On the face of it, Beatrice Laus’s success looks like the plot of a far-fetched movie, the kind of thing knocked together by Netflix in the hope of snaring an audience of tweenage girls at sleepovers.
Seventeen-year-old misfit learns to play secondhand guitar after being expelled from school; writes first song, posts it online “because I wanted my friends to hear it”, then watches astonished as it becomes a viral sensation (49m plays on Spotify and counting). This leads to a record deal and ends up forming the basis of a Canadian hip-hop single that turns into a huge global hit: Powfu’s Death Bed (Coffee For Your Head), which racked up 10 billion plays on TikTok in the space of three months. She becomes the subject of online tutorials devoted to copying her makeup and look, tours America, plays arenas supporting the 1975, learns valuable life lessons (“It’s made me realise a lot of things, I’m a much more responsible child now, a nice kid”), radically overhauls her sound, attracts critical acclaim and finds herself being hailed on both sides of the Atlantic as the voice of Generation Z. Slow fade and end credits, perhaps over a track from her eagerly anticipated debut album Fake It Flowers, an impressively fresh take on the kind of US alt-rock you heard a lot of in the early 90s: the Breeders, Belly, Juliana Hatfield, Veruca Salt.
This is what has happened to Laus, now 20, over the space of the last three years: a trajectory of success that has led to some improbable moments, not least performing her homage to Pavement, I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus, in front of an audience that contained one Stephen Malkmus: “He was so cool, it was a sick experience.” But, as she points out, unexpected success comes with certain drawbacks. “Beabadoobee!” she laughs. “It literally came from my finsta account, because I didn’t think this was going to be a thing. My friend Oscar said I needed an artist name when I posted a song online and I said: ‘I’m not an artist, I’m going to be a nursery teacher, my boyfriend’s going to listen to this song.’ When everything started popping off, I was like: is it too late to change my name? I mean, I’ve literally written out lists of all the names I could have had. I get jealous of bands like Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth: such cool names, look great on a T-shirt.” She laughs: “And I’m fucking Beabadoobee.”
Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr: these are very Beabadoobee-ish reference points. She says she really didn’t intend for Coffee to chime with the vogue for bedroom pop, the muted, melancholy “sad girl” sub-genre occasionally disparaged as “Spotifycore” for its predominance on the streaming platform: she was just working with the equipment she had to hand, motivated by Daniel Johnston and the Moldy Peaches. It wasn’t until last year’s Space Cadet EP that she found the sound she really wanted, influenced by Smashing Pumpkins, Pixies and Pavement: what she calls “raw, inspiring” music “from a time I didn’t exist in”.
It is a sound that suited her character better: at least one thing that seems to draw her to early 90s alt-rock is its preponderance of tough, expectation-defying female role models, from Courtney Love to Bikini Kill to Kim Deal. “People were expecting me to be super-cute and quiet or whatever, and then they realised I had a big, fat mouth and went to an all-girls school that kicked me out,” she says. “And I’ve been through shit, so much shit in my life, I’m not going to shut up about it. I just want to be that girl I needed when I was 15 for someone, you know?”
She says her experience of school was “intense”, even before she was expelled “for a combination of bad grades and behaviour”. Her parents moved from the Philippines to London because they thought she would get a better education, but she suffered a breakdown aged 11, followed by the “isolating” experience of being one of only a handful of Filipino girls at her Hammersmith secondary school.
Things got more intense still when she found a group of friends. “It was honestly the saddest I ever was, but it was also the most fun I ever had,” she says. “There’s a lot of things that happen in all-girls schools, loads of trends and they’re really fucked-up at times. There are some girls that glorified pain, glorified being sad. It was that, or drugs or whatever: my group were known for that sort of shit. I took a lot of drugs. One summer, there was not one day when I was sober and I was so young: 15 or 16. It was crazy, we just egged each other on. I think we just wanted to escape something, or fill a hole. I felt empty inside; I didn’t feel happy or sad, I just wanted to feel something.”
It all ended up feeding into her lyrics, which deal starkly with everything from mental illness to infidelity, albeit always with hope attached: a refusal, she says, to indulge in “the glorification of sadness you see [online]: ‘I’m so depressed, everything’s shit.’ You’ve got to have hopefulness, man.”
Sitting in the otherwise deserted offices of her record company, she is resplendent in a multicoloured crocheted top, hair slides and plastic jewellery, and a pair of those extended Converse boots that stretch up to the knees. You can see why there are sections of the internet devoted to teenage girls copying her style, although she professes bafflement at why anyone would. “I got cancelled off my own TikTok because I said something like: ‘I don’t know why anyone would do their makeup like mine’ – because they looked 10 times better than me – and people took it the wrong way and thought I was up my own arse or whatever.”
She shakes her head: “I don’t really get TikTok. I mean I think it’s cool, but it has, like, a required sense of humour. I watch TikToks five times and I just don’t get it, I don’t get the joke.”
In fact, for an artist whose career has been significantly boosted by social media, Laus seems equivocal about it, not least the pressure it exerts on female artists to be, as she puts it, a “clean, pristine bitch”; bad news for someone who tends to both write songs and talk “without a filter”. She laughingly compares the disapproval she engendered merely by mentioning on stage that she was suffering from period-related stomach cramps – “Girls online saying it was gross” – to the 1992 incident where Donita Sparks of L7 removed her tampon and threw it into a Reading festival audience: “Society tells girls to act a certain way and I think some people [online] have fallen into that trap … I don’t know, at times I feel like people have gone backwards a bit. I’m obviously so tame compared to [L7] but it’s like, as soon as I act, like I’m, you know, loud in my mouth, people get angry.”
It used to bother her, but she claims she “stopped giving a fuck” during lockdown, which she spent with her boyfriend, planning the artwork for her debut album, “being comfortable with myself, knowing I have an amazing group of people around me and I don’t feel like I need to make any new friends. I’m very content at the moment.”
And why shouldn’t she be? Things are going far better than she ever thought they would. Actually, that’s the good thing about calling herself Beabadoobee, she says. “It reminds me where all this came from. I got kicked out of school, I had no idea what to do with my life. My dad was so worried about me, my boyfriend was worried about me. It reminds me that it came from that, you know? I’m still the girl that kind of doesn’t know what the fuck she’s doing. But … I’m just riding the wave.”
• Fake It Flowers is released on 16 October on Dirty Hit
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