With beabadoobee, The ’90s Alt-Rock Revival Sounds Ready For Its Inevitable Pop Crossover
Is beabadoobee a rock artist or a pop artist? The distinction doesn’t really matter, but 20-year-old Beatrice Laus, aka Bea Kristi, blurs the genre barrier in fascinating ways, to the point of nostalgic mirage. The British-Filipino musician’s debut album Fake It Flowers, out this Friday, marks her as the latest in a lineage of artists who’ve been moving this direction lately, nudging the indie and alt-rock sounds of the 1990s toward a lustrous, plaintive middle ground. It feels natural that after a fleet of talented young, largely female rock artists spent the 2010s reviving the ’90s, another wave of acts would come along to transmute that decade’s aesthetic into glossy, radio-friendly pop. After all, that’s exactly what happened the first time around, as initially underground stylings became further subsumed into the radio-friendly mainstream.
The difference is that back then lots of different kinds of rockers had a mainstream platform, from Linkin Park to the Strokes to blink-182, whereas nowadays even most of the acts within the alternative radio niche barely scan as rock music and the format’s #1 song, 24kGoldn and Iann Dior’s “Mood,” emerged out of the hip-hop ecosystem. Notably, though, “Mood” is a TikTok-era pastiche of MySpace emo, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly just scored his first #1 album by fully pivoting to pop-punk. And then there are beabadoobee and her peers, rising in the wake of Mitski and Snail Mail and Waxahatchee to reopen a lane that has long been closed off. For the first time in years, it seems possible to become a pop star by making rock music.
Most recently the phenomenon has manifested in high-profile releases like Clairo’s Immunity, a moody and immersive album for which both sides of the hyphen in indie-pop seem locked in an endless battle for supremacy — or perhaps an eternal state of balance, a yin and yang that seems intuitive to many younger millennials and Generation Z. Soccer Mommy’s gorgeously depressive color theory, one of the banner indie rock releases of 2020, proudly flaunts the influence of Avril Lavigne and Michelle Branch’s mall-ready Y2K-era mainstream rock, owing at least as much to Liz Phair’s early aughts pop phase as her critically acclaimed ’90s records.
Boosted by press adulation and relentless touring — including opening gigs for artists such as Paramore, Vampire Weekend, and Kacey Musgraves — Soccer Mommy has become about as big as an artist on a major-adjacent indie label like Loma Vista can be, at least until some Hollywood music supervisor inevitably syncs “circle the drain” to an iconic movie or TV scene and launches the band to yet another echelon of fame. But the project emerged organically out of the underground, picking up steam with songs released independently on Bandcamp and SoundCloud, releasing 2016’s For Young Hearts EP through the influential Orchid Tapes label, and working up to Fat Possum for 2018 debut Clean. Clairo feels like another step down the same path; she initially found an audience on YouTube but was more rapidly swept up into the industry promo machine and now boasts a fledging hit with “Sofia,” which has been blowing up on streaming services and climbing Billboard’s radio-powered Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart.
By comparison, beabadoobee seemed to emerge fully formed, with a strong promotional apparatus behind her and no shortage of stylish Instagram selfies. Those who demand artists do time in the trenches before breaking through will surely raise an eyebrow at a timeline that saw her signed to an influential label within a year of being kicked out of her all-girls Catholic high school and presented with her first guitar by her dad. The company in question is Dirty Hit, the Interscope-distributed label whose flagship artist, the 1975, has played a big part in bringing back pop stardom within the rock milieu — often by putting a distinctly millennial spin on the sounds of the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s. Laus counts the band’s lightning-rod frontman Matty Healy as a friend and mentor, and unlike other label-mates he’s stumped for, she is quickly becoming his peer.
