Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: beabadoobee Beatopia

Dirty Hit
Dirty Hit

Bea Kristi is not a pop star. People seem to be confused about that. The young London-based singer-songwriter who (unfortunately) decided to call herself beabadoobee has had a weird, vertiginous come-up — signed at 18, a year after getting kicked out of Catholic school, when the first song that she ever wrote went viral on TikTok — but everyone who gets famous in this strange era has a weird, vertiginous come-up. Every article about beabadoobee has to mention the circumstances of her quasi-fame. Kristi was born a few months after the ’90s ended, and yet she has become a kind of spokesperson for a certain ’90s fuzz-pop sound, bringing it to other people who were not alive during the ’90s. That’s weird, and it’s worth parsing, but it doesn’t make beabadoobee a pop star — or, for that matter, an industry plant. It just makes her interesting.

Right now, beabadoobee is popular enough to sell out clubs, famous enough that her Spotify monthly-listener count just edged into its eighth digit. She’s famous enough to be pop-star adjacent — touring with Halsey and Bleachers, working with the 1975, popping up in Taylor Swift’s Instagram story. She’s charted on the Billboard Hot 100 just once, almost by accident, thanks to the Canadian rapper who sampled her viral hit on his own viral hit. There’s definitely a team of professionals working to make beabadoobee as famous as possible. That can be a little jarring to fans of the bleary, lo-fi music that beabadobee’s own music aims to evoke. (When you release a single called “I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus,” you almost invite that suspicion.) But here’s the thing: She’s good. She writes good songs. She records them well. At some point, that should be enough to overwhelm suspicion.

When she released her debut album Fake It Flowers two years ago, beabadoobee was already almost famous, thanks to the series of soft-fuzz EPs that she’d released in the run-up. That album got its title because beabadoobee realized that she was trying to become Ramona Flowers, the cartoon dreamgirl from Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. If the world treated Bea Kristi a bit like a cartoon character, maybe she treated herself a bit that way, too. But that kind of image-projection can only get you so far. There are great songs on Fake It Flowers and on the various EPs that beabadoobee released before and after that LP. But those records sometimes had a bit of a rough-draft quality, as if the songs were written to match the persona instead of vice versa. In that sense, beabadoobee’s sophomore LP Beatopia represents a leap forward. The new record expands on the sounds and ideas of beabadoobee’s earlier music without quite ditching those old sounds or that old persona. It’s a woozy, pretty, accessible record, but there’s nothing cartoony about it.

In interviews, beabadoobee has talked about naming Beatopia after the dream-space world that she invented for herself when she was seven years old. This was four years after her family had emigrated from the Philippines to London, and she’d drawn up a huge map of this comforting fake world, which her teacher then posted on the wall so that her whole class could laugh at her. (British teachers can be assholes.) The music on Beatopia is its own kind of world — a warm sonic bath full of blurry guitars and muffled drum machines and sleepily murmured hooks. But there are sharp edges in that pleasant murk, and they don’t always show up when you’re expecting them.

There’s plenty of lyrical escapism on Beatopia, but there’s some cold-blooded realism on the album, too. It’s there in the depiction of romantic relationships: “I know you thought it was just us/ I didn’t think you’d fall in love/ You’re just a warm body to hold at night when I’m feeling all alone.” It’s there in the depiction of friendships, too: “Don’t know why I feel this way/ Treating all my friends the same/ Haven’t had enough to do, but I’m not ignoring you.” Those lines, it seems to me, are about not being the person that you imagine yourself to be. They’re about fucking up and communicating badly and letting people down. At one point, beabadoobee assures someone that her issues are not this other person’s problems: “When I’ve been a mess, it’s not your fault.” At another, she asks why someone else has to be so complicated, echoing an Avril Lavigne hit that came out when she was one year old. She might as well ask herself the same question.

Musically, Beatopia is as soft and comforting as anything that beabadoobee has yet done. But the new album is also a bit more ambitious, a bit less predictable. She’s talked about how she felt too hemmed in by her own established aesthetic when she made Fake It Flowers, how she already felt like she was past that stage when the pandemic-delayed album finally came out. On Beatopia, she nudges things in different directions. With its rickety drum-loop beat and its synthy power-pop hooks, the single “10:36” gives me Rentals flashbacks. Other points toy with pastoral psych-folk arrangements or lilting bossa nova rhythms. The textures are subtle but impeccable.

Some of the new collaborators definitely help out. beabadoobee wrote most of the album with her guitarist and longtime collaborator Jacob Bugden, but plenty of her British indie music peers show up to help. Black Country, New Road’s Georgia Ellery adds swirling violins that add whole new layers to the sound. PinkPantheress, another young star with an aesthetic that looks forward and backward simultaneously, sings lush and intricate harmonies with beabadoobee on the lovely deep cut “Tinkerbell Is Overrated.” The Beatopia credits include people like the 1975’s Matty Healy and George Daniel, Bombay Bicycle Club’s Jack Steadman, and Cavetown’s Robin Skinner — big-deal British rockers from the micro-generation that arrived just before beabadoobee. But none of these collaborators ever overwhelm the record. They never stop it from sounding like the inside of one person’s head.

In interviews, beabadoobee has said that she really wants to get into soundtracking films, and Beatopia reflects that. Many of these sounds could play during montages. Plenty of these songs sound like montages themselves. These tracks aren’t built to dominate your attention; they’re built to thrum softly in the background, to help form connections and to create a sense of soft-focus grace. If anything, Beatopia plays as an affirmation that beabadoobee isn’t going to become a pop star anytime soon. The songs here are too internal for that, too warm and mellow and spacey. Instead, Beatopia sounds like a promise. It sounds like the work of someone who will stick around, who will keep pushing and exploring. beabadoobee’s backstory won her a lot of press, but it might not be as interesting as her future.

Beatopia is out 7/15 on Dirty Hit.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Black Midi’s Hellfire, about which we’ll soon have more to say
• Goon’s Hour Of Green Evening
• Steve Lacy’s Gemini Rights
• Interpol’s The Other Side Of Make-Believe
• Lizzo’s Special
• Superorganism’s World Wide Pop
• Belief’s self-titled LP
• …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead’s XI: Bleed Here Now
• Lil Silva’s Yesterday Is Heavy
• Irreal’s Era Electrónica
• Elf Power’s Artificial Countrysides
• Daniel Lanois’ Player, Piano
• Orbital’s 30 Something
• Nightlands’ Moonshine
• Richard Reed Parry & Susie Ibarra’s Heart And Breath: Rhythm And Tone Fields
• Arp’s New Pleasure
• Kode9’s Escapology
• The A’s’ Fruit
• Lawn’s Bigger Sprout
• Launder’s Happening
• J-Hope’s Jack In The Box
• Zach Bryan’s Summertime Blues
• Lloyd Banks’ The Course Of The Inevitable 2
• Ne-Yo’s Self Explanatory
• Noah Cyrus’ The Hardest Part
• The Armed’s ULTRAPOP: Live At The Masonic Temple
• The Earl’s Closet: The Lost Archive Of Earl McGrath, 1970​-​1980 compilation
• The Secret Machines’ Day 21 EP
• DJ Premier’s Hip Hop 50: Vol 1 EP
• Gordi’s Inhuman EP
• Bing & Ruth’s Species (Solo Piano) EP
• Tombs’ Ex Oblivion EP

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