The Big Read – Beabadoobee: “I want to live in the ‘90s!”

Some years ago, Beabadoobee was so shy she had friends perform songs on her behalf – and was the unwitting subject of a WhatsApp group of Mean Girls at school. Now, at 19, she’s mates with Matty Healy of The 1975, she’s internet pals with her beloved ‘90s heroes and she’s become an icon for a generation of kids crying out for a new breed of guitar hero. Following the release of her ace ‘Space Cadet’ EP, Thomas Smith meets Bea Kristi in London to talk about her no-fucks-given approach to music – and why she’s having a ball right now. PHOTOS: Jenn Five

School’s out, and the kids are taking over. It’s September 20, and teenagers are walking out of high schools, colleges and universities across the planet. The mass gatherings clogging up city streets are in aid of the Global Climate Strike, led by firebrand teen activist Greta Thunberg.

Some of them might have had another motive, though. In London, grunge icon in-the-making Beabadoobee is playing one of her first headline shows ever at The Grace, a 150-capacity venue in Islington. It’s either serendipity – or a fantastic piece of foresight – that she hosted a first-come-first-served gig on a day when most of her avid fans are skiving in the name of the environment. More than 5,000 people applied for free tickets at the event – enough to fill Brixton Academy, and the line for tickets has taken over the entire pavement, many of the hopeful attendees wearing school uniforms and carrying placards from the march. When Beabadoobee arrives at the front of the venue, the kids go bonkers. One spots her and screams her name. Soon after, they all pile around her, spilling onto the road. In the middle, Beabadobee – aka 19-year-old Beatrice Kristi – looks both flattered and slightly worried. She smiles, poses for a few pictures and then scuttles inside.

NME follows not far behind, feeling the weight of hundreds of jealous stares from her fans. How’s that for your first mobbing then, Bea? “It wasn’t scary at all, actually,” she says. So you’re hoping for a few more of those, then? Her eyes shift side-to-side, searching for an answer that she already knows, deep down: “Well, yeah!” 

One of Britain’s most exciting and promising new acts, Beabadoobee’s brand new EP, ‘Space Cadet’, is a loud and uncompromising love letter to the ‘90s grunge and alt-rock scene, with a modern pop-edge. It’s catnip for a new generation of music lovers, like herself, crying out for a new breed of guitar hero. 

“My influencers are Sonic Youth, Pavement – this shit that totally shaped me,” Bea tells us the first time we meet, a couple weeks earlier at London’s Old Blue Last, where she arrives fresh from a frolic in a ball pit for her first NME cover shoot. “They shaped the way I dress, how I speak, act and just everything I am. With this EP, I was just craving a little bit more. Like, I wanna sing like Stephen Malkmus for fuck’s sake! I literally want to be Kim Gordon! I’m paying homeage to good fucking ‘90s grunge.”

That much is obvious. Opener ‘Are You Sure’ is a bone-rattling racket indebted to Pixies’ ‘Doolittle’, ‘She Plays Bass’ is a tender tribute to her bassist and best mate, Eliana, and ‘I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus’ – an ode to the aforementioned slacker icon – is about as direct a shout-out as you’d ever get, and the loud-quiet melodies achieve the “Pavement rip-off” that she was aiming for.

Beabadobee is the nice-to-say-but-quite-silly name adopted by Londoner Bea Kristi. The 19-year-old has been releasing music for little over two years and is signed to Dirty Hit, the record label responsible for The 1975, Pale Waves, Wolf Alice and more. Currently, she’s supporting fellow Gen Z hero Clairo on a gruelling trek across the US, and in December she’ll be heading up the Dirty Hit tour with Oscar Lang (they collaborated on early songs) and pop-heartthrob No Rome (they often have the same luminous hair colour).

In September 2017, Bea released two acoustic ballads recorded in her bedroom with Lang, the self-penned ‘Coffee’ and a cover of Karen O’s ‘Moon Song’. The whole moment was so instinctive, she landed on her then-Instagram handle as a stage name: “I called myself Beabadoobee,” she says, dourly. “You can tell I wasn’t expecting any of this to happen!”  

