A powerful new voice with a flair for perceptive, witty and brutally honest lyricism, Bea & Her Business — aka 19-year-old, London-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Bea Wheeler — explores themes and experiences many of us recognise, from a distinctive perspective we’ve never heard before. “I like to capture a moment,” Bea says, “and make it as vivid as possible.”
Moments don’t come much more vivid than the one Bea’s experiencing right now: released in May, her elegantly idiosyncratic debut single Born To Be Alive rocketed to over 10m streams within weeks of release, leading to millions of TikTok engagements, a global audience, and a performance to tens of thousands at her first ever live show. Big business, then, for an artist whose intense and evocative snapshots of teenage life conjure such a strong sense of intimacy.
There’s plenty more to come. Since first going viral in 2020, Bea’s established a fruitful songwriting partnership with acclaimed south London-based alternative duo Oh Wonder, as well as a carefully curated group of collaborators including Eg White (Adele), Jonny Latimer (Ellie Goulding, Rina Sawayama) and J Moon (Kamal, Miley Cyrus, SG Lewis). Bea’s evocative storytelling bursts with life. Whether they find her sitting, bereft, in the passenger seat of a VW Polo in a multi-storey carpark, or documenting the highs, lows and even lower lows of teenage house parties, her lyrical flourishes put us right in the centre of the action.
All The Boys On Earth, in which Bea sings “I set myself on fire, just to keep you warm”, is typical of her rich lyricism: everyone’s changed themselves at some point to try and get someone else to like them a little bit more, she reasons today, “and the usual result is unhappiness and misery down the line. The song’s about realising that the things you want aren’t necessarily the things you need, and that you shouldn’t change yourself to be accepted by anyone else.”
Bea was nine years old when she wrote her first song — her older sister had started experimenting with songwriting and Bea wanted in. (“I was thinking: how the hell does she do that? And why the hell is she like so good at everything?”) Bea’s first song covered the very sad demise of her pet dog, who was and is still very much alive. “I thought I was unbelievably good,” she laughs now. Bea sang Adele and Amy Winehouse songs in occasional school performances, but it was immersing herself in Lily Allen’s music a few years later that changed her perspective on songwriting. “Lily was absolutely the turning point,” Bea remembers. “I was hearing songs with humour and insight, that didn’t have to be about love, and came from a unique perspective.”
From this point, Bea concluded her songwriting should be lyrics-first: “I decided to trust that if I got the words right, the melodies would come naturally.” Bea spent endless hours in her local library devouring piles of books, looking for imagery that she’d “twist, manipulate and flip on its head”. The Flame, a recently published anthology of Leonard Cohen’s poetry, struck a particular chord. But something wasn’t quite working. “I was throwing all this imagery around but nothing was connecting and it felt like something was missing,” she remembers. Turned out the thing that had been missing from all this was Bea; when she started applying all this imagery to her own experiences, the writing fell into place.
“I suppose I’d always told myself I wasn’t an interesting person so the last thing I wanted to do was write from my perspective,” she remembers — but when she did just that and mixed it with the notes from her library sessions, something clicked. She can, for instance, draw a direct line between a passage about cigarettes in Kate Bingham’s poetry collection Quicksand Beach, and the thought process that led to Smoking Lessons, a song that also demonstrates the way Bea often writes songs from the perspective of her younger self.
“I go back to what I wanted to say when I was fourteen or fifteen,” she says. “I can’t write from the perspective of other people, but I can write from different versions of myself.” For Bea it’s an acknowledgement, too, that there were times in her past when she didn’t have the language or voice to express herself. Or as Bea puts it, it’s a chance to go: “Oh shit — THAT’S what was happening. A lot of my writing has helped me understand why I felt certain things when I was younger. When people do the whole ‘songwriting is my therapy’ thing I generally think that’s bullshit, but I can’t deny it’s helped me process things.” And somewhere in the middle of this one of Bea’s teachers, who’d noticed their student’s passion for songwriting, put Bea in touch with a friend who’d had a bit of experience as a musician. Bea was off to a good start but needed to play live, was Peter Gabriel’s advice.
She started posting on TikTok when she was 16 — mainly covers with the occasional original song on the piano thrown in when she was feeling brave enough. In the early stages of 2020 a follower’s request for Lana Del Rey’s Summertime Sadness led Bea to experiment with the rich, distinctive vocal tone that would come to underpin her subsequent work; the cover blew up the same week her school closed down for Covid, opening up enough free time for Bea to make daily posts, eventually attracting attention from (and duets with) the likes of Tove Lo, George Ezra and Paloma Faith.
It wasn’t just musicians getting in touch. Producers, songwriters, managers, lawyers and labels were soon flooding Bea’s inbox. Delphic frontman and platinum-selling songwriter and producer Rick Boardman was one of the first to reach out; he introduced Bea to Oh Wonder, and between them they wrote Born To Be Alive in their second session together. Unusually, Bea would bring in painstakingly collated moodboards to writing sessions — not that it seemed particularly unusual to Bea, who found at school that she was a strong visual learner, and in sessions used collages and pinboards to bring her stories to life.
With the music taking shape and labels and managers continuing to deluge Bea with messages, it was time for some meetings, which Bea insisted on taking herself. “Obviously,” she says, “I had no idea what I was doing, but I wanted to do this on my own — whatever happened, I wanted a sense of ‘I’ve done this’.” This was very much Bea’s own business. By the end of 2022 she’d found management, with the team behind Jungle, Hot Chip and Priya Ragu, and by March 2023 she’d signed a deal with Warners. Two months later, Born To Be Alive was released, and immediately exploded. “I put the first video up and it started to blow up in the first five minutes,” she grins. “I was going: ‘HOLY SHIT.’ My heart was pounding; everyone around me was going berserk. I had to take myself for a walk without my phone to calm down.” By the time she got back, the numbers had doubled.
Somewhat unexpectedly Bea’s first live performance since performing at school was to tens of thousands of people at a festival in Oslo — probably not what Peter Gabriel had in mind, but not to worry. “I was looking out at the crowd beforehand, going: ‘This could very easily all go tits up, what on earth was I thinking,’” she remembers. “And then as soon as I started singing, something clicked. My listeners weren’t just numbers on my phone screen any more: this was real life, and these people were connecting to me the way I connected to music when I was 15. I left the stage in slight disbelief that I’d just done my first gig to 30,000 people.”
In fact, Bea had actually just done her first gig to 100,000 people — sensing Bea’s apprehension, her team had attempted to downplay the enormity of the audience ahead of the show. But there’s no obfuscating other numbers: a debut single with 12m streams and counting on Spotify alone, over a million monthly listeners worldwide, and in excess of 30m TikTok likes. This success looks to continue with the release of her debut EP, and whatever lies beyond. But it’s the scope for human connection Bea finds most potent.
“Sometimes I’ll play a song to people,” she says, “and they’ll go: ‘You can’t say that!’ And I’ll go: ‘Yes I can.’” Satisfaction, Bea adds, “comes from finding the right way to convey my emotions and experiences in a way that’s personal, but open for connection. It’s knowing that however personal my music is, there’s space for other people to recognise themselves in my words.”