Beabadoobee is a Gen Z 90s alternative rock revivalist on her debut album Fake It Flowers
The spirit of the alternative 90’s is well and truly still thriving today. Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail, and Momma are just some of the recent artists memorialising its grunge and fuzz in their sound. Alex G was arguably the greatest revivalist of the last decade, his earlier Bandcamp recording in particular recalling so fervently the sad songwriting and despondent guitars of Elliott Smith.
Add Beabadoobee to the list of those reimagining that decade for Gen Z with her debut studio album Fake It Flowers. Hers is a very contemporary success story. Born in the Philippines in 2000 (read that number and despair), the family moved to the UK when she was three, settling in North London. While attending a majority-white Catholic school, she soon felt alienated and lost, this sense of dislocation leading to drug use and mental health struggles, ultimately resulting in Beabadoobee (real name Bea Kristi) being thrown out of school. Solace was foundthrough the sounds of 90’s rock as she discovered the likes of The Cranberries, Mazzy Star, and The Moldy Peaches. It was then that her dad brought home a guitar, a second-hand instrument offering first-hand hope.
One of those omnipresent YouTube accounts – the ones that back woozy lo-fi pop with hazy, often anime-inspired visuals – 1-800-LOVE picked up her first single ‘Coffee’ (the first song she ever wrote) and it went viral. It then grew in virality again after Powfu sampled it in his TikTok smash ‘Death Bed’. The song became the favoured backing music for thousands of videos of users confessing their secret love to unknowing crushes, and it was alleged to have been heard a ridiculous 10 billion times on the platform just between February and May this year.
During all of this hype, Beabadoobee signed to London label Dirty Hit (home to The 1975 and Wolf Alice) and released four well-received EPs in 2018 and 2019. She supported Clairo and labelmates The 1975 on massive tours. She’s been an NME cover star, and this year was nominated for both the Brit Award for Rising Star and the BBC Sound of 2020. Put in simpler terms, it’s been an astoundingly rapid musical ascent.
The first song she taught herself to play was Sixpence None The Richer’s ‘Kiss Me’ and, rather sweetly, much of Fake It Flowers recalls this classic 90’s hit. She might have professed her love of Stephen Malkmus (literally and unashamedly with her song ‘I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus’), Pavement’s sardonic joker frontman, and the melancholic Elliott Smith before, but Beabadoobee possesses more of the 90’s traits of angst and rage that permeated the works of Alanis Morrissette and Fiona Apple.
Bedroom pop has always been a fragile genre, regressing from its Bandcamp origin to entail everyone from Gus Dapperton to Mac DeMarco, and Fake It Flowers will no doubt soon be found under countless Spotify Bedroom Pop playlists, and yet it’s actually her sonic departure from that genre. Gone are the hushed confessions of her earlier EPs, replaced by powerhouse 90s guitar riffs and hard drumming; gone is the pretty lo-fi, in its place angsty grunge (‘Back To Mars’ and ‘Further Away’ are rare tracks where she returns to her old lo-fi roots, more contemplative and quieter pieces). It’s a maturer work (she turned 20 and left behind her teenage years in June), and the greater access to professional, high quality studiostudio access has undeniably affected her sound as well with more layered electric guitars and everything sounding more polished.
The opening song ‘Care’ makes clear her influences and intentions immediately. A slow breezy start instantly gives way to a soaring, heart-on-sleeve chorus, dripping with attitude. It would be the perfect accompaniment to the climax of a cheesy 90’s movie, think 10 Things I Hate About You (if you know you know). She showcases an excellent balance of loud and quiet, as all great 90’s alternative rock anthems do: songs like ‘Sorry’ and ‘Together’ build from quiet tension into loud angsty distorted guitar supremely well.
Beabadoobee’s songwriting is still growing, mostly still rooted in tender lyrics obsessed with young love, but there are moments of cutting incisiveness that are full of promise. ‘Dye It Red’ sees her scolding a former flame, who was “not even that cute”, an anthem to self-expression; on ‘Further Away’, she wryly sings “they say the moon’s miles away, but your brain’s further away”. Elsewhere, she’s earnestly emotive, unafraid to present her vulnerability. On ‘Worth It’, she reckons with her own infidelity: “You’re a bit more fucked, but I guess that’s fine / Maybe that’s what I want this time, you,” she contends. Self-harm is discussed on ‘Charlie Brown’ (“Back on old habits / That no one knows about”) as a thrashing emo chorus announces her pain. Her rage is similarly pronounced in the following ‘Emo Song’, a momentous drum beat driving lines about the general shithousery of men.
‘Horen Sarrison’ (a spoonerism based on the name of her boyfriend Soren Harrison) is Beabadoobee at her most loving. “You are the smell of pavement after the rain / You are the last empty seat on the train,” she swoons, as heartfelt strings add texture. Her soft emo-pop palette is greyed with imperfections and mistakes, intentionally so. Her boyfriend’s dog can be heard barking during the yearning ‘How Was Your Day?’; ‘Yoshimi Forest Magdalene’ was recorded in one live take and accordingly contains rusty mistakes which were deliberately left in the final version. It’s also, ironically, one of the strongest tracks, rapid and melodious, with a great catchy hook where she croons and then screams the song’s name.
What feels more important than the music itself here is the optics of its creator. Beabadoobee has spoken in interviews of her pride at inspiring young girls like herself to pick up a guitar as she did; as a Filipino-British woman also, there are few faces like hers in the markedly white British music industry. If her peers have already found their niche: Girl In Red has become a queer icon to her generation; Billie Eilish has been impressively frank about her mental health battles; Beabadoobee’s place in the Gen Z musical landscape then seems like it will be as the ‘Guitar Hero’, promoting this rock instrument to young girls like her who otherwise might have not even considered it. It’s not hyperbole to crown Beabadoobee as a Gen Z icon, or at the very least one in the making.
Fake It Flowers is out now via Dirty Hit. Buy/stream here.
Words by Conor Lochrie