TikTok: Leonie Biney is Bedroom Pop’s Rising Star

The newly famed TikTok singer talks inspiration, culture, identity and her future in the industry. 

Imagine singing for 1.6 million people. Leonie Biney did, although she didn’t know it at the time. One early September evening she opened the social media app ‘TikTok’, propped her phone on a pillow in her student accommodation, and sang her original ‘Beach Song’. Within four days it reached 100k views, and rising. Biney didn’t know it would land her the opening gig on Kamal’s national tour, an upcoming EP release and working with producer Benny Sings in Amsterdam.

When she agrees to do an interview, she suggests we start in the same place her career did. Biney walks me to her cosy student flat in the heart of Liverpool, conveniently close to her university, the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. As the door opens, walls embellished from floor to ceiling with posters, photos of friends and vines bought on amazon greet me. It’s hard to believe it was on her freakishly tall bed, which we both have to jump to reach, where Biney’s whole career began. 

She sits with her back against the silk pillows, ready to tell me about her life beneath her early career achievements. Biney holds one of the soft toys propped up at the end of the bed and laughs as she admits: “I loved the Vamps and they really inspired me to start learning to play the guitar. I was so obsessed with them I learnt all of their songs on my brother’s guitar when I was, like, 12.”

Despite being “hellbent” on a career in musical theatre, it was an A-Level in music tech that inspired Biney. “I realised there was more room for me in the music industry than there was in the musical theatre industry,”

Biney spent the early part of her childhood in Ghana, her dad from Ghana and Nigeria and mum from Sierra Leone and Jordan. Moving to England as a child changed Biney’s perspective.

“It’s definitely still a part of me today, but I wouldn’t say it necessarily influences the kind of music I make, especially sound wise.” But being British does.

“It’s a bit of a novelty singing in a British accent to a lot of people, especially on the internet. If that’s what people like, then let me ride the wave.”

While Biney believes nothing in her music is particularly “culturally driven”, as a black artist she says it affects the way the music is perceived. “When I first started putting out music I didn’t really want to be in my artwork, so that people would judge the song based on the song, not who’s singing it.” Biney finds it positively impacts her work too. “I’ll see comments like, it’s so nice seeing a young black girl writing songs and making music like this,” she explains with a smile.

A signed Rachel Chinouriri poster faces us, resting against the wall on her desk. “I’m a massive fan of hers,” says Biney. “It’s really inspiring seeing her making indie music and not caring about the bubble people try to put her into.” 

The bedroom pop genre was popularised through artists like Clairo and Beabadoobee’s early career, Biney says. “I think that it really started in lockdown because people noticed they could make music on their own without the backing of some major label.”

As a self-made artist, Biney finds: “There’s more room to mess up, because there’s not millions of people waiting to listen.” The thought of future opportunities and development with her sound excites the singer.

“I think within the EP there’s so many different genres and sounds that are all tied together by common sound bites that I’ll use,” she tells me. “I do want to try different genres. I do want to do rock, jazz, soul and R&B and pop, but I just want to figure out how I can do all of that while still making it cohesive and sound like a me song.”

Eager to show me what she means, Biney slides off the ridiculously high bed and shuffles the clutter on her desk around. The university work and makeup moves to make way for her music equipment, from digital software to guitars and a keyboard. She plays the keys to ‘Love You So’, a song on the EP, and shows me how she adds the vocals and sound bites. It looks so natural to her, and soon there’s beautiful harmonies coming from her laptop. 

She passionately explains: “Music in other languages, even if it’s the same genre, can be so different.” She describes how Japanese melody lines are different from Western music just because of the sentence structure. “I have a lot of listeners in Japan, the Philippines and China and so I’ll try to incorporate some of that into my music, so they can see themselves in it more.”

The clutter on the walls shows numerous gigs, records, parties with friends and K-Pop artists. “When I was first learning to produce and write songs I was listening to a lot of East Asian artists, like Keshi and Beabadoobee, and they definitely influenced the sort of bedroom pop vibe I’ve had throughout my career thus far,” she elaborates. “These days I’ve been trying to get more in touch with my culture, so I’m listening to loads of artists like Willow, Dominic Fike and Frank Ocean, all these different artists to get inspiration from my culture as well as others.”

Growing a following on TikTok can be challenging. “It was more of a hobby at the time than it was an actual commitment,” she says. “I kind of miss that era of my life where I didn’t have schedules and deadlines to do all these things, but not everything can stay the same forever.”

She continued: “I am very grateful that ‘Beach Song’ did go viral and it gave me a little bit of a platform to be able to post songs and have them get any streams at all.”

Biney admits: “I almost like the fact that ‘I’m Making You Coffee’ and ‘Summer’ didn’t go viral again after ‘Beach Song’ because it would feel like I’m chasing virality instead of just putting out songs I’m proud of and happy with.”

At the time of the ‘I’m Making You Coffee’ release, however, Biney did ‘a lot of lying in dark rooms and just wallowing,’ she awkwardly laughs, remembering.

“I think what kind of got me through it was knowing that, yeah Beach Song is great, but not every song is going to be a beach song and I think that’s beautiful.”

At this point, the pressure on Biney has lifted. “Now I’m on a slow incline, which I think is healthy for me.”

Biney’s EP ‘It Could Have Been Nice’ is released June 14 and her first headline gig is June 4. “It’s a collection of my thoughts and feelings from when I was 16 until I was 19, so give it a listen.”

Before we leave the flat to go to lunch, she rushes back to save her work. You never know, that might be her next 1.6 million view track.

Article credits: Georgia Cook

Edited by: Mia Rose

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Written by: Mia Rose
Mia Rose is a Final Year Journalism student at the University of Sheffield. She has experience in feature writing and broadcasting. Mia forms a part of the Website Team at 5678 Magazine.