Inspired by rom-coms and Kimya Dawson, Gen Z songwriter Bea Kristi uses the slanted melodies and flannel-loving aesthetics of ’90s alternative rock in service of massive pop hooks.
Bea Kristi writes songs for the movies of her dreams. Though her music gained traction on the comparatively small screens of TikTok and YouTube, the 20-year-old guitarist and singer fantasizes through a cinematic lens: Tom Hanks is her hero; the Juno soundtrack introduced her to the folksy side of indie rock. The Hollywood sensibility carries through to her music, which she releases as beabadoobee, a moniker invented as an Instagram handle. And rather than discuss musical or lyrical themes, she describes her work in visual terms: The songs on her full-length debut, Fake It Flowers, have self-described “end of ’90s movie vibes” and remind her of a “2000s chick flick.” In case her floral motifs and rose-hued music videos don’t state it plainly enough, Kristi steps in to shade the finer details of her Nora Ephron-esque vision: “The girl finally gets with the boy at the end.”
As a troublemaking teenager in London, Kristi found solace in a guitar her father gave her, teaching herself to play from YouTube videos and channeling rom-com inspirations and her parents’ love for ’90s alt-rock into grainy recordings. The first song she wrote, “Coffee,” was loosely based off the first song she learned on guitar, Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me.” In a fittingly cinematic escalation, “Coffee” found minor success on YouTube before the Canadian rapper Powfu interpolated it into a lo-fi hip-hop track. His remix exploded on TikTok, eventually landing Kristi’s gentle strumming in a Dunkin’ commercial. With just two chords and a shoddy amateur recording, Beabadoobee had begun soundtracking the lives of her peers.
Her viral success attracted the attention of Dirty Hit, the British power-pop label behind the 1975 and Wolf Alice. With their backing, Kristi released 2018’s Patched Up and 2019’s Loveworm and Space Cadet EPs, each straying further from the sheepish melancholy of bedroom pop. By the latter, she had perfected a combination of grunge’s quiet-loud dynamics and the faux disaffection of pop-punk. Like a well-curated For You page or the soundtrack to a Fox Searchlight film, Kristi’s music is adorned in pop culture references: “I wish I was Stephen Malkmus,” she cried out on her eponymous 2019 single. Fake It Flowers builds on the ambitions of those releases, pairing her knack for knock-out choruses with violins, handclaps, and Slumberland-worthy reverb. But rather than attempting mimicry, Kristi cherry-picks the most potent elements of her broader ’90s palette for maximum impact. For young millennials and Gen X spawn who, like her, grew up on an eclectic diet of Avril Lavigne and the Cranberries, the melodies are immediately comforting.
With the aid of producer Pete Robertson (formerly of British punk revivalists the Vaccines), the album is relentless in its pursuit of a massive hook. “Worth It” refashions the lush strings of Britpop into a climactic motif that builds with each arena-sized refrain; “Charlie Brown” pairs subdued verses with simple, shout-along chorus, practically built for Kristi’s imaginary big screen getaway-car syncs. And where “Coffee” and other early singles relied on predictable chord progressions, Kristi reaches for open tunings and sly tempo changes on “Dye It Red” and “Care,” achieving an intuitive approach to pop that still scans as left-of-center.
But like a good soundtrack in a CW drama, her music still operates best in the background. Despite her love for ’90s alt-rock poets, a closer listen reveals her writing to be disappointingly prosaic. Her lyrics seem designed for shape, rather than color, rising to the level of math class margin notes and locker graffiti: “Kiss my ass/You don’t know jack,” she sings on “Dye It Red,” with almost comically sentimental delivery. The album is broadly about the trials and tribulations of young love, specifically with boyfriend Soren Harrison, but it rarely escapes the most straightforward expression of those thoughts—“It’s hard cause it sucks,” she moans on “Further Away”; “I think I want to marry him,” she sings blissfully on “Yoshimi, Forest, Magdalene.” “Horen Sarrison” (get it?) leans more heavily on figures of speech, offering a glimpse of poetic potential in the doe-eyed metaphors of its verses: “You are the smell of pavement after the rain/You are the last empty seat on a train,” Kristi sings, a welcome moment of intimacy in a record made up of tossed-off generalizations. In the editing room, it would be easy to cut to her outsized choruses, but in real time, her greenness is harder to ignore.
Fake It Flowers is an album of vibes: It uses the slanted melodies and flannel-loving aesthetics of alternative rock in service of pop hooks that are almost impressively simplistic and repetitive. The hope, as Kristi tells it, is that you sing these songs into your mirror, blast them in your car, and scribble them into a diary post-breakup. Too often, she jumps to John Hughes-isan climaxes without laying the foundation that would grant them the proper emotional heft. But Kristi shines as a guitarist and a composer; even the sternest skeptics might be forced to headbang once the power chords crash in on a particularly distorted chorus. Beabadoobee needs to punch up her script, but the set is perfectly lit.
Buy: Rough Trade