So happy I could die: Catharsis, growth and music with Bif Naked

Photo by Kim Akrigg

Bif Naked loves herself today, not like yesterday. For Naked, born Beth Torbert, yesterday is an assemblage of adversity. Yesterday spans the last four years: a battle with breast cancer, a crushing divorce, recent kidney failure and open-heart surgery. The Juno Award-nominee and Vancouver native pop rocker believes that these hard times have finally made her sanguine in her own skin.

“Breast cancer turned me into a woman,” Naked says, clad in what she considers “little boy clothes” of a crisp pink dress shirt, purple skinny jeans and vegan Doc Martens loafers. “Before breast cancer, I really don’t believe I was an adult. I don’t think it was because of my own suffering, or physiological experience. I think it was because of my proximity to other women and their experiences.”

The other women Naked refers to are those she met while volunteering at a local hospital. Stating, “Emotions are worse than anything you can go through physically,” she felt a great source of positive energy from being around fellow cancer patients and survivors. Living by the motive that everything happens for a reason, Naked is grateful for her diagnosis, as she discovered “new passions,” along the way.

Naked has documented this gratitude in her new single, “So Happy I Could Die,” from her latest release, Bif Naked Forever: Acoustic Hits and Other Delights. The album is a collection of re-recorded acoustic classics and three fresh tracks. Like the singer’s moniker, the music is stripped down, both natural and vulnerable, showcasing Naked at her core.

“As a lyricist, I have been able to tap into my feelings and its very cathartic,” she says of writing new material with producer Ryan Stewart. “Emotionally, I envision myself as a resilient lady. I think (in a Yankee accent) ‘Ah, fuck it; I’ve seen it all. I’m tough as nails.’ But not at all, yet I had a completely open-heart writing with him.”

The heart is both a literal and figurative symbol for Naked. In the summer of 2012, her kidney failed. It was the crisis of the year, and having dealt with real heartbreak from a divorce in 2011, the artist faced an array of life decisions, yet a strong will to move on.

This strength-turned-solace is audible on “So Happy I Could Die,” a track evoking the gratitude Naked has practiced since the beginning of her career.

“I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to hear my song on the radio,” she says of her big break that led to a tour with Life of Agony and a performance on the Today Show. “It didn’t matter if I got hit by a car.”

After several years of success and radio domination with hits like “Let Down” and “Spaceman,” crises arose, but with the help of her family and a clear mindset, Naked was full of fortitude.

“Life can be stressful and I get that,” she says. “But at the end of the day, reconnect with yourself, your surroundings, your gratitude and reality.”

The artist considers this to be her greatest insight and a value deeply rooted in her upbringing. Born in New Delhi, India and adopted by Canadian missionaries, Naked grew up in a multiethnic home. A “self-identifying Indian,” Naked found belonging in the Hindustani Khana Indian food her parents made, paired with the worship of Hindu deities and Christian faith. Now straightedge, vegan and an avid yoga enthusiast, she says that her path was guided not by religion, but by spirituality through music like Krishna Punk.

At first glance, Naked’s heavily inked body forms many misconceptions. The artist admits that people would never know that she loves the colour pink, doesn’t drink alcohol and is politically active with the City of Vancouver Women’s Advisory Council. She even has a house music side project under the name Jakkarta, in all of its “filthy, fun” tenacity.

Regarded as a role model, Naked’s biggest piece of advice emphasizes one of her most prolific songs.

“Love yourself today,” she says without pause. “For women, our biggest hang-up is ourselves and only we can know that self worth, self honour and self love is the biggest struggle we have.”

Among other endeavours, these feminine battles and a slew of adverse situations may be compiled in a book Naked is writing, set for a 2013 release. This may all seem a bit much, but for now, she’s cool, calm and definitely okay.

This piece was first published in the Winter 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine

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