Beabadoobee: “I have so much more art to share with the world. I’m not going to stop”

How the guitar hero learned to let go of the past and leaned into her own personal utopia with eclectic second album ‘Beatopia’

It’s a warm July evening at an east London photo studio where Beabadobee is telling NME about her first ever Glastonbury and Coachella experiences this year – festivals she attended as both a performer and a punter.

“I took ‘shrooms at Coachella and I just didn’t have a good time,” she says. “It really bugged me out.” The memory causes her to throw her head back and let out a high-pitched cackle, revealing a glinting tooth gem. “Americans are really lovely, but I was on ‘shrooms and they were really freaking me out. I just kept running away like…” She proceeds to hyperventilate dramatically. And how about Glastonbury? “I cannot even explain how fucked I was at Glastonbury!”

Beabadoobee
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

Beabadoobee – real name Beatrice Kristi Laus – has just finished her third NME cover shoot and she’s ready to wind down. Shortly after we start chatting, her publicist returns from the shop with a bottle of wine and some tinnies. Bea unscrews the wine cap and starts drinking from the bottle as she sinks into the green leather sofa we’re sharing. She later offers me a swig to try and convince me that it’s going to be a “white wine summer”, but I stick to the pink gin.

It is Tuesday, after all – the day of the week that inspired Bea’s crunching guitar anthem ‘Talk’ (“Call you up on a Tuesday / Say, “What’s up?”), which she insists is the best for a night out. But tonight the singer is looking to do something a bit more low-key. “​I was meant to skim stones at Southbank, but I think the tide is high,” she says. “I’ve just met someone who says they do it when they feel sad.”

Having been on the road so much in recent months – including a support slot with Halsey for a portion of their recent US tour – Beabadoobee is trying to enjoy some semblance of normality while she’s home in London.

“​​I’ve always had self esteem issues growing up; I still have self esteem issues”

“It’s been an amazing experience, having the opportunity to play live again,” she says. “But I can’t dismiss the fact that it’s really overwhelming and really hard being away from home.” But while it’s been a significantly more hectic lead up to Beabadoobee’s eclectic second album ‘Beatopia’, compared to that of her 2020 debut ‘Fake It Flowers’, she’s definitely been able to tick off some huge professional milestones on the way. “With Glastonbury, it’s the shit I say in my bedroom when I’m alone and really fucked and I’m playing guitar, I’m like, ‘Glastonbury!’” she says, addressing an imaginary crowd. “And I actually said it for real this time, which was surreal and amazing.”

Performing at two of the biggest music festivals in the world within a couple months of each other: it’s a very different picture to the early days of Bea’s live circuit, which included a tiny 2019 show at London’s 200-people capacity Shacklewell Arms for NME’s Girls To The Front gig series.

Beabadoobee
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

It was just two months after the release of her 2018 EP ‘Patched Up’ and a few weeks after she supported labelmates The 1975 at The Garage – only her third ever live gig. Opening for The Japanese House at the Shack’, a fresh-faced, softly spoken Bea took to the stage to play early favourites ‘Coffee’ and ‘The Moon Song’ for a small but rapidly flourishing fanbase. “I remember being so young, and so in love,” she says wistfully. In a very full circle moment, she performed her single ‘Care’ from the same venue for a pre-recorded performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in November 2020.

It was around that same time two years ago when the singer felt compelled to revisit a younger version of herself, inspiring her return to the utopian world of ‘Beatopia’, an escapist refuge that seven-year-old Bea dreamed up to lose herself in during hard times. She describes it as similar to the fantasy world from the 2007 film Bridge to Terabithia, but 10 times better: “It’s filled with a lot of love and a lot of friendships, and then a lot of community and amazing food. And every fluffy, cute animal you could think of. And loads of fairies.”

Beabadoobee on the cover of NME
Beabadoobee on the cover of NME

But she abandoned Beatopia when a cruel teacher mocked her drawing of this world in front of the class, prompting her to bury it in a deep, dark place inside her. Now, though, she’s determined to reclaim it. “It’s very empowering,” she says. “Everything happening around that time of my life was all these repressed feelings that I’d kept for so long. And then revisiting that kind of helped me accept those feelings. Now ‘Beatopia’ is less of a conceptual thing, but it’s a feeling. And it’s something that I just had to dig and find within myself.”

The singer’s family moved from the Philippines to London when she was three years old, and she has spoken of feeling like outsider growing up, when she was one of the few Asian students at her all-girls Catholic secondary school.

Beabadoobee
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

“It was a lot of self-hatred, it was embarrassment,” she explains. “​​I’ve always had self esteem issues growing up; I still have self esteem issues. But they were all triggered from the same thing or a certain situation in my life that I’d just tied myself into for ages, especially with ‘Fake It Flowers’. All I did was talk about the past, and this time, for ‘Beatopia’, I wanted to talk about everything I was feeling in that exact moment I wrote that song, and I haven’t done that with a record ever.”

