Beach Bunny’s Lili Trifilio Talks TikTok Stardom and “Emotional Creature”

After going viral on the social media platform, the indie-rock band returns with an excellent new album

July 22, 2022 6:30 am
Beach Bunny
Beach Bunny
Zachary Hertzman

Lili Trifilio has an involuntary aversion to music with a slow tempo. “I don’t know why,” says the 24-year-old singer-songwriter and creative force behind the power pop outfit Beach Bunny. “And I kind of feel guilty about it too, because there are a lot of amazing songs that have super profound lyrics with a slow beat. Maybe it’s an attention thing or something, but I have to listen to something with a faster beat.”

This appreciation for a quicker pace feels apt for Trifilio given that her life as a young musical artist has experienced its own accelerated speed in just a short amount of time. The first uptick occurred in 2019, when after years developing Beach Bunny from a college solo project into a full-fledge band, the title track from the group’s 2018 EP Prom Queen inexplicably went viral on TikTok during the summer of 2019, its indictment of unattainable beauty standards resonating with countless teens feeling that their own insecurities were being understood. “Prom Queen”’s prevalence on the social media platform quickly transitioned to millions of subsequent streams on Spotify and views of its music video on YouTube. The explosion of listens undoubtedly became a saving grace for the band when they eventually released their full-length debut Honeymoon the following February, a mere month before the world literally and figuratively shut down as a result of the catastrophic coronavirus pandemic. 

While the world seemed to stand still for two years, Trifilio and Beach Bunny somehow managed yet another burst of momentum when Honeymoon’s standout track “Cloud 9” became yet another viral TikTok hit in 2021. To date Trifilio’s two and half minute ode to seeing your best self through the eyes of the one you’re with has racked up over 360,000 videos on TikTok and over 240 million streams on Spotify.

Sitting against the backdrop of her childhood bedroom’s purple walls (“I’m honestly here more than my own apartment,” she says), Trifilio says she still has a difficult time converting that kind of collected data into an appropriate response. “It feels weird when you see numbers online when things go viral,” she says. “It’s kind of hard — at least for me — to visualize or process those kind of numbers. When [Honeymoon] was hitting millions of streams, I was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ And then when certain songs were hitting hundreds of millions of streams, I couldn’t really mentally make that jump, apart from it just being like, ‘Oh, that’s a lot more.’ It was hard to understand the impact of that.”

While any type of artistic success is largely out of the creator’s control, today, left to the responsive whims of our new capricious, content-consuming culture, a different kind of detachment occurred for Trifilio as a result of social media’s unprecedented cocktail with a nationwide lockdown. “It’s very bizarre for that many people to have opinions on you — even if they’re positive,” she says. “Humans aren’t used to that many people perceiving them a day. It just feels weird.”

This is not to suggest that Trifilio’s sense of disengagement was without emotion. She had it in such abundance, in fact, that she wound up channeling it into the writing of the band’s newest record, Emotional Creature (out today via Mom+Pop Music). “[The album] is kind of a scatterbrained experiment of whatever feelings I was experiencing during a traumatic time,” she says. “It wasn’t very calculated. And neither was Honeymoon. If I’m feeling something intensely, instead of journaling or talking to a friend about it, I’m just gonna write a song about it. And I always look back on those moments with kindness, like, ‘Oh, good thing I did that.’”

Trifilio doesn’t shy away from the fact that she is the emotional creature giving the album its name. “It just seemed like I was making music more to just tame my brain,” she admits. “There’s actually a lot of lyrics on the record that talk about feeling ashamed of having big emotions, or feeling kind of embarrassed for being not just emotional, but feeling anxiety or sadness or anger. I think I internalize stuff pretty deeply, and I guess it’s just easier for me to write about what I’m experiencing.”

Direct experience is perhaps the thing that most influences Beach Bunny’s economy of songwriting. Trifilio thrives in the various states of relationships and love, the yearning of it, its overwhelming grip, the way it builds you up and just as easily breaks you down. Rarely breaking the three-minute mark, her songs eschew lyrical misinterpretation for a directness perfectly structured to pulsate along its punk-spirited, candied melodies, like chasing a mouthful of Pop Rocks with a shaken can of Coca-Cola. It is what makes Beach Bunny so easily meme-able and bite-sizably shareable on social media platforms, and something other rock bands seem unable to replicate and capitalize on. “It works well for the algorithm,” says Trifilio.

Given Beach Bunny’s track record thus far, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that somewhere down the road following Emotional Creature’s release, some line, some couplet, some chorus from one of the record’s many standout tracks will earworm its way onto TikTok once more. Trifilio says she isn’t expecting such a result, but still wouldn’t be surprised if it happened. These days it’s more surprising for her to hear songs from more traditional sources.

“I was driving, and the radio kept playing Beach Bunny songs while I was heading to my apartment and it was blowing my mind,” she says. “The station played a Beach Bunny song and then it went to a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. And I was like, ‘That was crazy.’ And then I’m at a stoplight and another Beach Bunny song came on. And I was like, ‘Is my phone hook in?’ It’s just little magic moments like that. They all feel gratifying.”

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