“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.
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.”
At this year’s Women in Music Ceremony, Janelle Monáe made it abundantly clear that her appreciation for St. Beauty is just as strong. The Grammy-nominated songstress joined Deborah Curtis to present her protégées with the second annual American Express Impact Award. After giving the honor to Solange in 2017, American Express partnered with Monáe and Billboard to recognize St. Beauty as two of music’s next generation of female leaders. Monáe spoke fondly of her Wonderland signees. “Alex and Isis are two women who make music on their terms. St. Beauty’s songs are real, relatable and empowering. They inspire women like me to be my true authentic self and to be unapologetic in the journey of self-discovery.”
Monáe went on to talk about the impact St. Beauty has had beyond their music, citing their work with groups like SPILL IT, an organization that aims to raise mental health awareness, and Just Us Girls, a Georgia based mentorship program for at risk middle school and high school students. Whether it’s by way of their artistry, or their activism, St. Beauty understands that, even in this early stage of their career, they have a responsibility to use their growing platform for positivity. It’s that sense of purpose that underlies their influence. “We have so much to do, but we’re grateful. This is affirmation for us to know that we’re making a difference. We want to continue to impact the world and heal and inspire through our music. That’s something we always talked about.”
Check out St. Beauty’s acceptance speech at Women in Music below: