“If you accept your originality, you innovate. You’re changing something, you’re changing the world,” explained Alex Belle as the music industry’s most influential female executives looked on in adoration. That was just one of the many gems dropped by Alex and her partner Isis Valentino, collectively known as St. Beauty, at the American Express Women in Music luncheon. The rising R&B duo was called to the stage by Deborah Curtis, American Express’ vice president and global head of brand experiences and partnerships, following the announcement that the brand would be supporting its second annual Women in Music Leadership Academy in 2019.
St. Beauty commanded the stage with poise, sharing their thoughts on the current state of R&B, having their songs featured in Issa Rae’s HBO hit Insecure, and their role models (including Viola Davis and Maya Angelou) with Billboard editor Bianca Gracie. Though still in the early stages of their respective careers, the Atlanta natives spoke with the thoughtfulness of artists boasting twice their collective resume and a refreshing optimism for all that’s left to accomplish.
St. Beauty speaking with Bianca Gracie at American Express Women in Music Lunch Seher Sikander
It’s this same delicate balance between youthful exuberance and understated soulfulness that made their first studio release Running to the Sun one of the year’s bright spots in R&B. The Atlanta duo’s 2018 debut was an imaginative display that traversed genres, from Neo-Soul to Pop, making a single word description almost impossible to pin down but, if necessary, Belle chooses to go with “confetti” as the best approximation. She goes on to describe the subgenre they’ve made all their own, saying, “It’s an analogy for our emotions, what we express in our music, and how our music makes people feel.” The arrangements on songs like “Not Discuss It” are dense with futuristic synths and melodic guitar strums, but the overarching theme is straight to the point: they want people to be their most authentic selves, and they’re going to lead by example.
After a few listens, it’s easy to see why Janelle Monáe backed the duo well in advance of their debut. Monáe and Belle’s relationship sparked following a chance encounter and autograph request in the parking lot of a local Target. Four years later, Monáe ventured into the basement of Poor Little Rich Girl, the vintage store where Belle and Valentino worked, for a showcase where she would catch an early glimpse of St. Beauty’s kaleidoscopic brand of #blackgirlmagic.
Alex and Isis are creatives in the purest sense who’ve grown to showcase the same inventiveness in their production, songwriting, fashion and visuals that drew them to Monáe as young fans. All three women share a love for identifying sonic boundaries and transcending them. Isis beams while reminiscing on the moment she met her mentor, “My first conversation with Janelle, I was in awe.”
St. Beauty onstage during the Billboard Women In Music 2018 on Dec. 6, 2018 in New York City.Michael Seto