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Some kind of monster

04 March 2024, 09:45
Words by Kelsey Barnes
Original Photography by Jamie-Lee Culver

Rising future-pop artist Jazmin Bean tells Kelsey Barnes about the terrors and triumphs of creating their first body of work – and the role of shame in the process.

There once was a recurring scenario that floated into Jazmin Bean’s mind every now and then: Bean is frolicking atop a grassy hill with their fellow lambs, completely content with where they are. Suddenly, a monster appears to take them away.

As it ends and Bean is looking at the lambs as they get further and further away, they are confused at why the monster snatched them away. It’s an image that mirrors their own coming-of-age story — one that would eventually become their debut album, Traumatic Livelihood.

For Bean, who uses they-them pronouns, lambs represent the same type of purity that children have — something that can get tainted with time and ageing. “All of those pure creatures — lambs, children — don’t hide their emotions, they don’t see a reason to. They get really excited or upset when something happens and they don’t hide it. They have really big imaginations and they use them. You lose that purity when you get older.”


To understand why, exactly, Bean is so taken by the symbolism of lambs, you must understand their beginning. Born and raised by two musician parents in North London – Fluffy drummer Angie and Wildhearts guitarist Ginger – Bean found their way to music through film. Transfixed by the scores that would play throughout Tim Burton’s films, Bean connected the power of visuals and music together and, as a film student, quickly realised they could explore creating visuals alongside their artistry.

Corpse Bride was my favourite,” Bean says, turning to their mother to ask if they could recall the exact story that resonated with them as a child. It would be the film’s titular character Emily, the Corpse Bride herself, that Bean connected with. “I feel like people don’t appreciate it enough and people don’t always understand it. She is misunderstood — she just wants love and no one gets it.”

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Trying to better understand things — experiences, emotions, themselves — is what all of Bean’s work orbits around. At 16, Bean released their debut single "Worldwide Torture" independently on YouTube. The track, alongside its accompanying self-directed and self-funded music video, was written during their math exams. It was one of the first places where they felt they could “vomit” all of their emotions and experiences, from heartbreak to abuse. It ushered in 5.5 million views to date — not bad for an artist who spent just £500 creating the video.

"Worldwide Torture" became the title track to their 2019 self-released debut EP, eventually getting reissued a year later after signing with Interscope. Where Worldwide Torture was steeped in nu metal and heavy electropop, Traumatic Livelihood is much more pop-leaning and even radio-friendly at times. Fans of their earlier work who are metal diehards might take issue with the direction Bean is taking — with some already stating their debut is a ‘softer’ version of them — but this was a needed change. “The sound is incredibly different,” Bean says. “I wanted it to sound very different. I love when albums have different sounds yet you still know they are the same artist. The artists I loved when I was younger were all able to shift and evolve but they're still really identifiable.”


The two worlds are as different visually in Bean’s mind as they are sonically. Rather than viewing them in the same cinematic universe, they see the two albums as two “very separate, very different” entities instead of one continuing cinematic story. Traumatic Livelihood leans into the theatrics Bean loves so much, showcasing their knack for weaving introspective lyrics with grander pop soundscapes. Trading in the harsher, grittier sounds of electropop for strings was an active decision — something Bean opted to do to ensure the album sounded as timeless as possible. “For Traumatic Livelihood, I was aiming for that timelessness,” they explain. “I wanted people to look back and think, ‘I still really love this’ rather than making it crazily niche to the point where it’s identifiable by a date.”

Before Traumatic Livelihood, Bean was working on a different record — one that was much angrier and sadder due to them grappling with an addiction to ketamine and the trauma of sexual abuse. Following rehab and working on their recovery, Bean put that record to the side. After ten years of writing sad music, they grew out of it and solely wanted to create music that is, at its core, optimistic and free.

“I still thought it was a good album in my mind,” explains Bean. “But I was being very stubborn. I didn't want to collaborate with anyone, it was very ‘my way or the highway.’ You can’t really be like that when so many other people have the same dreams as you, though. No matter how big you get, someone else will have an idea that is better than yours. At the time, I was still really standing by [the scrapped album] and I didn’t want to make new songs. I took some time to listen and once I started making new songs, I realised how much better the music was getting. By the time I made all the songs [for Traumatic Livelihood] I saw how much better lyrically it was. I was not pandering to any niche or internet culture.”

“Piggie” was released early on in the process of Traumatic Livelihood, serving as a snapshot of what fans could expect of this new era while bridging the gap between the two collections of work. After getting out of rehab, seeing photos of themself and the events around each image became the catalyst to “Piggie” and the rest of the album. On the track, Bean quotes phrases like “She don't need school," "You're wise," "She will learn” to open up about their own experience of getting groomed by a predatory man.

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There are other moments on the album, like on the song “Fish” where they navigate the dark and the light. It is most apparent through the themes and sounds, juxtaposing the heavy lyrics with lighter instrumentals against one another. It was a conscious choice Bean made to avoid creating an album that doubles as a “trauma bond” between them and their fans. “I want to avoid creating an album people only listen to when they are sad,” they say. “I want people to have happy memories with this album rather than only listening to it when they were or are having a terrible time. Things don’t need to feel melancholy all the time.”

