With her debut album ‘Fake It Flowers’, beabadoobee made a splash. With its follow-up, she’s making her own unique world.
Words: Ali Shutler. Photos: Derek Bremner.
You can never please everyone, so what’s the point in trying?” grins beabadoobee. From the moment she uploaded the hopeful, scrappy bedroom pop song ‘Coffee’ to SoundCloud in 2017, Bea has been toying with expectations.
From the indie daydream of ‘Patched Up’ through the more defiant ‘Lice’ to the alt-rock snarl of ‘Loveworm’ and the swaggeringly cool ‘Space Cadet’, Bea has dabbled with genre, spirit and attitude. She’s basically grown up on Spotify’s homepage, but that spotlight doesn’t make her nervous. “Everyone’s seen what I’ve tried to do,” she challenges. “Now it’s like, let’s see what happens next.”
And what is next is ‘Beatopia’. Once again, it’s a very different beast to what’s come before, all psychedelic rock and ethereal storytelling, but it’s also the first record where Bea has felt comfortable with herself.
“I’m very overwhelmed about releasing it,” she admits. “I feel almost territorial over these songs because each and every one is so close to my heart, but I’m so excited to share them with the world. I’ve literally never felt this way about a record before.”
Written shortly after the collaborative ‘Our Extended Play’ (a team-up between Bea and The 1975’s core creative duo Matty Healy and George Daniel, created during lockdown) was released in 2021, Bea continued that communal spirit but hunkering down with best friend and guitarist Jacob Bugden to create… something. See, there was no end goal or carefully constructed plan, just two friends making music with a single word written on a whiteboard behind them: Beatopia.
Beatopia was initially a visual world that Bea created as a child – working on it while daydreaming in class – but after a teacher publicly poked fun at it, she left that world behind.
It took the pair a year to create Bea’s second album, with help from Matty, George, Bombay Bicycle Club’s Jack Steadman, Jockstrap’s Georgia Ellery, Cavetown and PinkPantheress. At one point, it was over twenty tracks long (“and there were some really fucking weird songs on there”, including a dance track inspired by The Chemical Brothers), but the pair cut it back to fourteen interesting, evocative numbers.
“We just wanted it to be clear and confident and deliberate,” explains Bea, though she’s still hoping to release the more outlandish tracks in the future.
With the pair having the exact same taste, they pulled together an eclectic playlist featuring Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Cardigans, Broken Social Scene, Cibo Matto and Stars. “I really looked up to all these artists. They all made music not giving a fuck about who it appealed to or if it made sense to other people, just as long as it made sense to them. I got really inspired by that idea,” says Bea. The result is a “trippy” record that allows the listener to “escape reality or feel like they’re coming out of a lucid dream.”
“I had COVID, I was isolating in my room, and I went insane – in the best way possible”beabadoobee
There’s the oh-so-emo ‘Pictures Of Us’, co-written with Healy (which features a similar chord progression to ‘Rockstar’ by Hannah Montana), while ‘Perfect Pair’ is a “sexy, sultry love song about realising that your worst enemy is yourself”. Then there’s ‘Tinkerbell Is Overrated’, a PinkPantheress-featuring riot that was the first song written for ‘Beatopia’. “I had COVID, I was isolating in my room, and I went insane – in the best way possible,” she says. The track sees Bea talking about the bugs in her room and how everything outside of that moment is overrated, performed over warped synths and urgent drum loops.
So far, so free, but Bea also had to get out of her way on tracks like ‘Sunny Day’ and ‘Love Song’. “I knew I could write an acoustic guitar-driven love song because I’ve done it so many times before. But I wanted to make the best version of that song possible,” she says.
As for the soaring dream-pop of ‘Sunny Day’, “I love Gabrielle, I love Natasha Bedingfield, and I love Nelly Furtado. Why can’t I write a song inspired by those incredible artists?”
