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Beach Bunny Is Constructing an Indie-Rock Profession in a Time of TikTok


One morning last August, Lili Trifilio was feeling emotional.

“I’m truthfully so nervous,” the singer-songwriter, then 24, admitted, her voice rising as she shook her head. It was the day before her indie-rock band Beach Bunny would headline a sold-out show on the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Beach Bunny’s recent success had seemed abstract to Trifilio, since most of it had happened during lockdown, on the web, however the group’s biggest Latest York show up to now would make it tangible.

“Over the pandemic, Beach Bunny has grown like 200 percent,” Trifilio continued, between sips of an iced Nutella mocha latte at a restaurant not removed from the venue, “and I don’t know what to anticipate.”

Trifilio has a large, toothy smile and a choppy bobbed haircut that she likes to dye different colours — magenta, lilac, rust — though that day it was a naturalistic blonde. Onstage, she’s known for her bubbly, earnest positivity; at a recent Beach Bunny show, she gave an enthused advice for a neighborhood vegan restaurant, urged the audience to get their Covid-19 booster shots and led the complete crowd in singing “Completely happy Birthday” to a fan. On albums she’s known for the emotional lucidity of her songwriting, which seems to trap fleeting feelings in shimmery amber.

Much of the recent growth in Beach Bunny’s popularity got here via “Cloud 9,” a bouncy, guitar-driven love song from the Chicago band’s February 2020 debut album, “Honeymoon,” which in March 2021 became a viral hit on TikTok. Over 360,000 videos have now used Trifilio’s lilting valentine (“But when he loves me, I feel like I’m floating/When he calls me pretty, I feel like any individual”) to soundtrack photo reels of their lovers, crushes and besties; it has racked up greater than 240 million streams on Spotify.

Several fans have asked Trifilio to record an acoustic version of “Cloud 9,” in order that they can use it as their wedding song. Trifilio finds all of it slightly ironic, provided that she wrote it in the ultimate days of a failing relationship.

“The lyrics are so smart,” Tegan Quin of the indie-pop duo Tegan and Sara said in a phone interview, “and melodically I find all their songs to be really creative.” She and her twin sister Sara were fans before “Cloud 9” took off, however the song’s popularity provided a possibility for them to collaborate with Beach Bunny on a new edition — as requested by fans — that also features “she” and “they” pronouns.

Beach Bunny’s music has loads of admirers outside of the TikTok demographic, too. The actor Bob Odenkirk discovered the band several years ago while flipping through The Chicago Tribune, and he “immediately dug them,” he wrote in an email, because he found their sound to be “connected to the indie rock that I loved from the times of yore,” like Pixies, Sebadoh and the Cavedogs. He’s since turn into a vocal fan and even made a cameo in Beach Bunny’s recent “Star Wars”-spoofing video for the song “Entropy.”

“I’m an older white guy, and her lyrics are about longing and written from a female perspective,” Odenkirk added. “But I still feel very connected to the pain and estrangement of my 14-year-old self, and I all the time will.”

While the breakout of “Cloud 9” (and a previous TikTok success, “Prom Queen”) brought the band opportunities, Trifilio feared being pigeonholed or not taken seriously. “I used to be such a crab about it,” she said, twisting her straw. “Like I’m going to fall into this genre of web bands. I used to be like, ‘No, I would like to play big stages and play with bands I like, and never be regarded as cringey. I had all these weird ego dilemmas.”

Perhaps to combat those fears, in the course of the pandemic, Trifilio taught herself about music production. She watched YouTube tutorials and countless interviews with producers who inspired her, just like the electro-pop star Grimes. When the band began recording its second album, “Emotional Creature,” at Chicago’s Shirk Studios last spring, she felt more empowered to experiment.

“I feel it’s cool that she’s an all-in-one show and does the whole lot hands on,” Trifilio said of Grimes, citing her aggressively upbeat 2015 single “Kill V. Maim” as one in all her favorite songs. “So after listening to her discuss production, stepping into I used to be like, ‘OK, I don’t really know methods to do that, but can we make the start have this vibe? Before, I never knew to herald those references.”

That increased ambition is obvious across “Emotional Creature,” out July 22, from the brilliant, explosively catchy leadoff track “Entropy” to the thrilling, nearly six-minute finale, “Love Song,” which in its satisfying final moments weaves together a medley of several other songs from the album.

“It still feels like Beach Bunny,” Trifilio said, “however it just sounds slightly more grown up. Which I’m joyful with, because I’m growing up.”

TRIFILIO WAS RAISED in Chicago, and he or she began taking guitar lessons with a friend in fifth grade. “We didn’t have the eye spans for it,” she said with amusing in a recent video interview from her childhood bedroom, where the purple partitions matched her tie-dye butterfly shirt. (She moved into her own place in the course of the pandemic, but still visits her parents regularly.) “But it surely was fun. That’s where I learned my basic skills. We were identical to obnoxious kids, and so after a few years I quit because I had other things to do as a 13-year-old.”

Later in her teen years, Trifilio began participating in neighborhood jam sessions and teaching herself cover songs. She has noted on Twitter, amid the occasional Hannah Montana quotation, that while journalists compare her sound to “cool” ’90s bands, her most direct influence is the pop group Aly & AJ’s 2007 album, “Insomniatic.” (I hear traces of the alt-rock mainstays Letters to Cleo and the cheery indie-pop group Velocity Girl.) When she was 18, she thought, “Well, I’ve learned a variety of covers. Let’s see if I can use this combined knowledge to put in writing something.”