Four EPs have followed since. The first two, ‘Lice’ and ‘Patched Up’, were full of spindly numbers, where her vocals barely rise above a whisper as acoustic guitars weave in and out of songs. They were largely written and conceived in her bedroom, and saw her follow in the footsteps of two of her quieter heroes: outsider artist Daniel Johnston and raw singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. 

Instead of revising for her A-Levels earlier this year, she recorded her ‘Loveworm’ EP, which veered into lo-fi indie and then ‘Space Cadet’ catapulted her outside of the ‘bedroom-pop’ tag.“I get scared saying it, but I kind of hate the term ‘bedroom-pop’ a lot,” she says of her burgeoning ambition when yielding a guitar. “It’s cool, but I hate being compared to something.”

Bea has started dreaming of a bigger world and seems to be having quite a bit of fun doing so. She’s excitable and inquisitive, but with the blissed-out slacker vibes of her heroes. She’s also clearly still getting used to people being interested in her music and life. Before each answer she gives a moment’s thought before answering, and most of them end with a nervous chuckle.

In spite of this, she’s devastatingly cool. Her striking hair styles indicate her mood, like on self-love anthem ‘I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus’, where she bigs up her new electric blue hair. “Every time I do something, I want to change my hair. It’s just as important in the music to me,” she says. 

It makes her hard to miss, too. During our chat, we’re interrupted by a handful of fans who spotted her sat in the pub as they walked past. Mostly, they just want to hug her.

So Bea wishes she was a ‘90s kid. Her bedroom is decorated with posters of the decade’s dominant film star, Tom Hanks, and at a recent show, the support act was a projection of his 1993 film Sleepless In Seattle. The first CD she bought was Green Day’s Dookie’, and she genuinely used to listen to cassettes instead of an iPod on the school bus.

“People think I’m just some quirky girl who pretends to love old movies, but I genuinely fucking do,” she says. “I’ve been obsessed and nostalgic because I never lived in that era. I’ve always wanted to live in the ‘90s and no-one says that, because they think it’s cringe. But pretty much all the people I listen to are dead now…”

Bea was born in Iloilo City, Philippines in 2000, but moved to London with her parents as a child. She respects the the Filipino indie scene, but is thankful to have been raised in the UK. “It’s really hard to get big out there, and you need to look and behave a certain way,” she says. “But the indie scene in the Philippines is crazy. I was talking to No Rome [fellow Dirty Hit signing, born in Manilla] the other day and we were saying that the music is just so good – we’re just waiting for someone to notice.”

For Bea, making music wasn’t necessarily a life-long dream. Originally, she wanted to be a nursery school teacher, but by the time she was 13 she’d started writing songs. Her first, ‘Happy’, was penned for show-and-tell at school, but she was too scared to perform it in front of people, so got a mate to do the honours.

Education wasn’t really her thing. As a teenager, she struggled to fit into an all-girls Catholic school, because of the strict discipline and cliquey nature of her fellow students. “That kind of place is really bad for your mental health. I felt like such an outcast there,” she says. “When I started doing music while at that school, a group of girls made a group chat to talk shit about my music. After I left, they ended up putting one of my songs in the prom. That’s fucked up”

Around this time, things got trickier mentally. She started having really bad days and felt unable to communicate if she was feeling depressed or sad, and a period of self-harm began. She has since channelled those emotions into songs like ‘Bobby’ and a tattoo of Charlie Brown comic strips on her left-arm help her process those emotions and mark her recovery.

“I had a really rough period between 14 and 17 where I constantly felt like a loner and depressed and anxious. It was a really dark time. I did really stupid shit because I just wanted to feel whatever was missing,” she says. “When I get sad, I get really sad and when I’m happy, I’m really happy. Some people think I’m just so bubbly all the time, but I get really shit sometimes too.”

With the help of counsellors, her parents and friends at a new sixth form, she learnt new perspectives and how to express these emotions. “I just need to remind myself that I’m not alone. It’s nice to think that people listen to my music and look up to me, but I feel shit sometimes and that’s OK,” she says. “Young people definitely have a better grasp about mental health now. I’m allowed to feel shit and say that I feel that way.”