“I just need to get out of my brain. I loved those songs when I first wrote them. I love them now. I just need to not give a fuck what people think. I was definitely worried because all these songs are so different. I’m excited for everyone’s reaction.”
“It wasn’t our plan to make a shocking record. It just kinda happened,” Bea continues, drinking a Cosmic Peach cocktail in a small café near Covent Garden. “We realised we were going to surprise a lot of people, but hopefully it’s in a good way.”
Before, Bea had been more deliberate in her shock factor. With ‘Coffee’ once again going viral in 2020, she felt she needed to prove she was more than a one TikTok wonder, which fuelled the creation of debut album ‘Fake It Flowers’. “I was pleasing myself with that record, but part of me wanted to prove myself to others.” She has no regrets about it, but she’s also aware of the limitations she put upon herself at the time. “I almost felt the need to follow a certain genre and stick to a certain sound,” she admits.
“I love ‘Coffee’,” she continues. “It holds a special place in my heart because it was the first song I ever wrote, and I’ve accepted that it’s probably always going to be one of my biggest songs. I don’t really vibe with the remix, but everybody else does, and that’s fine. After it blew up, though, I pulled away from the acoustic guitar and wanted nothing but loud electric guitars.”
‘Fake It Flowers’ also came after a huge tour with The 1975. “I wanted to make music that could fill arenas,” she admits. “During that era, I was obsessed with the internet and reading every single comment about me. I was obsessed with what people thought about me – as a person and as a musician.” ‘Fake It Flowers’ was released in October 2021, and sometime between then and now, that changed. “I stopped giving a fuck,” laughs Bea.
“I’d really grown comfortable with myself, and that was shining through in the songs I was writing for ‘Beatopia’,” she explains. “I was just way more chill in the studio, and instead of overthinking everything, I kinda just sat back a bit and let it be. I felt like I could do anything I wanted, and there was so much more freedom. I didn’t need to impress anyone. The only person I wanted to impress was me.”
“I love Gabrielle, I love Natasha Bedingfield, and I love Nelly Furtado. Why can’t I write a song inspired by those incredible artists?”beabadoobee
“These past few years have given me the time to reflect on what I actually want to do,” Bea adds. Away from what people wanted, away from contrary knee-jerk reactions to success, she realised she didn’t have to conform to expectations. “I could just make anything I wanted to,” she states. “I mean, who’s stopping me?”
That freedom *is* ‘Beatopia’. “It’s a feeling I knew I needed to share,” says Bea. “‘Beatopia’ is a concept record, but it’s also something everyone has in them. You just need to dig down, find it within yourself and accept it.”
That ‘Beatopia’ feeling is “when you’re comfortable in your own body, your decisions and your past. You own all the bad shit, rather than being trapped by it.”
“I was itching to write these songs,” says Bea. It’s why the lyrics for this record deal with the present, as opposed to ‘Fake It Flowers’, which was focused on the past. Demos were written, sat on and revisited over several months. In her confessional lyrics, Bea would talk openly about past traumas, from attending an all-girls Catholic boarding school, to the trauma of moving to England from the Philippines when she was two.
“Me and my parents had moved to a completely unfamiliar country, so growing up was hard. School was hard. Not being able to fit in, feeling isolated, that all bled into my songwriting,” she says. By contrast, ‘Beatopia’ takes influence from her Filipino heritage. “The music is amazing, the people are amazing, and the whole vibe is about being together and open with one another. It’s such a vibe. I want to share what I know and what I feel with everyone.”
“With ‘Fake It Flowers’, those past troubles kept me stuck in one place,” she continues. “I was sad because these things happened to me, but you have to deal with it. You have to learn how to move on. You need to live, y’know?”
People still want her to stay sad, though. Earlier this week, a fan DMed her, telling Bea how excited she was to hear ‘Ripples’ because they knew it was going to be depressing before asking how miserable ’10 36′ was. “It’s got sad lyrics, but it’s an upbeat pop song,” Bea replied. She was greeted with a sad emoji. “This balance is good for me,” she shrugs.
