Beabadoobee's Fake It Flowers: a near-flawless record of Y2K nostalgia

On her debut album, Beabadoobee proves her talent with complex songwriting that goes deeper than a new millennium aesthetic.

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You would be forgiven for thinking Beabadoobee was a professional Instagrammer. There may be posts promoting her album dotted around her 800,000-follower page – but there are just as many teen-bedroom selfies. Her aesthetic is skillfully, enviably consistent: Y2K, Tumblr-perfect, slightly disheveled, string chokers, Tammy Girl. For anyone over the age of 25, this has the effect of seeming so tasteless it must be effortless, yet is also very deliberately put together.

Beabadoobee, born Bea Kristi in the year 2000, is too young to remember the early turn of the century, but this new millennium mood defines her artistic sensibility. In one of her Instagram posts, she manages to look good in a ruffled mini-skirt worn over bootcut jeans, like she's attending a 2002 school disco. Similarly, the sound of her new album Fake It Flowers is rooted somewhere between 1997 and 2004, yet it feels fresh and energising.

Beabadoobee was born in Iloilo City in the Philippines and moved to London aged three. She got her first guitar three years ago, when she was 17; Fake It Flowers is her debut full-length album, following two seven-track EPs. The first song she wrote, “Coffee Song”, propelled her to fame when she self-published it on YouTube, and by 2019, she was supporting her Dirty Hit labelmates the 1975 on their tour, before it was put on hold by the pandemic. The clincher for her musical taste growing up was the soundtrack to the 2007 film Juno – which, tapping into the emerging hipster appetite for retro authenticity, and featuring Kimya Dawson, Moldy Peaches and Belle & Sebastian, is as self-consciously vintage as it comes.

On Beabadoobee's opening track “Care”, we hear more of one of her cited influences, Karen O, than we did on her previous albums, which were quieter and more reflective. With nothing in the way of an introduction, Beabadoobee enters with bold vocals over guitar. The mood is sunny and laid-back, but there’s a punch to her confident delivery and a feeling of excitement, like something’s about to happen. Underneath the music video on YouTube – created by her boyfriend, Soren Harrison –users seems to be commenting the same thing: it sounds like the opening of a 1990s coming-of-age movie. What comes to mind is 10 Things I Hate About You and the band Letters to Cleo, with a chorus in thirds, shoegazey distorted guitar and a story about to unfold.

[see also: Imogen Heap: “I’m so frustrated with the music industry”]

Nostalgic melodies and textures pervade the album, compounded by adolescent themes of rebellion and romance. “Don’t think we can be friends/‘Cause you’re too pretty” she sings in “Worth It”, with her vocal high in the mix like she’s whispering secrets at a sleepover. On “Dye It Red”, there’s an air of recklessness: “Let me cut my hair/And dye it red if I want to.” A couple of years ago, she did – before re-dying it various shades of turquoise, auburn and blonde.

Foreshadowed by the prophetic feel of the opening few tracks, Beabadoobee becomes more melancholy midway through the album, on the Wolf Alice-esque ballad “Further Away”. She returned to her teen bedroom – as she always does – to write the album, and there is a strong sense of looking out from the inside; of suburbia and of wistful window-gazing. 

It’s difficult to imagine what her youthful ennui will sound like in five years. Surely she can’t stare forever out the window of her room in her parents’ house, depicted all over her Instagram page with unmade bed, overflowing wardrobe and Blu-tacked posters. But Beabadoobee’s ideas are already complex and developed: she has places to go. “Horen Sarrison” (a spoonerism of her boyfriend’s name) is a masterful, big-hearted love song that reaches beyond aesthetic. “You are the smell of pavement after the rain/You are the last empty seat on the train,” she sings. The next song, “How Was Your Day?”, is fuzzy and warm like Kimya Dawson or Cat Power, mostly hanging over one quiet suspended chord as her soft, childlike voice croons on top of it. (The track was recorded on cassette tape in her boyfriend's garden, when her studio was closed early in the pandemic.) It shows her range after the complex mid-album track “Sorry”, which uses jarring chromatic harmony (not unlike Mitski) to create tension, pushing musical limits and expanding on the cumulative weight of both the album so far and her older influences.

Beabadoobee is not coming in cold. The sound world she inhabits has already been revived by the likes of Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail; the Y2K obsession is prevalent among much of her generation. American rapper Powfu used a sample of her debut “Coffee Song” as the basis for his track “death bed”, which has more than 200 million views on YouTube and became a TikTok sensation. Beabadoobee makes perfect sense as someone bridging the gap between a modern life that is extremely online (with verified accounts littering her Instagram comments and an offshoot account dedicated to photographs of red pandas), and the fantasy of one involving dial-up and Avril Lavigne. Online she is “normal” yet magnetic: a bona fide new-age star. And yet on Fake It Flowers, she is more than new age. Here, she is an old-fashioned formidable talent, presenting a near-flawless record that perfectly captures both past and future.

Emily Bootle is the New Statesman’s editorial assistant.

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