Babebee, pronounced “baby,” the musical moniker of the elusive, 21-year-old Korean American artist BB (they/them pronouns), is an idiosyncratic soloist who could only exist now, in the modern era: prolific, collaborative, convention-breaking, endlessly ambitious, and impossible to define. Call them hyperpop, and you’d miss out on their experimental dance signatures, their penchant for bedroom pop melodicism. Call them a singer and you miss out on their expert production work. Call them unconventional, and you’re closer to the truth: it’s the reason you might’ve caught them on Twitch, or on their Discord community, The Honeypot, or featured on a series of all-star Spotify playlists, including New Music Friday, the official hyperpop playlist, and Lorem, with its nearly one million likes. It’s also the reason Pigeons in Planes/Complex was quick to name them a best new artist, and that they’ve signed with Lauren Records for their latest EP, tainted in our memories, a triumphant blend of digicore, droning alt rock, and explosive, punk-y synth pop.
BB—you can also call them ‘Bee’ or ‘Mimi’ for short—like many Internet artists who place their musicianship at the center of their identity, keep their birth name a mystery. But unlike their contemporaries, naming has been an ongoing source of inspiration and conflict for B—a confluence of their Korean, American, and public identities—a fluidity that mirrors the creative evolutions of their music. When they started this project in 2020, after many years and many other names, they were a senior at Wesleyan experiencing an existential crisis long before the pandemic brought one upon all of us (prescience is a theme in their work). “The artist side of me was like, ‘My real name is dead. I gotta come up with a new one,’” they explain. A desire to name themselves after a familiar word, spelled differently—as well as a love of sustainability, mother nature, and movements like #SaveTheBees loosely inspired by the Tumblr nature blogs for their youth—and the bees on Tyler the Creator’s Flower Boy album cover inspired “Babebee.” A new era was born. Whatever meaning you assign to it, Babebee is a name that forces the listener to engage with a term of endearment, an intimacy that sets you up to live inside songs of incredible emotional depth. (It also stops their parents from Googling the name and finding out they have a lot of tattoos. B plans on revealing those at “the Grammys or at a sold out stadium in Korea,” or something. Other children of immigrants will know this feeling all too well.)
Bee’s musical story starts at Korean karaoke. Well, sort of. Long before Babebee became Babebee, they demonstrated an intense love of music and talent for performance. At six years old, they’d bust out Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” at the Korean restaurant/bar/karaoke spot their dad worked at in Georgia. (“Why was I singing that? “I’m so in love right now.” And with who?” They joke.) That same year, they attempted to audition for American Idol—before leaving shortly after getting in line. At 8, they began writing songs on piano—“about being a bird,” mostly—and when they were a little bit older, around 12, they auditioned for a few K-pop entertainment companies that would travel to Georgia to audition talent. (Growing up, B was the only Asian kid in their school, but nearby Duluth, GA has a large Korean population.) “My thinking process at the time was like, ‘Oh, this is the only way that I can make it in the music industry,’” they say. “But I love IU! Lim Kim, 2NE1, Girls Generation, the old K-pop…My lines are super melodic; I like to change my flow a lot. To be honest, I think that’s K-pop inspired.”
When becoming a K-pop idol didn’t exactly pan out, they abandoned the idea of it, but kept an appreciation of K-pop, and more specifically, being Korean, alive in their music. “My first language was Korean. I lived there until kindergarten. I remember being spanked by my grandma for peeing the bed, and watching K-dramas,” they laugh. Multiculturalism is at the center of everything they create.
It's also why you’ll hear some Imogen Heap, Björk, The XX, SOPHIE, FKA twigs, Blood Orange, King Krule, Mid-Air Thief, and much more woven into Babebee’s music—as well as their scene inspirations, like yeule, aldn, underscores—grounded by a fully-realized conceptual language. Like their body/mind/soul trio of projects in 2021 (first portal of my soul, then BODY) and 2022 (mind over matter, which deals directly with generational trauma). Their songs start with a beat, or a melody, and stream-of-consciousness lyricism, which speaks to their wisdom. “I don’t recognize it while it's happening,” they say, “but afterwards, it’s like the songs predict the outcome of the relationship I’m writing about.” It’s what all great art does: reveal self-evident truths, whether we like it or not.
B’s greatest work is their latest: tainted in our memories, six meticulously crafted tracks detailing the intricacies of specific social bonds. The first half centers on the external: identifying self-destructive patterns (like in the fuzzed out production of “hate me”), wading through toxic relationships (“stranded,” produced by collaborator simon m). “In the music video, red strings of fate that tie soulmates together. I view the other person as my soul mate but it’s not good for either of us. So, I break free,” they explain. “And ‘alone’ is about me fighting myself—Babebee is fighting me,” B says, carefully distancing their real self from their musician-self. “‘alone’ comes after a relationship, where you’re like, ‘I’m free!’ but then you realize you are alone.” They sing it best in the song: “Don’t leave me alone / Because I’m scared to be alone.”
But Bee’s music reminds us that we don’t have to be—as long as we find healing in a song. For them, it’s about learning to trust their instincts. That arrives on the second half, through the psychic toll of LA’s glamor and hedonism (in the textured acoustic balladry of “sunset blvd”, produced by anem0s), an internal reminder not to repeat unhealthy behaviors (“blame”), and the optimistic coda and title track, “tainted.” “The song sounds spooky,” they laugh, “But it ends well. It’s the good that outweighs the bad. It’s the most romantic track, actually.”
If anything, tainted in our memories is not a heartbreak release: perspectives are fluid; points of views shift like the stacked beats and harmonies of the EP. With each listen, there’s something new to find—to hear in the innovative production, and to learn about ourselves. - Maria Sherman