Babebee, pronounced “baby,” the musical moniker of the elusive, Korean American artist (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.
Babebee—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 Bee—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 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, spirituality, and movements like #SaveTheBees loosely inspired by Tumblr nature blogs from their youth—and a pun of “i’m baby” from the popular twentieth century Kirby meme 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. Bee 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/karaoke bar 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”—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, Bee 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 music,’” they say. “But I love IU, Lim Kim, 2NE1, Girls Generation, 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.”
They abandoned the idea of becoming a K-pop idol, 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 alone in their grandma’s small apartment,” 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, yeule, and much more woven into Babebee’s music 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 situation I’m writing about.” It’s what all great art does: reveal self-evident truths, whether we like it or not.