Bea is your classic teenager: wants to be a rock star, smokes weed occasionally and likes to lock herself in her room. That space is plastered with Tom Hanks posters, and is where she listens to Dinosaur Jr records and watches ‘80s flicks like Breakfast Club, St Elmo’s Fire and Pretty In Pink. No matter what mood or what colour her hair is at the time, the bedroom is a refuge. “I do everything in there. I break down in there or I have the best times by myself and discover so much new stuff,” she says. 

Her dispatches from her bedroom on social media have helped her build a sizeable fanbase – over 302k currently follow her on Instagram. They send her memes, messages of support and – when she puts her Wetherspoon’s table on her Instagram Story – a plate of mushy peas via the app. Having the world watching you as a teen is daunting stuff, though, no?

What’s it like having such a big audience on Instagram?

“I don’t think about it too much. If I do it’ll stress me out too much, so I’m just going to keep it chill. Right now, this whole thing is insane. People are waiting outside of shows for me and people give a shit about me. I got mobbed outside and I wasn’t even scared. I was just like ‘Man, I can’t fuck this up because I love this and I don’t think I’m ever going to hate it.”

Have you had to deal with much negativity on social media?

“Getting hate sent to me is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to overcome. Some people think everything in my bedroom is so fake and all deliberately planted to make me out to be a quirky girl. I’m not really used to people being that mean about things I like. I’m very self-deprecating as it is, but the hate I see – I’m just not used to that. I’m trying to stop crying about it now.”

Has pushing back to haters influenced your music?

“I was so angry and emotional when I wrote ‘I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus’ and I’m so glad I did. It felt so good to have all that self-love in the lyrics. I feel like I’m shouting at everyone who tells me not to be me. I love my blue-hair. Yes, I sit at home and cry to Pavement. Fuck what everyone else says.”

Her record label, Dirty Hit, has become the perfect space to allow her likes and passion to develop, with no push-back or pre-approved marketing plan. As a teen she was a stan of the label’s biggest name, The 1975, and now just happens to be in a group-chat with its iconoclastic lead singer, Matty Healy. The pair swap clothes, advice and he features on guitar on ‘Are You Sure’ from the recent ‘Space Cadet’ EP. 

“We both genuinely really like each other’s music and it’s strange to say, but we both get excited by each other’s work,” she says. “I really admire people who have been striking for the climate change protests and artists like The 1975 who use their platform in that way. I want to start being able to speak out in the same way. I’m not as knowledgeable as someone like Matty, but when I get the confidence to know what I’m talking about, then I’ll be that bitch.”

She’s making more famous friends, and definitely not daunted about making the first step. When she supported Mac DeMarco in Dublin earlier this summer, the pair went out post-show, did karaoke and she ended the night with a Mac-designed tattoo of a face on her arm. 

Since she got a verified account on Twitter and Instagram, she’s been slipping and sliding into the DMs of any one of the heroes that’ll take her. First was Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon and Tom Hanks, though neither have responded as of just yet – “I’ve messaged them twice with the same thing; I’m that much of a beg” – but she did get a response from The Moldy Peaches’ singer Kimya Dawson, who was flattered by the message. 

“I might try and DM Billie Eilish,” she states. “I really fuck with what she’s doing right now. She’s clearly a really intelligent girl. I hope that people understand what she’s trying to say. There are girls like me and the girls who listen to her who feel the same way about what they wear and what they look like.” 

What would you say? 

“’Yo Billie, let’s make a punk-rock song and just scream.’”

At her show at The Grace, the kids go bananas. A chasm forms between the parents stood at the back and the teens – kitted out in baggy clothes and sporting multi-cloured hair – who mash together down at the front. When the chants of her name in the style of ‘Seven Nation Army’ die down, she shouts out everyone who went to the climate strike and says that if she was in school, she’d have walked out too. 

A playful smile spreads across her face when she launches into a gnarly cover of Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ – as featured in school-set coming-of-age classic The Breakfast Club, obviously – as a classroom-sized moshpit opens up.

It’s clear now that this is their future, but that they’re not afraid to look back and pillage from the past when they feel like it. Bea is only moving in one direction, though. “I’ve just pushed down the accelerator and said ‘fuck it’. I don’t care what anyone says, I’m just going to do what I want to do.”

Space Cadet EP is out now via Dirty Hit

Photos shot at Ballie Ballerson, London