bea1991's new album 'brand new adult' proves she gets better with age
The avant-garde pop star and Dev Hynes collaborator on growing up and making unsettling art.
BEA1991’s show supporting Robyn at AFAS, Amsterdam. Photo by Loulou van Staaveren.
BEA1991 wears a full-body lilac gingham unitard on the cover of Brand New Adult, her debut album. She’s riding a giant CGI cow, and her face is contorted with a broad, cheeky grin. She looks like a gleeful child who finally got the chance to climb atop a pony at a county fair.
Working across music, art, and fashion since 2014, Bea has built a name for herself with her two EPs Good Thinking and Songs of 2k11. Now Brand New Adult (which was co-produced by Liam Howe of Sneaker Pimps and Benny Sings), is set to continue that trend.
While splitting her time between Amsterdam, London, and New York City, Bea has become part of an international avant-garde pop scene that includes Dev Hynes (AKA Blood Orange), Porches, and Kirin J Callinan. Bea and Dev have built a particularly fruitful friendship—she sang on the Blood Orange tracks “E.V.P.,” “Squash Squash," and “With Him” on his 2016 album Freetown Sound, he played bass on her latest single “Did You Feel Me Slip Away?,” and they’ve shared the stage multiple times.
But there’s a layer of mystery to everything Bea does, and she wants to keep it that way. She refuses to explain why she’s riding a cow on her album cover when I call her in Amsterdam. “I want the image to speak for itself, and for people to have their own personal reactions to it, rather than be explaining verbally what the image means.”
When talking about her work Bea is deadly serious, but within her work she’s very playful and humorous. Her recent music video for the smooth pop song “My Own Heaven” shows her galavanting around the world’s largest cruise ship, dancing with old people, striking poses against fake sunsets, and rallying tourists to sing along with her. She seems to relish being silly.
“I think almost everything that I do, even though it’s extremely genuine and there’s always an honest feeling behind the concepts, there’s definitely a lot of satire and self-deprecating humor. I feel it’s really important to go there as much as I can, because it’s very liberating.”
She says she’s trying to “trigger people to think in different ways, and act in different ways,” by making art that’s both entertaining and provocative. “It’s definitely meant to entertain, and it’s meant to please you and make you feel comfortable. But it’s also meant to generate some source of discomfort—just enough for you to wonder why something’s happening, or sounding a particular way.”
Bea’s music is definitely pleasing to the ear. Brand New Adult’s sound is a sultry blend of R&B, electronica, and downtempo that she refers to as “Yacht Pop.” But while it can be soothing to the ears, the visuals can also be unsettling like the animation she made with visual artist Pixel Mozart for her song “Modern Comforts,” of a girl’s body slowly buckling like a bendy straw.
“A lot of the stuff that I do can be funny, or it can be creepy, or just really mysterious,” Bea admits. “I’ve been told some of the things that I do are just way too abstract for a lot of people to get, but they keep watching. And I think that’s the really interesting part.”
The album title was taken from a book by one of Bea’s favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut. She says she was drawn to the “paradoxical” nature of the phrase—‘adulthood’ as “something you work towards and deserve after a certain amount of time,” and ‘brand new’ “indicating that it’s also a product, something that you can buy or be.”
The phrase also resonated with Bea because, like most people, she has found more self-awareness and acceptance as she’s gotten older. Now 27 years old, she says, “I do feel like I’m understanding myself a lot better, so I’m able to talk about what I’m doing a lot better, which makes me feel like an adult.” But she also simply wants to promote aging as a positive thing, because she says “being an adult is extremely undermined” in society. “I’d like to be someone who’s way more invested in the promotion of aging and the delicate, powerful influence of time and what it can do to you.” That’s why she put her birth year in her artist name. “I never want to be someone who is afraid to say how old they are. I want to be proud of my age, forever.”
Bea is also proudly DIY, and regularly makes her own clothing to realize her visions. “They’re things that I wish I could buy and I can’t find them anywhere, so I just start making them.” As with music, Bea is self-taught in sewing, but she partners with experimental fashion brands to create limited runs of custom merchandise. She’s worked with Schueller de Waal (who created the unitard she wore on her album cover) on and off for the past three years, and she’s also performed at presentations and runway shows for SUNNEI and Eckhaus Latta.
Last year Bea produced a series of ten utilitarian jackets in collaboration with Dutch designer Camiel Fortgens. Bea describes the jacket as “a feeling of being lost within my creative ambitions, translated into a wearable piece with tools that help you along.” Those tools include a carabiner, a matching phone bag, and a key ring with an unreleased track on a USB.
“It’s mainly a way to have a really fun creative collaboration where I’m making merchandise that’s different and that has a story to it. But it’s also an economical exploration of how we can make new clothes without ruining planet, without making more than is being asked for, and still contribute something beautiful,” she says.
Bea is intent on continuing to work with people in different disciplines to her, in an attempt to connect the dots across humanity. “I’d love to collaborate with a doctor, or a surgeon,” she says. “We could have a workshop where he talks about the intuitive intelligence that’s part of being a doctor to people, and I could talk about my medical influences as an artist. There’s just so much overlap in everything that everyone does, and I just want that to be explored a lot more, you know? I feel like they would have so much to tell me, and I could tell them so much.”
She continues, “I just think people think in boxes way too much. And you can’t stop people from thinking in boxes by saying ‘stop thinking in boxes.’ You have to offer them an alternative, you have to show them how not to think in boxes, and that’s a very big part of my mission.”
BEA1991’s album Brand New Adult is out now.