Beaming in from London over Zoom, Filipino-born Beabadoobee tries to define the untranslatable Tagalog word: kilig. The 20-year-old, who is wearing a black tee emblazoned with “Team McDreamy,” ultimately settles on: “It’s that feeling of falling in love for the first time.”
Following her debut album Fake It Flowers, the indie-pop singer (born Beatrice Laus) is an expert in bottling up that feeling and releasing it into her songs. Her latest project is no exception. On March 24, Beabadoobee dropped her single “Last Day On Earth,” which was co-written by The 1975’s Matty Healy and George Daniel.
To accompany the track’s release, the visual (directed by Arnaud Bresson of Division Paris) is a dreamy portrayal of pre-COVID life — full of touching, parties, and “getting f–ked up,” she tells Billboard. The single and music video are teasers for her upcoming EP Our Extended Play, which is set to release this spring.
Meanwhile, Beabadoobee does even more important work; mobilized by the current wave of activism within the Asian community resulting from the rise in racial hate crimes and violence, she has taken to Instagram to share learning resources on these issues. In between posts about new music, Laus speaks out against the racism and discrimination that Asian immigrants face.
Below, the singer fills us in on songwriting during lockdown, the toxicity of Asian stereotypes, and how her immigrant experience informs her art.
You wrote “Last Day On Earth” with The 1975’s Matty Healy and George Daniel. What inspired the song, and what was that process like?
Matty [Healy] and I wrote it during corona. It was an over-exaggeration of what we would’ve done, had we known that the world was gonna end up like this. It almost feels like the world is ending in a way. We were inspired by the feeling of alienation and what we would’ve done if knew lockdown was coming.
[Creating the song] was really fun! Matty and me were friends — along with George — so it was a comfortable atmosphere from the get-go. It was super chill. I’d never collaborated with anyone, so it was nice having a calm and happy atmosphere to share ideas, listen to advice, and essentially grow as an artist.
What can we expect from your upcoming EP, Our Extended Play?
This EP is a bridge between my debut album Fake It Flowers and what’s coming next. It’s about this period of growth. When I write my EPs, I always make them about how I’m feeling right now. Fake It Flowers was almost like me narrating my whole entire life. In this next EP, it’s what I’m feeling in the moment and everything I’ve been going through during lockdown — like feelings about the world ending to relationship stuff, to the idea of growing up too fast. I had so much time after my album to appreciate everything that’s happened in my life. I got to really live in my album, which is rare for artists.
Let’s talk about the accompanying visual. What inspired the concept behind the music video?
I worked with this amazing director Arnaud Bresson of Division Paris. We wanted to reiterate the meaning of togetherness and unity. It was essentially a party scene with of all us getting f–ked up — though it was shown in an artful way. We had a few meetings beforehand to explain the vision of what I wanted for the song. I made sure that we didn’t cast real actors. I wanted real kids.
How do you gather the courage to stand up for what you want when operating an industry that’s predominantly white?
It almost inspires me knowing that there’s not a lot of us out there. If I’m the person that gets all of us noticed, then let me be that person, you know? What makes me happiest is getting messages from girls who are like me. They say stuff like, “I’m Filipino. I moved to London, and I’ve always wanted to play.” That inspires me to keep creating.
What do your parents think of your music? Do they get the vibe?
My parents are the chillest parents ever. They let me smoke weed in my room. They’re the coolest. My mum was the one who introduced me to all this amazing music, like The Cranberries. They’ve always been so understanding. When I started doing music, it was quite complicated because they wanted me to go to university, but now they see that I’m earning while doing what I love. They respect that.
You’ve also said you’re inspired by OPM (Original Pinoy Music). Can you call out any specific Filipino artists who’ve influenced you?
I love The Itchyworms, Eraserheads, and Apo Hiking Society — they’re a classic. They do classic songwriting and follow every rule in the book. They have amazing, amazing songs. My mum always used to play them a lot growing up.
Can you understand Tagalog?
Yeah, I can understand Tagalog fluently, but I don’t speak it well. My parents only speak to me in Tagalog and we grew up watching soap operas on the Filipino channel. There are so many good words that don’t translate in English, and they’ll slip out sometimes when I talk to my boyfriend. And he’ll be like, “What the f–k are you talking about?” [laughs].