Through Dirty Hit, beabadoobee released four EPs throughout 2018 and 2019, honing a sound both sonically polished and emotionally transparent. That early run culminated with last year’s loud, catchy, crystalline Space Cadet EP, the “bubblegum grunge” release with which her promo offensive went into overdrive. Space Cadet was highlighted by “I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus,” a Bat-Signal summoning aging music critics and other fans of ’90s slacker rock. Meanwhile a sample of her early track “Coffee” on Powfu’s viral hit “Death Bed” brought beabadoobee to the attention of legions of zoomers along with likeminded TikTok success stories Beach Bunny, mxmtoon, and Girl In Red. She’s casting a wide net, and she’s got industry support to the tune of endorsements from Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and Jaden Smith, fashion shoots in British Vogue, and her own Essentials playlist on Apple Music before her debut album is even out.
Fake It Flowers, then, seems primed to succeed whether or not it’s any good. Fortunately for skeptics — or maybe unfortunately, if you’re the type of hater who relishes dismissing “industry plants” on principle — the album’s dreamy blend of grunge, shoegaze, Britpop, emo, and other guitar-powered Clinton-era subgenres is consistently entertaining and occasionally transcendent. Recorded with the Vaccines’ Pete Robertson and veteran Irish studio engineer Joseph Rodgers, the album brings out the best in beabadoobee’s sound, putting an immaculate sheen on her indie-pop confessionals and rock ragers. “Together,” set for release as the final advance single on Tuesday, is indicative of the album’s appeal, affixing a deeply pretty topline to a no-frills rocker that might otherwise pass for Hole.
Laus has a distinct, heavily stylized point of view but enough range to make starry-eyed slowcore balladry like “Further Away” and “Back To Mars” coexist with the visceral clatter of album closer “Yoshimi Forest Magdalene” and the Cherry Glazerr-esque “Charlie Brown.” Far from a Coldplay cover, that last one is the darkest, most harrowing track on a mostly pretty and accessible album, a struggle with depression and self-harm that climaxes with Laus screaming, “Throw it away!” Often the focus is young romance, whether Laus is scoffing at an ex on the translucent and upbeat “Dye It Red” or paying tribute to her current beau, Soren Harrison, on the not-so-subtly titled “Horen Sarrison.” Over an orchestrally tinged slow jam that conjures Smashing Pumpkins deep cut vibes, Laus sings, “You love the smell of pavement after the rain/ You are the last empty seat on a train/ I’m convinced you’re from outer space.” It’s cute, though she really should ask Ariana Grande how naming a song after her boyfriend turned out.
Beabadoobee is at her best, though, when serving up exquisite pop songs in rock trappings, matching sweetly sung melodies with a surging, shimmering wall of guitars. The first two songs on the album, “Care” and “Worth It,” are both a breathless rush, so dynamic and immaculately produced that they seem to document a real-time transformation from bedroom pop to arena rock. Perhaps an even more impressive achievement is “Sorry,” a crashing, symphonically infused power ballad about teenage indiscretions that, in keeping with the weight of adolescent emotions, impacts like a sky full of meteors careening toward the same destination. Beabadoobee’s star, on the other hand, is on the rise. It will be interesting to see how high she can soar and whether others will follow in her wake.
We have a new #1 song! After months of steady growth, with a boost from the recent BTS remix, Jawsh 685 and Jason Derulo’s “Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat)” has risen to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. “Savage Love” is the first #1 for Jawsh 685 (pictured), a 17-year-old New Zealand producer with Samoan roots who has yet to graduate from high school. It’s the second for Derulo, whose Imogen Heap-sampling “Whatcha Say” topped the chart back in 2009, and for BTS, who debuted at #1 with “Dynamite” just a few weeks ago.
“Dynamite” remains at #2 this week, which means BTS are on both of the two biggest songs in America. After Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” at #3, 24kGoldn and Iann Dior’s “Mood” climbs to a new #4 peak, bumping Drake and Lil Durk’s “Laugh Now, Cry Later” to #5. The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” is at #6; per Billboard, this is the song’s 34th week in the top 10, giving it sole position of second place all time behind Post Malone’s 39-week run with “Circles.” DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s “Rockstar” is at #7, followed by Gabby Barrett and Charlie Puth’s “I Hope” at a new #8 peak. Then comes the debut of two tracks from 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’s Savage Mode II, “Runnin'” at #9 and “Mr. Right Now” at #10. (You’ll note that last week’s #1, the Travis Scott x Young Thug x M.I.A. team-up “Franchise,” is no longer in the top 10.)