The result was “6 Weeks,” a wailing, melancholic recollection of heartbreak (“Let’s begin at the top, if you tore me apart”) that she recorded on her computer with just an acoustic guitar. She presented it to her guitar-lesson friend as casually as possible: “I used to be like, I made this song, and I’m so embarrassed. Are you able to listen? I feel I’m going to delete it.”

Trifilio’s pal gave her a much needed confidence boost — and an ultimatum. “She was like, ‘I’m going to stop being your friend should you don’t put this out,’” Trifilio recalled. “I used to be like, whoa, OK. Stakes are high.”

For the subsequent few years, while she was studying journalism at DePaul University, Trifilio continued writing sharp, hooky power-pop songs and uploading them to a modest but growing online fan base. In 2017, she also began playing shows with a neighborhood group of men — the drummer Jon Alvarado, the guitarist Matt Henkels and the bassist Aidan Cada, who was later replaced by Anthony Vaccaro — and her solo project became a correct band.

Trifilio’s candid, plain-spoken lyrics often sound like internal monologues; sometimes they’re pep talks, other times they provide voice to her demons. The title track from the 2018 EP “Prom Queen” straddles the road between the 2. “Shut up, count your calories,” it begins over a jangly chord progression. “I never looked good in Mom jeans.” The song became one of the vital downcast tracks to encourage a web dance craze. As her anxiety builds, the song becomes a critique of aesthetic perfectionism and weight-reduction plan culture that Trifilio, who has admitted that she has “struggled with [her] own body image,” knows all too well.

Many listeners related to Trifilio’s unabashed presentation of her insecurities. But “Prom Queen” found success on a platform that usually rewards young people for adhering to the very conventions Trifilio was critiquing. Some noted the irony when the favored TikTok creator Addison Rae — the app’s honorary prom queen — posted a video of herself dancing and grinningly lip-syncing to a song that goes, “I used to be never cut out for Prom Queen.”

TikTok could make a song incredibly popular overnight; it could possibly also fairly often divorce a song, and even fragments of a song, from its larger context. Trifilio, who was not yet accustomed to the app when “Prom Queen” blew up in 2019, was concerned that listeners who only heard a line or two of the song might misconstrue it as an endorsement of behavior like calorie counting. So she pinned a lengthy statement to the song’s YouTube video, clearly stating her authorial intentions.

“I wrote this song for every body on the market that has felt insecure, unloved, or unhappy in their very own skin,” she wrote. “Please don’t harm your health or well being to live up to those invented expectations, it shouldn’t be value risking your life over.”

Three years and one other round of app-fueled success later, Trifilio said she’s learned to relinquish control of how her songs is likely to be received. “You realize, I exploit music in the identical way,” she said. “I’m sure artists had different intentions than how I interpret things.” “Prom Queen,” she added, is “sort of the general public’s song now.”

AT A JULY 2019 show in Latest Mexico, Trifilio was surprised to note a well-known face on the merch table: Odenkirk. He mentioned an upcoming audition he was preparing for, and as they parted Trifilio wished him good luck. “He spun around, gave me the finger guns, and he was like, ‘I don’t need it,’” she recalled with amusing. “And I used to be like, ‘That’s right, you don’t need it!’ I want that level of confidence!’”

The daring and self-assured sound of “Emotional Creature” shows how far she’s come. Sean O’Keefe, who produced the album, called her “among the finest songwriters I’ve ever gotten to work with, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a variety of really great songwriters.” (His credits include Fall Out Boy and Plain White T’s.)

On the brand new album, piercing pop-punk tunes like “Gone” and “Deadweight” challenge emotionally ambivalent partners to wear their hearts on their sleeves. “You’re a diamond/Wish you could possibly see you the way in which I see,” Trifilio sings on the mid-tempo rocker “Weeds,” during a chorus that provides loving advice to a heartbroken friend — or perhaps the singer herself. Writing the album, she said, helped her to confront her history of “shame around feeling big emotions.”

“That was, like, a therapy moment,” she said. “‘Wow, you could have a variety of shame around being an emotional person, although every human has feelings.”’

Trifilio has since come around on TikTok, too. “There is certainly a young girl audience, mostly coming from TikTok, with little or no experience of even attending shows,” she said. “They tell me, ‘That is one in all my first shows,’ and I’m like, ‘That’s amazing. I hope you go to so many more.’”

Such experiences seem indicative, to artists of a previous generation like Tegan and Sara, of a palpable change. “Streaming has devastated the music industry for artists, however it’s also made it very easy to be popular in corners of the industry that just didn’t exist once we were coming up,” Quin said. “Beach Bunny is an example of that. There’s just this vibrant, incredible scene flourishing around them because people can find them.”

On the Brooklyn cafe, Trifilio had noted, “After I was 16, there could be some band I’d see and I’d think, ‘It will be so cool to be in a band.’” Preparing to greet a few of her recent fans within the flesh the next night, she added, “It’s amazing to think that somebody might come to a show and perhaps that inspires them to learn a Beach Bunny song on guitar. After which they learn other songs on guitar. That’s wild.”

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