Beabadoobee On Soundtracking The Pains of Young Adulthood

With the rise of TikTok, it has never been easier to score an inadvertent viral smash. That’s exactly what happened to 20-year-old beabadoobee, who followed her first Billboard Hot 100 hit with a debut album that sounded nothing like it.

In 2017, Bea Laus got kicked out of her all-girls Catholic school in London over a combination of “grades and behavior,” she says. “They knew I smoked in the toilets a lot, and I guess that was bad.”

She had attended the school since she was 12 and often felt alienated during her time there: “I didn’t have the same hobbies as all the other Asian kids,” she recalls, “and I was ‘too Asian’ to be in the popular group.” The now-20-year-old was born in the Philippines and moved to the United Kingdom with her parents when she was a toddler. While her father always focused on her academics, her mother advocated for music education, encouraging Laus to play the violin starting at age 5 and introducing her to Alanis Morissette and Nirvana, which jump-started a love for 1990s alt-rock.

Getting expelled from school left Laus, then 17, feeling lost. She turned to writing as a therapeutic release and took comfort in the music of Alex G, Elliott Smith and The Moldy Peaches. Her dad bought her a secondhand classical guitar, which she learned how to play by watching YouTube tutorials. The first original track she wrote for guitar was the gentle acoustic love song “Coffee” that she uploaded to streaming services in 2017 and became her breakout single under the name beabadoobee. (The moniker came from the made-up account name for her Finsta, a secondary Instagram account, because at the time she thought, “No one’s going to care.”)

Soon after, fans began leaving positive feedback about the song on Laus’ public Instagram, which encouraged her to make more music. Three years later, her feelings of isolation are delivered as rock-leaning bedroom pop songs on her debut album, Fake It Flowers, a companion piece to the pains of young adulthood. And she’s striking a nerve with a predominantly young female fan base that gravitates toward her as a kindred spirit.

In 2018, two months after releasing a quiet guitar EP called Lice that focused on loneliness, depression and teenage angst across four songs in under nine minutes, she shared the tenderhearted “Susie May.” The one-off grabbed the attention of Jamie Oborne, founder of independent label Dirty Hit, home of The 1975, The Japanese House and Rina Sawayama, among others. “I just thought it was extraordinary,” recalls Oborne. “It was like a mashup of Brian Wilson and Elliott Smith.” He emailed Laus, and after a couple of meetings — which also included head of A&R Chris Fraser and Chris Melian, a manager at the label — Laus signed a recording contract.

While Laus explored bolder, more electrified production on her following three EPs (best heard on “I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus” off 2019’s Space Cadet), “Coffee” continued to bring her the most attention, long after its release. Last year, Canadian rapper Powfu sampled it for his song “death bed (coffee for your head),” turning Laus’ refrain into a hypnotic singsong. The track exploded on TikTok after it was released on Powfu’s label, Columbia, and eventually reached No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Nicole Nodland
Beabadoobee photographed on October 19, 2020 in London.

“A lot of people put down her success to that collaboration, but in a sense, because of all the work she’d done building these audiences, she was almost predestined to have success,” says Chaz Jenkins, chief commercial officer of the music data analytics platform Chartmetric, which shows that over 50% of Laus’ 800,000-plus Instagram followers are females under 24. “She intuitively understands her target demographic because she is her target demographic.”

Even before she landed her first Hot 100 hit, Laus had toured with Clairo in the United States and conquered U.K. arenas opening for labelmates The 1975 earlier this year before the coronavirus cut the trek short. She has spent the pandemic at home in London, frequently posting on Instagram and releasing a handful of singles and videos leading up to the release of her ’90s grunge-pop-influenced debut full-length that arrived Oct. 16 and entered at No. 2 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart.

Laus wrote the songs — some of which recollect painful, isolating memories while others look to her hopeful future — in her bedroom before bringing them to the studio with producers Joseph Rodgers and Pete Robertson, her collaborators since 2019’s Loveworm. There, they helped refine a range of electric and acoustic guitars that lean heavily on the rock riffs Laus idolized as a kid.

Nicole Nodland
Beabadoobee photographed on October 19, 2020 in London.

She says Fake It Flowers is one of her most honest pieces of writing because it captures her at such a pivotal point not just in her career, but in her life. “I’m still growing and figuring things out and still make loads of mistakes, and I’m still really stupid, but it’s all part of learning,” she says.

Laus still has plenty of dreams to fulfill — including settling down, having children and becoming a nursery school teacher. Until then, she wants “to inspire, or hope to inspire, people just like me. Or girls that used to be like me when I was 15.”

No Way To ‘Fake It’

Dirty Hit founder Jamie Oborne on the secrets to managing young talent.

Alex Davison
Jamie Oborne

Why did you start Dirty Hit?

Dirty Hit was a reaction to two things: One was my perceived loss of control when [my clients] signed to a major label, and the other was I wanted something that superserved the artist across all of their needs, whether they be creative or commercial or even deal structures. We only have 50/50 profit splits with our artists. It’s all about artist facilitation. And I believe that stands, whether you’re a label, publisher, manager, agent, promoter, publicist or plugger. You can probably tell I get quite passionate about it because too often that is not the case.

What are the challenges of working with artists just starting out?

I feel like young adults are under an awful lot of pressure right now, growing up with social media and in the modern age. I’ve spoken to a few of my artists as we get closer to albums, and a parallel between a lot of them has been that they’ve released work and feel like it’s an invitation to be judged — and that’s an uncomfortable place to inhabit. From day one, our mantra is, “If we’re proud of it, we’ve already won. It doesn’t matter what other people think.” I try and instill that into our artists.

Do you have any tips to offer those who manage younger artists?

Trust your instincts. A lot of people will tell you you can’t do stuff because they want you to commit to working with them, but you can do as much as you believe your artist can do. There’s a lot of scare-mongering in music, but you’re as strong as your creative expression. And yes, I know I’m a terrible idealist.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2020, issue of Billboard.

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