Savage Mode II debuts at #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart this week with 171,000 equivalent album units and 22,000 in sales. Billboard notes that it’s the second #1 album for both artists, following 21 Savage’s I Am > I Was last year and Metro Boomin’s Not All Heroes Wear Capes in 2018. The top album this week in terms of actual sales is BLACKPINK’s full-length debut THE ALBUM, but it enters the Billboard 200 at #2 due to huge streaming numbers for Savage Mode II. THE ALBUM put up 110,000 units and 81,000 in sales, far surpassing last year’s #24-peaking KILL THIS LOVE EP to become BLACKPINK’s highest charting release.
After Pop Smoke at #3 comes a #4 debut for YG’s My Life 4Hunnid, which tallied 64,000 units and 47,000 in sales. Bryson Tiller’s Anniversary enters at #5 with 57,000 units and just 4,000 in sales, followed by last week’s chart-topper Machine Gun Kelly at #6. Pop trio LANY score a career-best #7 debut with Mama’s Boy via 55,000 units and 46,000 in sales. Rounding out the top 10 are Juice WRLD, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, and Lil Baby.
Bebe Rexha – “Baby, I’m Jealous” (Feat. Doja Cat)
This is somehow too much and not enough all at once, though I may be letting the over-the-top video cloud my judgment here.
Victoria Monet – “Touch Me (Remix)” (Feat. Kehlani)
Layers of mythology and personal history between these two are playing out here, but you don’t need to know about any of that to appreciate an R&B slow jam this smooth and woozy.
Sleepwalkrs – “More Than Words” (Feat. MNEK)
British mainstay MNEK has written and sung on so many incredible dance-pop tracks in recent years, and it’s cool to see one of them popping off in America like his recent hit “Head & Heart” with Joel Corry. This brisk house track maintains his usual standard of quality.
Little Mix – “Not A Pop Song”
Ah yes, the classic pop song that knows it’s a pop song, except it’s a pop song about not being a pop song, or more precisely “not another pop song about fallin’ in love,” got it? OK, so maybe the fourth-wall-breaking is better experienced than explained.
Celeste – “Hear My Voice”
Somewhere along the line this goes from a symphonic retro soul ballad a la “At Last” into a piano house banger. I’m into it.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Taylor Swift made Joe Biden cookies and told V why she’s voting for him. [Twitter]
- Rihanna apologized for including an Islamic sacred text in her Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2. [NY Post]
- Ty Dolla $ign’s album drops 10/23 according to this tweet if you read it backwards. [Twitter]
- Megan Thee Stallion launched a scholarship for women of color. [Twitter]
- Mariah Carey shared a photo that fans think is a tease of an “All I Want For Christmas Is You” remix with Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson. [Twitter]
- Miley Cyrus did “Midnight Sky” on Graham Norton. [YouTube]
- Sia told Vogue Australia how she came to adopt two 18-year-olds who were in the foster care system: “I am obsessed with reality television and documentaries, and I watched a documentary and saw my son.” [Vogue]
- Kelly Clarkson covered Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now.” [YouTube]
- Meghan Trainor is having a baby. [Instagram]
- Cardi B apologized for promoting a virtual fundraiser for Armenia. [Billboard]
- Billie Eilish will broadcast WHERE DO WE GO? THE LIVESTREAM on her website 10/24. [Instagram]
- A video has been made for the late Pop Smoke’s hit “Mood Swings” with Lil Tjay. [YouTube]
- Shawn Mendes may have a collaboration with Justin Bieber on his new album. [Twitter]
- BENEE did “Supalonely” on Seth Meyers. [YouTube]
- Future appears on a remix of Travis Scott’s “FRANCHISE.” [HNHH]
- Dua Lipa broke down “Levitating” on Song Exploder. [Song Exploder]
- Conan Gray did “Heather” on James Corden. [YouTube]
- Quavo revealed the DM he first sent Saweetie that led to their relationship. [Complex]