, there are a surprising amount of nerds.

COCO: It’s probably why we’re weird with labels because it’s hard to trust someone who doesn’t make art themselves.

What did you learn from your tour with Turnstile earlier this year, which I assume was your biggest tour yet?

COCO: Yeah, they were great, they were the sweetest of all time. I’m so glad we had them to open that door for us.

CLAIR: They have such a routine. For a hardcore band — which can seem like a chaotic world — they really had their shit locked down. We watched every show and it never got old.

What’s the weirdest show you’ve ever played?

COCO: We had the dog wedding.

CLAIR: Yeah, we did a dog wedding on Valentine’s Day and the dogs were in the room going crazy.

COCO: There was another show when we only had maybe two or three songs but our set somehow managed to turn into a 40-minute set because we got too drunk and ended up covering a bunch of Sade songs. That was very experimental, performance art type vibes, Lynchian even [ laughs].

Do you enable one another’s recklessness?

BOTH: Yes and no.

COCO: I feel like we equally reel each other in.

CLAIR: There’s a type of synergy — when one of us is going into chaos mode, the other is down to hold back. We balance each other out.

COCO: Clair’s fought people for me. There was one time when this man was literally raising his voice at me, and I wasn’t even upset, but she took him by the neck, pushed him into the wall and said, “Don’t you raise your voice at her!” I’ll be the kind of person who says, “OK, its time to leave now,” because shit escalates.

When did you land on the title of Sexy for your debut album?

CLAIR: We were joking about how we’ll go through periods of time where we’ll have a favorite word. Right now we say “Yes girl!” While we were making this album we kept calling everything “sexy.”

COCO: Yeah, it’s our lingo.

CLAIR: Also, the album is just a sexy little vibe. Sexy is a short and funny-ish word; it has all these connotations, and it also suggests maturity. It matches the vibe of the album.

Was there a certain song that determined the direction of the album and set everything in motion?

COCO: I think “Cherub,” the first song we finished.

CLAIR: Or maybe “The Hills,” a song that’s a longer format. It’s more of a pop song. It felt bigger than the other songs we had put out.

Where did you record?

CLAIR: A couple different places. We recorded in the closet in my sister’s old bedroom. Recently, for the very first time, we went to a studio, but we didn’t even touch the gear. We brought our laptops and our USB microphones and sat in the room and recorded on the floor.

COCO: But it was nice to get away. Doing it at home is fun and convenient, but we learned when we had actual due dates for the album that we were a little bit too comfortable at home. It’s hard to motivate yourself. When we went to the studio and were in a space dedicated to this one thing, it really inspired us.

What’s the most unhinged lyric on Sexy, in your opinion?

CLAIR: Oh, I know.

COCO: Yeah me too, the one on “Bitches”?

CLAIR: Yeah, I’m scared to say it.

COCO: It’s “The only bread you pussies get is a yeast infection.”

CLAIR: My family keeps being like, “We’re so proud of you, let’s play this for everyone,” and I’m like, “Please…do not.”

Were there any lyrics that didn’t make the cut because you thought they went too far?

COCO: Yeah, I rapped on “Bad Lil Vibe” something about a dude with a receding hairline never seeing a vagina before and we were like, mmm… no.

CLAIR: That song’s funny ’cause we were recording it while I was having a bad, sad day and Coco was like, “Are you ok? I just got this beat. I don’t wanna make you think about work, but I think it could be therapeutic to write a song about how bad men can be.” I listened to it and we immediately came up with something. It has such a good energy to it. It’s so uplifting — but thinking about how I felt when we wrote it — I felt the total opposite.

Do you generally take an improvisational approach to lyrics?

CLAIR: We’ll start out freestyling and then go back through it. We’ll write one-liners and have notes in our phones. Some people will sit down, write a song and think it out, but we’ll hear a beat, say whatever comes out and quickly shape it up.

COCO: We write quickest when there’s a situation or something that’s happened recently, and we’ll go, OK, how can we expand upon this? How can we get this off our chest in a way that’s not beating someone up but just letting the music do that instead? That’s always the best revenge, I think.

TRACKLIST:
01 “Cherub”
02 “Bad Lil Vibe”
03 “The Hills” (Feat. DEELA)
04 “U + Me”
05 “8 AM” (Prod. TVGirl)
06 “Bitches” (Feat. Marjorie Sinclair)
07 “Pop 1”
08 “Love Me”
09 “Lamb” (Feat. Porches)
10 “TBTF”
11 “Be With U” (Feat. DETO BLACK)
12 “Pop Star”

Sexy is out 11/4.

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