Vancouver, Canada’s Bif Naked, a skateboarding theater student turned punk rocker, does not shy away from most subjects, no matter how painful, disturbing, or provocative. “I’ve written about being raped, my parents’ divorce, necking with girls, doing it with boys, terminating a pregnancy, my own divorce. I’ve written a song about my bicycle, too. It’s all the same to me,” she told Interview magazine’s Dudley Saunders. “I just don’t believe in hiding anything. Life’s too short.”
A full-strength rock singer often compared to Ronnie Spector, Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, and Chrissie Hynde, Naked nevertheless carries a quirky wit, distinctive vocal style, and allure that makes her truly unique. Moreover, Naked’s honesty and fearlessness about sharing her personal triumphs and tragedies have made her a critical and popular success. One song in particular entitled “Chotee,” off Naked’s Lava/Atlantic debut Bificus, rose from an emotionally painful abortion while married to her former husband. “I got talked into terminating the pregnancy by my husband, which I resented even though now I realize it was the right thing to do. In fact, the only time I’ve ever been nervous about a song was when I had to sing ‘Chotee’ in front of him. Then it turned out he didn’t even get it: He thought the baby in the song was him. After that, I was never too nervous about singing it again.”
Beth (maiden name Torbert) Hopkins was born in 1971 in New Delhi, India, the illegitimate child of teen-age private school students. Prior to her birth, two young American missionaries had heard that a young child would soon be born and given up for adoption. Her Canadian-born birth mother was banished to a mental hospital in order to hide her pregnancy, then flown to a hospital in New Delhi to have her baby. Full of anticipation when they arrived to pick up their new child, her adoptive parents later discovered that the newborn was handed over to them without the necessary documentation to prove ownership. Hence, the family spent two years waiting in India for a proper birth certificate, then departed for the United States.
Naked’s first new home was in Gettysburg, South Dakota, where her adoption was finally made official. From there, the family moved to Lexington, Kentucky, then to Minneapolis, Minnesota, before her father, a professor of dentistry, took a new job in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Naked, then 13 years old, started to rebel after the move. Her teen years, she admits, were nothing short of “hellacious” and saw Naked trading in her ballet classes in favor of loitering at a local arcade and skateboarding. However, Naked, a huge fan of Madonna, also dreamed of stardom. Therefore, after high school she enrolled at the University of Winnipeg as a theater major, a decision that caused her parents to breathe a sigh of relief.
Born Beth Torbert in 1971 in New Delhi, India; adopted daughter of American missionaries; married drummer from group Jungle Milk; divorced. Education: Studied theater at the University of Winnipeg.
Played in the bands Jungle Milk, Gorilla Gorilla, Chrome Dog, and Dying to Be Violent, early-1990; began solo career, released Bif Naked, 1994; released Bificus, toured with Lilith Fair, the Cult and Kid Rock, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Lava/Atlantic Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, 23rd Floor, New York City, NY 10104, phone: (212) 707-2000, fax: (212) 265-3440.
Not long after her college career began, Naked joined her first band, Jungle Milk, a local troupe that performed oddball cover songs. She eventually married Jungle Milk’s drummer, who was also a member of another band called Gorilla Gorilla, and when that group’s lead singer quit on the eve of an important gig supporting Canadian punk heroes D.O.A., Naked stepped in to take over vocal duties. As front woman for Gorilla Gorilla, she decided to invent a name for herself. Thus “Bif,” an old high school nickname, was augmented by the last name of “Naked,” a moniker she deemed sexy and very punk rock. Naked, it seemed, was a natural from the start, and the group started accumulating more and more fans through constant touring.
Life on the road and partying, however, began to take a toll on Naked. During Gorilla Gorilla’s first tour, for example, she was treated several times for alcohol poisoning, and her marriage, a union that she said was really over before it began, ended in divorce after just six months. In spite of these difficulties, Naked, determined to learn professionalism by working through difficult situations, remained with the group after they relocated to Vancouver. Now a straight-edged fitness fanatic who doesn’t smoke, drink, use drugs, or eat red meat, Naked said that prior to her personal turnaround in 1995, alcohol led her to make a lot of unhealthy decisions. Back in Manitoba, Naked had once dated a bodybuilder who turned the singer on to fitness. “But I still drank and did drugs on those early tours, and I was losing my voice all the time,” she recalled to Saunders. “I even got alcohol poisoning. I was trying to keep up with the guys, and I did have a great time. But I also made bad decisions when I drank—whether it was to do drugs or to have sex with someone. Impaired judgement was no friend of mine.”
After stints with two more bands, the high-energy punk combo Chrome Dogs and Dying to Be Violent, Naked struck out on her own in order to escape the boundaries that had been placed on her lyric-writing. In 1994, she released an independent EP entitled Four Songs and a Poem, followed by her debut self-titled album. With Bif Naked, the young songwriter grasped the opportunity to explore all the issues and experiences that shaped her own life. The honesty of her songs, as well as her strong, punk-rock persona, made her an instant icon to thousands of young women worldwide. The same kind of independent attitude had also provided another artist, Tori Amos, a similar kind of fanbase. “I do get really heartfelt letters from some of my fans who can relate to it,” Naked informed Saunders. “It reminds me of what Madonna meant to me when I was 14 years old: She was not afraid of anything, man.”
Following her debut, Naked toured Canada, the United States, and Europe. In 1995, Naked, whose label had gone under soon after Bif Naked’s release, reissued the album on her own label, dubbed Her Royal Majesty’s Records. That same year, the singer/songwriter also tossed aside her punk-rock lifestyle, eschewing all her destructive activities. “Because of my addictive personality, I couldn’t just go on the wagon,” she stated, as quoted by Atlantic Records. “It had to be something that was almost a religion…. I also felt that I suddenly had a social responsibility, because the kids that were coming to my gigs were really young.”
In addition to serving as an example to younger fans, Naked also became the national spokesperson for Stop the Violence-Face the Music. In the summer of 1997, she hosted “Bif Naked’s Rap Punk Pop Invitational” with SNFU, Raggadeath, and Face the Pain, a tour that traveled to 18 Canadian cities. She also performed as the only female act on the main stage at Edgefest, an annual gathering in Canada of alternative bands, alongside the likes of Green Day, the Foo Fighters, and Creed.
In 1999, Naked returned with a second album, her major-label debut entitled Bificus, featuring autobiographical songs about loss, betrayal, and elation. Billboard hailed the release a “truly great rock debut,” describing Naked as a “bold, big-voice, but beautifully nuanced performer.” Following this success, Naked performed that summer with Lilith Fair, then toured with the Cult and Kid Rock.
In addition to pursuing a musical career, Naked landed several acting jobs as well on television series and made-for-television movies. In May of 2000, she started filming Lunch With Charles, a feature film by writer/director Michael Parker. Co-starring with Hong Kong film star Sean Lau, Naked plays the role of Natasha, a woman who struggles to explore her voice as a Celtic singer without losing her own identity.
Bif Naked, Aquarius, 1994; reissued, 1995.
I Bificus, Lava/Atlantic, 1999.
Billboard, July 3, 1999; August 14, 1999.
Interview, December 1999.
Rolling Stone, October 14, 1999.
Official Bif Naked Fan Page, http://www.angelaudio.com/bif/index.html (June 23, 2000).
Sonicnet.com, http://www.sonicnet.com (June 23, 2000).