Being able to process these feelings, partly through making huge strides in therapy, has allowed her to finally feel in control of the present moment. “I have the most amazing therapist, and it’s definitely something I had to do by myself,” she says. “And in no way does that mean I am 1,000 per cent better than I was before. It’s always going to be up and down. It’s just the idea that you can separate things that have happened to you in the past with the way you act now.” She also recognizes it’s a non-linear process that she’s still working on: “It’s really hard to fucking do when you’re in the situation, and you’re kind of acting out trauma, but with a lot of practice, and with the good people around you, it really does help.”

“Matty Healy’s amazing at lyrics, so he really helped me in that way”

Letting good people in is what ‘Beatopia’ is all about, making it her most collaborative work yet. She co-wrote songs with Jack Steadman of Bombay Bicycle Club, borrowed strings from Georgia Ellery of Jockstrap and Black Country, New Road and invited PinkPantheress to feature on twinkling pop moment ‘tinkerbell is overrated’. “At the beginning you’re super anal, like, ‘No one fucking touch my music’,” she says. “And then you’re like, ‘You know what? Collaborations are sick’. Because at the end of the day, two heads are better than one.”

It was working with The 1975 on last year’s ‘Our Extended Play’ that changed the singer’s mind on collaboration: frontman Matty Healy co-wrote ‘Beatopia’’s ‘You’re Here That’s The Thing’ and the midwest emo-inspired ‘Pictures of Us’. He’s also been a significant part of the singer’s artistic growth from the beginning; she describes him as “like an annoying older brother”, adding: “Matty’s amazing at lyrics, so he really helped me in that way. And he offers me so much advice about songwriting. And it’s really helpful having him in my life as a music mentor and as a friend who has amazing life advice. I think he has a way of finding a sentence that really fucking hits you.”

Beabadoobee
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

One of the perks of being mates with Healy is that Bea has heard some early previews of The 1975’s new album ‘Being Funny in a Foreign Language’, which is due out in October. “I’ve heard a few songs off of it – he’s [been] sending me one like every day; it’s sick. And it’s fucking awesome. No one’s fucking ready.” Our conversation prompts Bea to unlock her phone and text Healy right then, remembering that he no longer has her number after she lost her old phone at a festival.

Even with more guest credits across a record than ever, ‘Beatopia’ started as a particularly close project with her guitarist and best friend Jacob Budgen, which found the pair holed up in a west London studio that served as their own creative bubble. “I was just like, ‘Fuck it – we can make anything we want and I don’t give a fuck’,” she says. But if ‘Fake It Flowers’ was Bea’s bedroom-pop album, the creative space that defined ‘Beatopia’ was, er, slightly different.

“At the beginning you think: ‘No one fucking touch my music’. And then you’re like, ‘Collaborations are sick!’”

“It was literally a studio that looked like a crack den,” she says. “I remember I did a livestream where I was like, ‘This is where I’m recording my album’, and then everyone was like, ‘What the fuck?’ The carpet was mouldy and falling apart, there were no windows. It stank of weed constantly because I was the biggest stoner of my life making ‘Beatopia’. I had a moment where I was like, ‘Is this album even good?’”

‘Beatopia’ could not be more different from its not-so-chic setting. The album is a kaleidoscope of colour and feeling, like a vintage paint palette covered in multicoloured splodges, from the halcyon haze of ‘Beatopia Cultsong’ and troubled love song ‘Ripples’ to big alt-rock breakouts in ‘Talk’ and ‘10:36’. Along the way, she even experimented with bossa nova and OPM music of the Philippines that she grew up listening to. The album also feels like a departure from the ‘90s grunge era that she sometimes felt trapped by.

“I love ‘Fake It Flowers’, and like every musician, you’re pretty critical with your past work,” she says. “It was like I was put in a box, like” – here she adopts the voice of an excited critic – ‘‘90s revivalist!’ And I’m just like, ‘That’s great, and I love being nostalgic for you, but that’s not what I am’. I want to make so many different types of music.”

Beabadoobee
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

At several points in our conversation, Bea appears to slightly cringe at mentions of the past, be it talking about her blonde rock chick era – which she describes as a “little phase” – or her previously expressed obsession with Tom Hanks. “I’ve kind of gone off it, but I love all his old films,” she says of the actor, whom she once named as her dream collaboration. “It’s wild how obsessed I used to be. On my ‘Patched Up’ vinyl, it’s dedicated to Tom Hanks.”

Though she does, admittedly, still have a “massive” shrine to the actor in her old bedroom, Bea sees this growth as an essential part of her journey: “I don’t see two different people; I just feel like the same person just growing up. Yes, I felt like a completely different person, but I still listen to similar music and I’ve still got the same clothes. I’m never gonna be embarrassed about it, because I don’t really like regretting things.”

