Remembering the first time she played the guitar, Bea Kristi Laus shrugs her shoulders: “Everything made sense.”
Her simple but poignant answer feels telling. Bea – best known as beabadoobee – makes music that feels effortlessly striking. In fact, NME has described her as “devastatingly cool”, an interpretation that Bea cringes at.“It’s so weird”, she says in her instantly recognisable mellow, London accent, “I’m just being myself, not forcing anything out. I think that’s why I’m so comfortable with the music I make”.
The music Bea makes generally finds the gentle hum of guitar accompanied with mellifluous vocals, balancing 90s grunge with noughties bedroom pop. At the tender age of 20, she is part of a generation who are obsessed with a bygone era. “I think society always glorifies the past. People in the 90s were obsessed with people from the 70s.”
“Gen Z crave a sense of escapism. Nostalgia feels like a warm blanket. That’s what I kind of do with the music”
Growing up in the digital age has of course come with its stresses and pressures, she explains. “Gen Z has a lot going on with them right now. Because of social media we know so much about the world. It’s fed into us, whether that’s bad or good.” She purposely looks back to the past through rose-tinted glasses, glorifying the people, the fashion and the music. “We crave a sense of escapism. Nostalgia feels like a warm blanket. That’s what I kind of do with the music.”
It’s an escapism that has resonated: in early 2020, Bea was nominated for the BRITs Critics Choice Award, longlisted in the BBC Sound of 2020 poll and performed at the NME Awards. Having released four acclaimed EPs, she is now gearing up for the release of her debut album, Fake It Flowers.
Once, she was known for her punk-like blue hair, but today as we talk over video call she’s got a streaky blonde bob. Her silvery-green eyeliner and glinty stacked jewelry are as vibrant as ever. She’s hunched over her laptop against sunshine yellow wallpaper, two dimples peeking beneath her freckled cheeks.
Having moved from her birthplace of Iloilo City in the Philippines to west London aged three, Bea admits that she wasn’t always so comfortable with herself and the multiplicity of her identity. She remembers having to negotiate life at home versus life at school on her own, a concept that isn’t foreign to most children of immigrants.
“My parents left everything [for] me because they thought I’d have better education here. They had a great life in the Philippines and they pretty much started from scratch.” She explains how she was exposed to the socio-economic challenges of migration from a young age. “They didn’t have a babysitter so my dad used to bring me to all his job interviews.”
She also recounts feeling embarrassed every time she pulled out her father’s homemade packed lunch, which consisted of rice and adobo. “I went to a predominantly white Catholic school and I definitely felt the alienation. I was too Asian to be in the popular group and too whitewashed to be in the Asian group. It was the most confusing setup.”
Bea ended up rebelling against her parents due to her internal identity crisis. After completing her GCSEs, she found out that she had been thrown out of her school. Bea admits that she gave her parents a “headache”. “It was a lot for them to deal with – it was definitely me trying to fill a hole that I thought was missing.”
“I wanted an album for people to dance to in their bedrooms when they feel like shit. I do this thing where I dance in front of the mirror every night when I feel crap about myself. I wanted Fake It Flowers to be that record for someone”
Eventually, she clambered to find a place at a different sixth form, something she says was difficult at the time but she doesn’t regret now. “It made me the person who I am today.”
In the throes of a tiresome limbo, Bea turned to music, writing and releasing her debut single ‘Coffee’ on Soundcloud. She wrote the track after studiously learning the chords to Sixpence None The Richer’s swoony 90s pop track ‘Kiss Me’.
It was soon uploaded onto YouTube via a fan account, garnering 300,000 views. “It was very overwhelming,” she says, “I released ‘Coffee’ without thinking people were going to care. When people start commenting on my Instagram and saying, ‘Oh, you’re that coffee girl?’ I was like, ‘I’ve never worked in a café, I don’t know what they’re talking about’.”
Her self-effacing attitude precedes her music career, something she admits is reflected in her artist moniker, which she coined creating her Finsta account. “I think it’s in the name that I didn’t expect any of this to happen,” she laughs, “I was like, ‘Fuck it. No, one’s going to listen to my music’.”
In 2018, after the viral success of ‘Coffee’, Bea grabbed the attention of Dirty Hit, an independent British record label whose roster has included The 1975, Rina Sawayama and Wolf Alice. Soon after signing she was thrust onto a US tour with singer-songwriter Clairo.
Looking back she says that a “whirlwind of events” took place, triggering a period of self-inspection and reassessment. “Before tour I thought I knew myself. I thought I was going to have blue hair for the rest of my life until the day I died,” she tells me. “I didn’t know how to act. I didn’t want to let anyone know I was sad. I didn’t want to let anyone know that I was struggling.”
On tour she began therapy, it was during this time of intense self-reflection that she had the inspiration for Fake It Flowers. “I was scared and I was vulnerable. I made mistakes and I learnt a lot of things. I realised how things from my childhood had affected me as a young woman today. I had so much in my head and I had to write everything down. I had enough for an album.”
With her album, Bea hopes to evoke the spirits of artists like Alanis Morisette, Susanne Vega and Juliana Hatfield. “It’s fun being on stage. It’s fun screaming your heart out. It’s really empowering to see all these amazing female artists doing the same thing.”
“I feel like my parents have grown to understand me more during this whole process. I’ve fallen in love with my culture again”
She recognises that Original Filipino Music like APO Hiking Society built much of her foundational music knowledge, coupled with alt-rock bands like The Cranberries and Nirvana – something she attributes to her parents. “My mum was the first person to introduce me to music like that.”
She’s also enjoying the process of bringing more visibility to femme Asian artists in the industry, something that her parents appreciate too. “I feel like they’ve grown to understand me more during this whole process. I’ve fallen in love with my culture again.”
While Bea is inspired by a broad tapestry of artists, Fake It Flowers is a testament to how comfortable she’s becoming with her own sound – and in herself. “It’s a very personal record. I’m talking about problems I have now. I think that’s what makes it present, because it’s by me.”
She says that Fake It Flowers is a sonically and lyrically mature-sounding version of herself, where she’s allowing herself the chance to be introspective and self-observant. “It’s different because I’m 20 and I kind of grew up. It was like all those things in those EPs were surface level problems. Fake It Flowers delves into why I had those problems and where that all stems from.”
“I wanted an album for people to dance to in their bedrooms when they feel like shit. I do this thing where I dance in front of the mirror every night when I feel crap about myself. I wanted Fake It Flowers to be that record for someone.”
Paying homage to the growing pains that come with femme adolescence, beabadoobee’s Fake It Flowers honours the tension and anger that young girls can feel growing up in a society that constantly tells them they are not enough.
“I can’t wait to just hopefully inspire girls that were like me at 15 to play and to be annoying,” she says, “It’s okay to be a bitch. It’s okay to be loud and sarcastic and crazy, you know, it’s okay to make mistakes.”
beabadoobee’s Fake It Flowers is out now on Dirty Hit. You can listen on all streaming services.