Bea Kristi Laus settles in the corner booth of a Wandsworth cafe at 2pm and orders the mozzarella sticks, which are breakfast. The 19-year-old is winging it again, and why not? From her cutesy, hastily chosen stage name, Beabadoobee – a scatting play on her first name Beatrice – to her lower-than-lo-fi debut recording, Coffee, which earned her a record deal after she put it online for fun in 2017, she’s made a virtue of avoiding pre-planning.
Things she has made to look effortless in 2020 include: tips list ubiquity – she’s been named as a Brits Rising Star, a YouTube One to Watch and a BBC Sound of 2020 in recent weeks – racking up Instagram followers to the tune of almost 375,000, and becoming an arena act. She’s about to support The 1975 around the UK, including two nights at the O2 next month. She only finished school last summer with terrible A-level results.
“It was really hard to revise with all my guitars calling my name. It became a joke to my parents,” she confesses. She says she was “kicked out” of one all-girls school in Hammersmith before finishing a year later at a different school in Hampstead. Her Filipino parents pushed her to succeed but it’s happening somewhere other than academia. “I was that stereotypical Asian kid whose mum made them do every club. I did swimming, I played violin for seven years. It was more to achieve the satisfaction that my mum was proud of me, not because I loved it.”
She does love the guitar, however. She first picked one up age 17 and now has around two dozen songs online. Unlike a newly launched pop star who might arrive with a bang and one perfectly honed single, fans have been able to follow her musical progression in real time, from the two-minute, muffled Coffee to the grungey rocking of Are You Sure. As with other young female musicians who began recording songs in their bedrooms, such as Clairo in the US and Girl in Red in Norway, this apparent lack of artifice is a vital element for fans who largely look just like them.
“I had the option to delete some of my old songs, because I now make completely different music,” she says. “But I thought it’s really nice when people see your development. It shows my flexibility – I can write a song like Coffee that’s on two chords and so out-of-time, and I can make rock songs. You connect so much with an artist that way.”
In person she’s upbeat and giggly, with a sprinkling of freckles across her nose and a brooch of a bee on her baggy jumper. She shows me a tattoo of an ugly face on her forearm which she allowed the singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco to draw using the stick-and-poke technique, one drunken night in a Dublin karaoke bar – another decision made without much thought. “I never really regret anything. I certainly cringe though.”
It sounds as though she’s had some difficult teenage years to work through before gaining the confidence to be centre stage. “School was predominantly white, quite rich, girls. It was very hard to fit in. I struggled a lot with self-acceptance, what I wore, how I did my make-up. The popular girls wouldn’t bully you so obviously, but bring you down in a way that hurt just as bad. No boys really liked me. I was an anomaly,” she says. “But I had to go through all of that, and feel shit, to be in the mental state I’m in right now. It really shaped me as a person.”
Now, girls not much younger than her are approaching her after gigs to tell her that her songs, and her goofy social media posts, are helping them to cope with similar things. “The most I can do is just show people how to be themselves, even if it’s just putting a stupid story up on Instagram,” she says. “I never think I’m trying to make people feel better or be a role model. But it helps people accept themselves so if I can do that, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”
She’s also been responsible for introducing a lot of current teenagers to the wonders of Nineties music. Her most recent EP, Space Cadet, is packed with scuzzy guitar rock influenced by that decade, including She Plays Bass, which was inspired by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and D’arcy Wretzky of Smashing Pumpkins. Then there’s I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus, in which this teenage girl born in Manila expresses a burning desire to be the 53-year-old frontman of Californian indie band Pavement. “This tripzz me out,” he tweeted when he heard it. Then he brought his children to one of her US shows to meet her, which caused a bit of excitement.
“He went in for a handshake and I just jumped at him and said: ‘Iloveyousomuchthankyouforcoming!’” she gushes.
So what does she want to know about the Nineties? I was there the whole time. This news suddenly makes me much more interesting to her. If I tell her I saw Pavement play Reading Festival in 1995, it might be like someone back then telling me about The Beatles on the Apple Corps rooftop. “I guess it was just so much more wholesome and innocent back then?” she queries. “Because you didn’t have any social media. But I guess you still had magazines and shit.”
Her other Nineties obsessions include the music of Hole, Lush and Weezer and the movies of Tom Hanks. At one gig she screened his film Sleepless in Seattle instead of having a support act. She’s been messaging him on social media in a bid to get him to say something on her debut album, which she’s currently recording, but he has yet to reply.
If he does finally get back to her, it won’t be the first time an idol has become a friend. As well as Malkmus, she’s had to adjust to socialising with The 1975’s Matt Healy when she once loved the band so much that his face was the wallpaper on her phone. It was The 1975’s label, Dirty Hit, that signed her. “It’s very weird but in a very good way,” she says. “They were the soundtrack to my 15- and 16-year-old era, but I guess I grew out of that phase. I thought I wouldn’t be able to hang out with them without thinking of that time, but now it’s so normal. He’s such a cool guy to look up to.”
Before the 1975 tour begins, it’s back to the Wandsworth studio to keep working on that album, which is due later this year. By the time it comes out, her fanbase should have grown well beyond its teenage core. “I’ve been seeing a lot of 30-year-olds, 40-year-olds, people that are married, at my gigs,” she says. “I know the most obvious thing is for girls my age to like the music that I like, so it’s interesting to see that the people who lived in the era that I’m referencing are getting into it too. I guess I’m doing something right.”
Beabadoobee plays with Yungblud at the NME Awards 2020, Feb 12, O2 Academy Brixton, SW9 (o2academybrixton.co.uk), with The 1975, 21-22 Feb, O2 Arena, SE10 (the02.co.uk), and headlines Mar 7 at Omeara, SE1 (omearalondon.com)