“‘Beatopia’ is less of a conceptual thing – it’s a feeling”

In another throwback to a bygone era, she recently described ‘Beatopia’ as “very 2006”. When I ask about it, she slaps her forehead in regret. “It was such a throwaway comment!” she laughs deliriously. “But I guess all the music I was listening to was very much of that time.”

But surely Bea, who was six years old in 2006, has an appreciation for the indie sleaze revival, an era which unofficially began that same year. “What the fuck is that?” she says. I tell her it’s an aesthetic blend of music, fashion and, well, sleaze, from 2006-2012. She pulls up the titular cult Instagram account, which captured the trend, on her phone. “Oh my God!” she exclaims. “And they even have Karen O! Yeah – defo following.” Scrolling through the feed, she adds: “Yeah – this is iconic.” There’s a lot of Kate Moss and Pete Doherty at festivals, I point out. “I literally wore a Kate Moss outfit at Glastonbury!” she replies excitedly. “I was like, Kate Moss would wear this – I’m gonna have to wear this.”

Beabadoobee
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

Accepting the fading of past obsessions is also just part of growing up, Bea says. “I’m 22 now” – she catches herself and croaks with a gasp as if the life is being sucked out of her: “I’m saying that as if I’m fucking 50! I’ve definitely grown up, and I feel I’ve been through a lot of shit recently.” She’s vaguely mentioned her recent breakup a few times throughout our conversation, sharing that Healy had some “really great advice” for her, while also telling us that the trousers she wore for her photoshoot belonged to her ex.

Coming out of a seven-year relationship prompted the singer to write her “first “break-up song”, which she recently teased a snippet of on TikTok. “He left me with no answer, ten minutes before my show,” she sings. “So I got on a plane for nine hours, just to cry all the way home / But these feelings they’re necessary, and no less than the ordinary.” She winces shyly when I ask about it and insists it’s just a “snippet”, with no plans to release for the time being. “After everything that’s happened in my life, I’ve realised a lot of things – especially after the whole break-up. So I can’t wait to write music [about] that,” she says. “But what I found crazy was that I listened back to songs off ‘Beatopia’, and it remained as relatable as it was when I first wrote it. And it was about a completely different situation.”

It’s also inspired Bea to continue writing every day, even in the weeks before a brand new album release. “I’m really excited for new experiences and to write new music. And I’m currently seeing someone that I really like, and I just kind of can’t wait to fall in love all over again.” She also confirmed to a fan in a TikTok comment that she was still writing “sappy” love songs post-break up. “Everyone was worried that I would stop writing love songs,” she says. “But I can feel myself falling. And I feel myself capable of falling again and I can’t wait to write about that.”

Beabadoobee
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

While she’s offered her fans an honest online window into her life and relationship over the past few years, it’s something she’s looking to redraw boundaries around now. At the same time, as a music mega-fan – one who tenses up with excitement when she tells me about spending time with Stephen Malkmus of Pavement, who passed on a hello from Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, or joining Nina Persson of The Cardigans on a podcast – she knows how important that connection is.

“There’s one good thing about being personal because you can form a connection, and there’s another thing where it’s like, your life is online – everyone fucking knows about it and everyone thinks they know everything about it,” she says. But during the making of ‘Beatopia’, she learned to keep some things for herself. “I only realised that after I put my whole entire life online. I was like, ‘Shit, yes – I’m going through a break-up. Shit. Now everyone knows. Shit!’ And I’m like, ‘I should really just be a bit more careful with that’.”

But the rest of this year is about getting to be with fans for real. Before a UK tour in the autumn, Beabadoobee is getting ready to take on Reading festival again, a set she’s still riding the high of from last year. “It was fucking insane. I did not realise that many people were going to come and listen to me. It was wild – it was probably still one of my favourite shows ever, so I can’t wait to go back,” she says. “I’m kind of scared because this time my set goes into Rage Against The Machine, and I’m like ‘Fuck!’ I hope people come and watch me. I promise I’ll give them a good show!”

Three years ago, Beabadoobee was glad to play acoustic guitar on a stool as a support act in a tiny grassroots venue. Now she’s fretting over her second Reading festival slot. Does she ever look back at just how far she’s come?

“I think it’s important to appreciate your achievements, she says, “but it’s also really important to keep your feet on the ground and to remember that it’s always still a hustle,” she says. “I’m so grateful I managed to have a living off something I love doing, and have a house, and do all this adult shit. But at the end of the day, I could be better and I want to make more music, and I have so much more art to share with the world. I’m just not going to stop, and I’m not going to back down yet.”

Beabadoobee’s ‘Beatopia’ is out now via Dirty Hit