Yeah, I know what you mean! I love the word kilig, which almost translates to getting butterflies in your stomach.
Oh my god, yeah! It’s like falling in love for the first time.
I lived in London for nearly two years, and I would commonly hear that the U.K. is more classist than racist. Do you have any thoughts on that?
It’s like raising another issue to ignore one issue. We’re talking about race here, so I’m like, “Cool story, bro,” when I hear that argument. The fact that racism still exists is worrying. It’s something that has to be delved into deeper. People are afraid to talk about it here.
What was your reaction when you first heard about the rise in Asian American hate crime?
I’m very much on social media, so I see all the posts about it. I’m very aware of what’s happening in America. In 2020, there was a big rise in Asian hate crimes in London as well. It’s horrible that it’s happening all over the world. It started to make me feel scared of going out. I am a woman and I am also Asian. I could go out and get assaulted and also get beaten up because of my race. That’s a terrifying thought, but it’s the reality we’re living in right now. People need to be educated in what’s going on and on how to support the Asian community.
A lot of Asian Americans are worried about their family members going out alone for fear of being attacked. Do you share the same sentiment?
Thankfully, my parents are working from home because of COVID-19. My mum used to work in a ward as a nurse, and she used to tell me stories. Patients have shouted racist slurs at a lot of Filipino and Asian NHS [National Health Service, the U.K.’s publicly funded healthcare system] workers. These workers are the ones helping the patients, yet lots of racist things are said to them at the hospitals. It is scary knowing that both my parents are also in that environment.
Have there been times when you’ve experienced this type of treatment?
I’ve experienced it throughout my entire life as an Asian woman. When people put two and two together, a guy can be overtly sexual to me, but also include my race at the same time. It makes me crazy. Why do you say you wanna f–k me but also say you want to f–k me because of my race? It’s so gross. I’ve heard it even when I was underage. It’s so creepy to think about girls who are going through that. With everything that’s happening right now, it’s overwhelming and it’s so sad this had to happen for people to realize this.
Why do you think stereotypes against Asian women are so damaging?
We internalize the stereotypes to the point it becomes normal. You start thinking to yourself, “How do I impress a boy? With my race?” It’s become so normal in conversation. I’ve heard boys say it. I see people saying it online. The normality of it all makes me uncomfortable. It’s always existed in media. Every Asian woman on TV is overly sexualized.
In a lot of interviews, you’ve mentioned that you felt like the only Asian girl while growing up. Did you ever feel like you had to assimilate and be just like everyone else?
Yeah! And that’s where the internalized racism comes in. I hated the fact that I was Asian. It makes me cringe every time I say that. Why did I ever think that? I used to wear foundation to cover my skin. There are literally whitening products in the Philippines. It’s so f–ked up. It helped that I managed to find a group of girls at school who made me love who I was. I started finding my music, my own fashion sense, and then stopped giving a f–k about trying to fit in with all the other girls.
What was school like?
It was alienating, and I heard a lot of backhanded compliments. Like one time, there was this boy everyone liked. At first, he liked this white girl, but then stopped liking this white girl and started liking me. I then remember everyone saying that I look like the Asian version of that girl. That has stuck with me to this day. I was obsessed with the idea that if I looked like the Asian version of that girl, that meant that I was pretty. Now, I’m like, “Why was I happy because I looked like a white girl?” No, I need to be happy because I look like me and not like anyone else. I’m not the Asian version of someone.
When did you become proud of being Filipino?
When I started doing music. If at least one Asian girl picks up a guitar after seeing me, that means I’ve done my job.
Do you think growing up in an immigrant family has influenced your art?
One hundred percent. My parents left everything in the Philippines. They had great jobs there, but they started from scratch when they came to London. I owe them everything. I have to be everything. Even sonically, constantly listening to OPM found its way to my music.
I’m sure your parents are so proud!
They definitely are. They’re always sharing on Facebook. Every time I post on Instagram, they share the whole screenshot on their page.
After a year of protests and activism, what changes do you hope to see?
With all these problems surrounding us, I hope that the passion will still be this intense. I hope that we continue wanting to educate people. Since everyone was stuck at home on social media, everyone managed to educate themselves on these issues and share them on their platforms. I hope that that continues. Even the simplicity of posting it on your story can be meaningful.