Sure, sometimes beabadoobee does beat herself up over the fact she doesn’t write sprawling yet intricate poetry about how she’s feeling, perhaps via a clever metaphor. She knows she could try (and based on past successes, she’d probably smash it), but “why not just say it straight?”
And ‘Beatopia’ certainly doesn’t mince its words with songs about shagging, drugs, and making mistakes. ‘Talk’ is her way of saying, “I’m going to have fun, I’m going to do bad things, but I’m probably going to learn from these mistakes, so does it really matter?”
“There are some songs where I speak more generally, ‘Ripples’ is about being a girl and not always feeling heard, but I always write therapeutically and honestly. At the end of the day, I write these songs for me. I am just a 21-year-old girl, though. I have the exact same problems as everyone else.”
She says she needed to make a joyful record “because all my other stuff was so sad, and I felt like I was finally getting joy. It’s supposed to be fun. All my friends are on it, and although they’re not on every single song, they helped inspire me to write this record, and they helped me appreciate life so much more. I still have sad days, but it all leads to this happy, hopeful resolve. I hope others get joy from it.”
Talk, of course, turns to beabadoobee being the voice of a generation. “If you have a following, you are a voice. People will look up to you. It’s an inevitability. Now, I am in no way taking the crown of The Voice Of A Generation, but I’m not going to ignore the fact that I influence people either. I’m not going to downplay what I do as just writing music because I know how much music meant to me when I was 15. The fact I could inspire someone, that drives me.”
‘Beatopia’ is an ambitious, deliberate album, but Bea has been downplaying her own lofty goals for years. In numerous interviews, she’d explain how being a musician was never meant to happen – how seriously can you take someone calling themselves Beabadobee?
“I’m not going to downplay what I do because I know how much music meant to me when I was 15”beabadoobee
“In all honesty, this was never planned,” she admits. “I never really wanted to be a musician, and everything happening is still something I’m still trying to process.” But that very public insistence that she was just a chancer was “100%” a defence mechanism in case things didn’t work out.
“I’m so grateful to be in this position where I can inspire kids,” she continues. “That’s the one thing that’s made me want to continue doing this. The fact Filipino girls are playing guitar because of me is amazing.”
Playing live is something Bea has recently fallen back in love with. “Every time I’m on stage, I find myself asking why I’m not nervous, and it’s because this is what I was meant to be doing with my life. It’s a very new feeling. I still get butterflies, but they’re not nerves, just pure excitement. I think everyone has this assumption that I have really great self-esteem, but I’m really working on it. When I’m on stage, that’s when I feel my most beautiful and powerful.”
Later this summer, Bea will tour America with Halsey as part of her Love And Power tour. That entire supporting bill is made up of women, something Bea thinks is incredible. “I respect that some artists don’t want to get involved in that conversation, they say they’re musicians that just happen to be women, but you’ve got the chance to do something important and make a difference. Why wouldn’t you want to do that?” asks Bea. “We need to encourage more girls to pick up instruments, make music and express themselves. If you don’t talk about it, if you don’t make a big deal out of it, nothing is going to change. You’re a musician, sick, but you’re also a girl doing it. You can show others they can do it too. Representation is so important.”
And then Bea has her own headline tour to think about, including a show at London’s 5000 capacity Brixton Academy. “Part of me is thinking, what the fuck is going on? But the fact that I don’t know what the fuck is going on just makes me think it’s going to be great.”
“I feel like I’ve worked really hard,” Bea says, the Cosmic Peach now a glass of melting ice. “I like to bring myself down a lot, but I released three EPs while I was still in sixth form. I remember going to the studio and the engineer making me do my homework before we did any vocals. It was so intense, but I really did work hard for this. I didn’t expect it, and I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but this really is an amazing thing.” ■
Taken from the July 2022 edition of Dork, out now. beabadoobee’s album ‘Beatopia’ is out 15th July.