The age of Beabadoobee
For British-Filipino songwriter Beabadoobee, the past few weeks have been a test of her emotional resilience. Her parents, both NHS workers, are immersed in the fight against Covid-19, and she has been separated from them and from her brother, who has autism, since the start of the lockdown in the UK. “It’s quite scary because I’m really not used to them being in danger on the ward,” she says over a Zoom call from her boyfriend Soren’s house, where she is currently quarantined. “But what they’re doing is amazing and I feel proud.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Beabadoobee, aka 20-year-old west Londoner Bea Kristi, has also been going through a frustrating period of writer’s block. “Obviously quarantine is quite uninspiring because you’re indoors, but mentally it’s draining. This shit is tough,” she says, before explaining that she has come through the other side, thanks in part to some advice from The 1975’s Matty Healy, her mentor and friend. Healy encouraged Kristi to listen to one of her own songs for inspiration. “It really helped… I think you just have to embrace the writer’s block; you just have to live in it and relax,” she grins, shaking out the golden-blonde locks that have recently been toned down from ruby red and swampy teal.
Her guitar has since become an important tool for self-care during these anxiety-ridden times. As well as recording a song for her upcoming debut album on a borrowed 4-track that “sounds so lo-fi and kind of shit, but in a cool way”, she has recently written a clutch of short sketches. Kristi prefers to attend to her creative impulses during the early hours. “I used to go to counselling for sleep problems,” she says, her wide-eyed gaze momentarily drifting away from the screen. A Pulp Fiction poster is just visible. Kristi still harbours ambitions of becoming a nursery school teacher, and she radiates the kind of boundless, friendly enthusiasm that is no doubt required for such a job. “I write all my songs in the night and record vocal parts, and Soren works the whole day. If I was at my own house, I would stay up all night.”
Born in Iloilo City in the Philippines in 2000, Kristi moved to London aged three. She grew up listening to the traditional OPM (original Pinoy music) liked by her father, while her mum introduced her to The Cranberries, Suzanne Vega and Alanis Morissette. She lights up when talking about how these artists have shaped her musical identity, edging her down a feminist rock route when she was a teenager. It’s those artists she pays homage to on her forthcoming debut album, out later this year. The record, she tells me, is inspired by “loads of sick women from the 90s”, including Veruca Salt, Tori Amos, and the Breeders. Her face beams when I tell her that I also grew up listening to Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill.
Kristi attended a Catholic all-girls secondary school and the years she spent there were troubled; she was eventually kicked out at 17. Her dad bought her a second hand guitar to give her a focus while she looked for a sixth form college; she had played violin for seven years prior to that. Going to Hammersmith College gave her the time and space to work on music and buying the guitar was a move her father would almost come to regret when Kristi informed him of her decision to pursue a musical career rather than a university place. “He reacted quite strongly,” she recalls, “but now they’re the most supportive parents ever.” Like when she told them about her love of weed: “I said ‘OK, I need to be honest with you. I’ve been high every day and I’m stoned now.’ I told them it was helping with my anxiety and they were like, ‘Fair enough, if it’s helping. Just don’t abuse it.’”
© Bea Kristi
One of the first things that strikes you about Kristi is her frankness, and this quality, often characteristic of her generation, is baked into her songwriting. Starting out with dreamy acoustic diary Lice in 2018, she’s proceeded to map out her musical discoveries and the different stages of her self-development across four EPs. During the making of 2018’s chamber folk-laced Patched Up, she was digging Elliot Smith, Simon and Garfunkel, and Daniel Johnston. The bolder Loveworm EP tries to make sense of her romantic relationships, delivering a particularly poetic takedown on Angel (“Your bones are only painted gold/ That’s why it rots beneath your soul/ You’re not as brave as you may seem/ That’s why it hurts me”). On the “bubblegum grunge” of last year’s Space Cadet, she moves towards self-acceptance.
“Feeling shit again/ haven’t left my bed” she sings on the slow-winding title track of that EP, which was recorded with her new live band and which mines a particularly strong visual aesthetic – all Buffalo boots, baggy jeans and primary colours. Space Cadet sends out a green-haired slacker-lit love letter to one of her musical heroes, Stephen Malkmus (who, by an exciting twist of fate, she ended up hanging out with while she was in the US). It also thrashes through a bittersweet earworm called She Plays Bass; a blast of indie rock (written about her bassist Eliana) that has been stirring up mosh pits since its release.
“Taylor Swift came up to me and told me that she loves my music. She said she never skips a song”
Kristi’s songwriting has struck a chord with a savvy generation of music fans hungry for a new type of guitar hero. Along with other bright indie sparks like Rex Orange County, Gus Dapperton and Clairo, Beabadoobee is part of a loose new wave of Gen Z artists whose homespun bedroom confessionals are in tune with the openness of social media and the accessible nature of making, recording and sharing music in the 2010s. Call it grunge 2.0, if you like. Often singing openly about mental health issues, the scene is defined by heart-on-your-sleeve, growing pains pop auteurs who have grown up with the internet; Kristi started putting her music on Bandcamp when she was at college.
Fast forward a few years, and she’s already made a crater-sized mark on the scene, teetering on the cusp of global stardom with huge streaming figures and A-list accolades. In some ways, this popularity belies her low-key aesthetic, but it also highlights the current appetite for musical authenticity. At the NME Awards earlier this year, Kristi had a “surreal” celebrity encounter: “Taylor Swift came up to me and told me that she loved my performance and loves my music. She said she never skips a song.” That same night, Harry Styles also told her he was a fan. Beabadoobee now has nearly 28 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Her numbers skyrocketed following the runaway success of Powfu’s death bed (coffee for your head), which features a prominent sample of her intimate 2017 track Coffee (inspired by Kiss Me by Sixpence None the Richer) and which surpassed three million Spotify streams in less than a week.
Coffee is the first song Kristi wrote on the guitar, which makes her rapid ascent feel even more surreal. “Obviously it’s really hard to accept the fact that a song I wrote in my bedroom and that’s really personal to me has this insane amount of people listening to it,” she enthuses. However, keen to evolve aesthetically, she does have concerns about being pigeonholed. But she has now shed some of the skin (and hair colour) of her previous releases, and is ready to start afresh.
© Bea Kristi
Kristi sees her debut album as a chance to demonstrate the true breadth of her style, which she is constantly expanding outside of the bedroom pop tag. Without giving too much away, she emphasises the new record’s versatility, revealing that it spans a variety of genres and moods, from upbeat dancing in your bedroom-type energy to mellow, introspective numbers that make space for time out. The lyrics, she claims, are some of her most personal yet. “This album delves deeper into my childhood and into who I am as a person. I’m exploring why Loveworm happened, why Space Cadet happened etc; where did those come from, that kind of thing.”
Touring the US with Clairo last year gave Kristi an earth-shaking taste of independence; ultimately she looks forward to taking the new album to her fans when she can. “Being in quarantine has made me realise how much I love touring and being with my band; I miss my drummer, I miss my bassist, I miss my guitarist, I miss everyone in the touring company. It just makes you appreciate everything so much more.”
Space Cadet is out now