Bean is a self-described “product of the internet,” meaning they grew up online with unbridled access to the internet. There are moments when they cringe when they look back at things they posted on various apps, but they’ve learned to live with it. “Embarrassment is so semi-permanent. I was getting so overwhelmed [with social media] and I don’t go through nearly enough of the pressure the big celebrities do. I was scared of the shame that might come with doing music and the scandals that could come over the tiniest things, but it’s all semi-permanent. I had started growing up in the age of social media a couple of years before I was able to use it. I feel like I’m immune from it [feeling embarrassed online] because I’ve gone through all the internet embarrassment you can possibly go through.”

Still, navigating the darker parts of music, like the constant push to make a trending sound on TikTok, was difficult for Bean. After starting as an independent artist calling all the shots meant that they were in complete control. Now, as a label artist, there’s a bit more of a hierarchical structure in place — but they refuse to do anything that feels inauthentic to their artistry. “Apps and trends come and go, and if you try to do a trend, it’s just going to change again next week,” Bean says on avoiding the TikTok algorithm. “If you try to trend with a song you don’t even care about and you do [trend]. You have the song forever. That’s your gravestone. Imagine if I made an entire album with the sole purpose of excelling on this app and then something like UMG [pulling songs off TikTok] happened? I want to make this work without trying to trend. The more you force it, the more it's just not gonna happen and people can see through it so quickly.”

Sticking to their artistry meant that, sometimes, they had the daunting task of uncovering what happened to them growing up. “Stockholm Butterfly” sees Bean look back at their younger self (“That sweet child still inside of me / I wish I could hold their hand / Take them home and give them a bath”). Bean is apprehensive to describe the experience as “healing” their inner child, but one that required a lot of work and wasn’t as easy as it seems to be for others on social media. “I’ve done a lot of work with professionals and it takes a lot of aftercare; they give you a whole criteria of things you need to do and need to figure out to heal your inner child. When I was writing ‘Stockholm Butterfly,’ I was just thinking about the stuff I put myself through… I would be so upset if someone did that to a kid I was babysitting or something. I just got so mad and it turned into that song.”

Lambs have become synonymous with innocence and purity — a creature that is untouched, fragile, and defenceless against its prey. Bean tends to find comfort in lambs and their symbolism — so much so that they closed Worldwide Torture with “Little Lamb” (“This bleating heart of mine/Little lamb in the bright light”) and included a single lamb on the cover of Traumatic Livelihood. It’s that same vision — the one with Bean with their fellow lambs only to be snatched away — that reminded them of what everyone loses when they grow up. “I’m a very emotional and outspoken person and I never understood why we forget about when we were emotional and loud and pure as children. I see the lambs as pure beings to use in the album’s imagery almost as a way to show why we shouldn’t hide our emotions.”

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The album’s title was with Bean long before they went to rehab and, despite everything they went through, the title's original meaning never changed. The juxtaposition of the two words was exactly what Bean felt they were experiencing as they were healing their trauma. “I like Traumatic Livelihood because although I was dealing with a lot, I still didn't feel depressed. I still felt excited about life. You can be both sad and happy at the same time. There is no healing timeline. You can have a really big cry and still be happy and have the best day ever. The title reflects that.”

The album closes with “The Blood Brings Colour and Fluoresce,” a moving song about how, despite the ugly things that occur in life, you can still have a beautiful garden and a beautiful life. There is something tactile about tending to a garden that mimics the act of songwriting — of getting one’s emotions and thoughts out to create something more tangible. Still, it’s been a process that Bean wouldn’t describe as “letting go” but one of relief. “I’ve just accepted that mental issues… They just ebb and flow,” Bean says, aptly pausing after a cute animal on the TV in their hotel room distracted them. “The process is better because releasing it is freeing, but I’m just excited to make new stuff now.”

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Since Bean started, their goal has been to create art through music and visuals. And while they’ve only been releasing music for five years, their legacy as an artist, now at 21, weighs on them. “I want to have a long-lasting career,” explains Bean. “I used to be existential with it and think I have to be an icon and be remembered by everyone. But in the end, I just feel like when you get caught up in that you'll start to do things you don't even really like for the wrong reasons. Now I just focus on doing stuff that I like and what makes me happy. I want to be respected by the people I think are cool.”

As they look ahead, the only thing they wish for is comfort for those who indulge in their work. For themselves, though, Traumatic Livelihood was first an exploration of all of the messy feelings they’ve been carrying. Now it’s something Bean hopes fans can use as a mirror to look inward. “I feel like I showcased a lot of shame on this album which I think people are afraid of feeling,” Bean notes. “How can anything ever change if you don't feel shame about it? By showcasing shame, my hope is that it makes other people feel okay with their shame. I love it when I hear an album and I'm like, ‘Well, you said that and I feel like that, so now I can say it, too.’”

Traumatic Livelihood is out now via Aswang Birthday Cake

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