Like a lot of Instagram users her age, 20-year-old Bea Kristi has at least one alt account. Her main, for the confessional guitar music she releases as Beabadoobee (styled lowercase, of course), remains a trove of promo pics, song teases, and bedroom selfies. That frees up her alt to devote prime grid real estate to extremely cute red pandas.
As with plenty of other ideas rooted in comfort and good vibes, Bea’s @redpandadoobee emerged from being stoned and scrolling on her phone. “I’m on the tour bus, and I think I just had the munchies. I was just munching on some food and I just come across this video of this red panda,” she tells MTV News. “So my guitar tech walks in, like, ‘You look like you're crying,’ and I'm like, yeah, no, these are the cutest things I've seen in my life. He leaves for about two hours and he comes back and he's like, ‘You've been in the same spot for two hours, doing the exact same thing.’ I just, for two hours, was staring at red panda videos and pictures, crying. It was an amazing experience in America, on the tour bus, eating some Chips Ahoy!”
One post finds the British singer-songwriter — who’s risen from lo-fi acoustic pop to the rock-star grandeur of her debut, Fake It Flowers in just three years — on a bed with her boyfriend and three photoshopped red pandas acting as their hypothetical children. The caption names them: Yoshimi, Forest, Magdalene — also the title of her LP’s exhilarating final track that finds her manically in love and planning their future together. By the end of the song, Bea’s glee devolves into pure delirium, yelling the three names over a geyser of watery guitar noise. It’s a far cry from “Coffee,” the strummy, whistling jaunt that kicked off her career in 2017 and brought her further global recognition this year thanks to a sample on a Powfu cut that went supersonic on TikTok.
Yet “Yoshimi Forest Magdalene” is a fitting finale for Fake It Flowers (out today), which finds Bea projecting moments from her own life onto a much wider screen and glossing her sound with arena-ready bombast. "It was the band and I in a room together, two drum kits, and just going crazy,” she said. “And I remember doing the vocal and just running around and screaming. Very fun.”
Much has been made about Bea’s sound evolution in such a short time, especially regarding the heavily ’90s alternative and Britpop echoes on standouts like “Worth It” and “Sorry.” That aesthetic, similar to what labelmates and pals The 1975 explored on Notes on a Conditional Form, electrifies the twelve songs on Fake It Flowers, giving Bea a bedrock from which to share her occasionally funny, often offbeat truths. “I’ve had to put up with your shit when you’re / Not even that cute,” she sings on “Dye It Red.” By “Emo Song,” she’s sharing nighttime poetry: “Nobody knows when I was young / I lost myself in cosmic dust.” They’re the kinds of lines with a specific audience, even if she doesn’t name them directly.
“There was an ongoing theme in Fake It Flowers, the idea of everything I was supposed to tell someone but couldn't. So it's like a letter I was supposed to send out, but never really sent out. Something I was supposed to tell them, but I couldn’t,” she says. “A lot of things happened when I was a teenager, and I used a lot of things to kind of distract myself, and whether that was bad or good — well, it was mostly bad. I think writing 'Emo Song' as a whole just helped me kind of understand myself, understand that part of my life a bit more. That lyric is very special to me."
Bea, who worked on the album with her three band members and two producers, initially taught herself guitar through YouTube tutorials, beginning with Sixpence None the Richer's staple "Kiss Me" and graduating to The Cure, The Moldy Peaches, and Elliott Smith. She uses alternate tunings as “little cheat codes” — the low-end rumble of 2019’s “She Plays Bass” helps give the song its lovesick bite — to simplify her playing and songwriting. (“All you need is one finger and a nice tuning to make it sound super complicated.”)
After “Coffee” caught the attention of Dirty Hit Records, she signed with them and released four increasingly intricate EPs in 2018 and 2019; Fake It Flowers feels like the logical next step, louder and deeper without retreading any territory, even as she includes more songs addressed to her boyfriend, the videographer Soren Harrison, to whom she dedicated her entire 2018 EP Loveworm. This time, she employs playful subterfuge, titling one song “Horen Sarrison,” about “the surface level of love,” and singing “I want you to know to know that I’m in love / But I don’t want you to feel comfortable.”
That her sojourn can take her from the warm glow of love to the raw fury found on “Charlie Brown,” a performance she referred to in the lead-up as “proper screamo,” is a marvel, one Bea embraced. “I've always wanted to scream on a record. I scream a lot when I'm angry in my bedroom. I remember [producer Pete Robertson] being like, ‘Are you ready?’ And I'm like, dude, I was born ready. I want to scream so badly.” As a Sonic Youth-esque guitar fuse burns up, she screams “throw it away!” with the kind of youthful fury that beckons Gen X, millennial, and Zoomer rock lifers like power cables to a tube amp. It’s exactly why Fake It Flowers is destined to take Bea to the stratosphere — like Soccer Mommy’s “Circle the Drain” and Mxmtoon’s “Bon Iver,” Bea synthesizes ’90s and early-aughts sonic influences (and lyrical shout-outs) with contemporary sensibilities and a social media presence ("gettin this bread," her Twitter bio reads).
The acoustic-confessional Beabadoobee returns briefly in the album's penultimate track, "How Was Your Day?," a charming diary entry she captured on a four-track cassette recorder in Harrison's garden during quarantine. The song had been written after she wrapped touring earlier this year, but as she went to press record, she tweaked the lyrics to reflect a newfound altruism she'd unearthed in the months at home. "Obviously the song is quite sad, but there's a sense of hopefulness in it, and it didn't have that before," she said. After this particularly hellish year, that hopefulness can sometimes even overcome the weepiness of the chords.
There's plenty of hope, too, on the @redpandadoobee page — "imagine being a little red panda and being cuddled by an EVEN BIGGER red panda" — as well as in Bea's plans to meet an actual red panda someday soon. It won't be this year, as the pandemic shifted a planned gig in Japan and a stop at an animal sanctuary, but she's got a potential contingency plan. "I know there are red panda sanctuaries in London. I'd have to travel up to see them," she said. "I don't think you can go and pet them, though. I want to touch them. I want to hold them in my arm. That's the goal."