The first 34 seconds of Cardi B’s Grammys performance on Sunday night did not focus on the rapper and future Grammy winner at all. Instead, the camera held tightly on Chloe Flower, a 33-year-old classically trained pianist and producer in a Fouad Sarkis couture gown who was seated at a Swarovski-crystal-encrusted piano located at center stage.
Cardi found Flower the way most people find things these days: via Instagram. But the artist is a music veteran in her own right; she began taking piano lessons at age 2 — “I was just a baby playing Bach in Pennsylvania!” she tells the Cut — and studied at Julliard and the Manhattan School of Music before signing with Babyface. Since then, she’s collaborated with everyone from Céline Dion to Meek Mill to Deepak Chopra, worked with Nike, and scored the Misty Copeland documentary A Ballerina’s Tale.
Since the performance, more people have discovered Flower’s Instagram and YouTube, where she posts performances of top 40 hits and classical pieces alike, often in sky-high heels and designer outfits. The Cut spoke with the Sony Masterworks artist about her performing style, how she got involved in Cardi’s award-winning night, and how her social-media videos are helping to democratize classical piano.
How did the collaboration with Cardi come to be?
My publicist introduced me to Cardi’s team at Atlantic, who showed my Instagram to Cardi and Tanisha Scott, her creative director. They called me up and asked if I was available for the Grammys. Tanisha wanted me to do a piano intro for “Money,” and she gave me complete creative control of what I could write. I used the YouTube version of the track, which is slightly different from the radio edit; there is an interlude of just wind where Cardi’s sitting at the piano. I took those ten seconds to write a second interlude, and added a new piano part at the end.
During rehearsal, Cardi had created a really positive, really empowering energy, so everybody in the group was friends. When we got onstage, it felt like we were up there with all our friends even though I had only known them for a week.
Cardi was so gracious, and instrumental, no pun intended, in me being seen. I could have just been in the background. I could have been unlit. I could have been unseen. She was very adamant about me wearing a gown that was big and not blending in with the piano. She and Tanisha spoke to the Grammys producers and told them, “We want you to to feature Chloe during her solo, stay on her.” The whole experience was just women empowering women. It was amazing. It was, for me, the best Grammys I could ever perform at.
Did you expect people to respond to the performance in the way they did?
Absolutely not. I hadn’t performed like that in front of people before, so I was worried people were making fun of me for going really hard and basically doing my own dance moves. It’s that initial fear when you do something brand new that you’ve never done before, and you’re not sure how people will react. I came offstage, and asked my team, did I do okay? Do you think people are laughing at me? They were like, it was amazing. That’s my team, so of course they’re going to say that, but I felt great about it.
After the performance, I was at my label party and I got a call from Cardi’s team, who said she really really wanted me to be with their group. And when I showed up, she hugged me and she was so excited for me. She was like, “You’re all over Twitter.” That was so nice of her, I could have cried.
Looking through your career, did you ever imagine that it could take you to the Grammys?
My musical idols were never limited to classical musicians. I’ve always loved Beyoncé. I’m always watching her live performances, that’s always been the kind of audience I wanted to have. That was a dream come true for me: an audience that’s loud, animated, fun, standing up, clapping, yelling. I wanted to play music that’s just fun. I always had the hope that I would do it, I just wasn’t sure how. So Cardi fast-tracked that one.
Have you ever had somebody dance on top of a piano as you’re playing it before?
I have not. A piano like that, the lid is acrylic so it bends if you put something heavy on it. That was Liberace’s touring piano with Swarovski crystals, which I had them bring that from Las Vegas to L.A. That piano matches Cardi’s music. They ended up putting a clear, protective stage top on the piano so that she could dance on it, and it was so much fun. Honestly, I only want to perform like that from now on — with like dancers around me and on top of my piano. I don’t even know how I can go back.
Why did you start posting covers to YouTube and Instagram?
I got a lot of requests to do covers for many years, but I didn’t want to sound or look corny, so I stayed away from that for a while. I was like, “I’m going to just do classical pieces and wear cool clothes.” But in April of 2017, I covered Nicki Minaj’s “No Frauds,” and Drake’s “Passionfruit” right after that because I got a lot of requests from younger kids who were like, “Can you play a cover of Drake or a cover of Beyoncé?” I wanted to give it a try, and it’s working so far.
How do you decide what to wear as you perform each song?
It depends! When I covered Ariana Grande’s “Thank U Next,” I chose a powder-blue feather coat-dress that reminded me of her video and style. Meek Mill asked me to cover “Glow Up,” so I chose an Unravel Project red leather corset and red leather lace-up pants and put my hair in a half-ponytail. It also depends on what mood I’m in, and the weather. It’s fun for me.
You also wear a lot of stilettos while you perform; do your shoes ever impact working the pedals?
The heels are not a problem for me to play in. It’s the same as being barefoot. It makes no difference. The only shoe that I can’t really wear when I’m playing the piano is a massive platform, I have these new Balenciaga platforms that I love but I can’t wear them because my legs get under the piano so I’d have to sit really far away.
Through social media, you’re showing people a new interpretation of classical piano, which does have a lot of stuffy, preconceived notions about it. How does it feel to connect with people in that way?
Classical music is very inaccessible, not only because the concert tickets are outrageously expensive, but when you go to classical concerts, people are often very dressed up. There’s a whole secondary element of financials that you have to take into consideration. And even the titles of classical pieces, like Beethoven’s piano concerto No. 3 in C minor, or whatever … I don’t even remember what opus number it is. So now with the covers, a lot of people tell me that they wish they never quit piano lessons. It’s never too late start, or to start again. One hour a week really is good for you.
Rudolph Tanzi is the head of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and the Kennedy Chair at Harvard. He is working to cure Alzheimer’s, and he’s also a pianist. I’m working with him on a project about music in the brain because we’re trying to teach people that it’s never too late to start an instrument. One of the best ways to prevent Alzheimer’s is to learn an instrument; it’s an exercise for your brain. Alzheimer’s patients never lose music memory. So when you have that strength in your music memory it can treat others synapses and memories in your brain.
What else are you working on right now? What’s next for you?
I signed with Sony Masterworks in December, and will probably do a covers album with full orchestration. I was thinking this morning actually about how the Grammys experience was really created by women creatives. Everyone, from Cardi and Tanisha to my stylist to the Grammys producers and assistants, were women. So maybe I’ll do an iconic female cover album first. I’d love to use all the Liberace pianos, because there’s a lot of them. Before I left Cardi’s after-party, I was like, “Let’s do a song together.” I’d love to collaborate with her again.