“Honest, Raw, & Reflective”: Bel’s ‘Read the Room’ EP Is an Impassioned, Empowered Eruption

BEL © SJ Spreng
BEL © SJ Spreng
BEL’s Isabel Whelan takes us into the intimate, introspective depths of her breathtakingly bold, achingly cathartic, and irresistibly catchy ‘Read the Room’ EP.
for fans of Charli Adams, Abby Holliday, girlhouse
Stream: “Cold Brew” – BEL

I’m just being honest; does that make you want me less?

Achingly intimate and unapologetically candid, BEL’s latest EP is the perfect example of empowerment through vulnerability.

And if we’re being honest with ourselves, that’s the best kind of empowerment there is. True to herself and true to her work since the very beginning, Bel Whelan has never shied away from digging deep and doing the work; nevertheless, her latest batch of songs hit particularly hard as she dwells in the unforgiving, but deeply rewarding depths of love, loss, and longing.

Breathtakingly bold, undeniably cathartic, and irresistibly catchy, Read the Room turns one soul’s inner brooding into warm, wondrous beauty as BEL spills her guts seven times over. Tender and turbulent, dynamic and demanding, these songs hold nothing back in reminding us what it’s like to hit our low, and how it feels when we finally do bounce back.

Read the Room - BEL
Read the Room – BEL
I wanna tell you that I miss you
I’m writing drafts in my notes app
And I never even had you
But I really want you back
It’s only ’cause I’m lonely
But no one ever says that
It’s funny when it’s smoky
It makes a better sunset
Oh, I keep it in, I never spill
I can be good, I can be chill
Don’t have to worry ’bout me
Oh, I keep it in, I never spill
I can be good, I can be chill
Don’t have to worry ’bout me
– “Cold Brew,” BEL

Independently released November 10, 2023, Read the Room is a dramatic (but gentle) giant of sonically and emotionally charged indie rock/pop sound. Arriving a year and a half after her sophomore EP Jet Lag soared high with its own heavy heart, BEL – the moniker for Clovis, California-based singer/songwriter and producer Isabel Whelan – presents her third EP as her most mature effort yet: An immersive, cohesive and truly uncompromising collection of spellbinding enchantments and intoxicating upheavals that shine a raw, penetrating light on our regrets, desires, hopes, dreams, and more.

Memories of fleeting moments gone too soon coalesce with reflections on what it means to love, to lose and let go, and to be fully present and actively engaged in one’s own life as BEL, an Atwood Magazine artist-to-watch and two-time Editor’s Picks – unpacks the turmoil and trauma of her mid-twenties.

BEL © SJ Spreng
BEL © SJ Spreng



BEL © SJ Spreng
BEL © SJ Spreng

Whelan describes Read the Room as an honest, raw, and reflective record; the title itself, she explains, is a phrase she has always loved.

“I just feel like it has so many ways it can be interpreted as a through-line for all the songs on the EP,” she muses. “The idea of altering behavior to fit the expectations of others, trying to be what you think someone else wants. It applies a lot in the dating world, but it also applies to being a developing artist.”

I’m learning how to shut out the noise of doing what other people expect of me artistically and instead doing what feels right in my soul.

From algorithms and radio to label executives and all the other gatekeepers out there, the music industry is filled with a pervasive pressure for artists to conform, comply, and assimilate – to submit to a standard (usually the lowest common denominator) and fit their different-shaped pegs into whatever hole is garnering the most attention at the moment. Fighting against the tide takes guts, it takes time, and considerable energy, but BEL has clearly found the lane that feels right for her – diving headfirst into that space in which mainstream and alternative music collide.

Each of Read the Room’s seven tracks brings something fresh to the table, starting with the glistening churn of opener “Cold Brew” and cinematic lead single “Are You Okay?” – one of Atwood Magazine’s Editor’s Picks, which we previously praised as a “captivating, lush, loving cacophony – one fueled by tenderness toward a friend, and the juxtaposition of being on the inside looking out, and being on the outside, looking in.”

No amount of talking…
No amount of talking could
Got a couple tables for the weekend
Bring a new boy and a few friends
I said I’m okay I don’t need that
Are you okay
Are you okay, okay
A la la la la, are you okay?
Are you okay, okay?
A la la la la, are you okay?
Are you okay, okay?

BEL © SJ Spreng
BEL © SJ Spreng

Within each of BEL’s songs is a world of wonder waiting to be unearthed and embraced.

There’s a gritty glow to the love-soaked “Carry Me to Bed” that helps it shine brighter with every subsequent listen, and in the heated confessional “Forget Everything” an open-book BEL delivers a visceral, incredibly intense exploration of past and present, marrying desire and regret as she swims through what she calls “the aftermath of a failed situationship.” BEL is finally unleashed in every way on the heavy, grungy alternative outpouring “Woman on Fire,” a feverish, cathartic, and charged eruption of cool confidence and proud independence.

Driving circles with my speakers blown
I don’t wanna see your name on my phone
I finally found a good rhythm
But you’re missing all the cues
The cues the cues
You can type it out but don’t press send
I’m the type that really means it when
I say I need my space
But you’re missing all the cues
The cues the cues
All on my own, I got my light back
When you’re alone, do you get flashbacks?
All on my own, I forgot how I could shine
Cause’ I’m a woman on fire
I don’t need your desire
I’m a woman on fire
I don’t need ya
– “Woman on Fire,” BEL

There’s nowhere to hide when everything is up-front and honest, and that’s ultimately what drives each track to be its best possible self: Again, it’s that empowerment through vulnerability that serves BEL, and the entirely of Read the Room, so well.

BEL cites the beautifully brooding indie rocker “Hypocrite” and the melodramatic, driving confessional title track as her two favorite songs of the moment, but she caveats that by saying it changes from day to day; when you’re making music this personal and introspective, it’s especially hard to choose.

Lyrically, her favorite lines are those that reveal more about her personality:

“It’s funny when it’s smoky, it makes a better sunset,” (Cold Brew)
“I’m just being honest, does that make you want me less,” (Hypocrite)
“all your jokes that made me laugh were somebody else’s,” (Forget Everything)
“I guess I’m a liar when I say ‘It’s fine,’ but I feel obligated to lie,” (Read the Room)
BEL © SJ Spreng
BEL © SJ Spreng

BEL © SJ Spreng
BEL © SJ Spreng

Music is, for so many artists, a reflection of where they are at present, and in Read the Room, we experience BEL channeling the worst moments of her personal life into her very best songs. Her preference for the brutally candid and undeniably catchy makes this record an undeniable standout, and one we’ll be playing on repeat for years to come.

“I hope people takeaway that it’s important to take the leap of faith,” Whelan shares. “Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but you never know if you don’t try. I learned it’s okay to change your mind or to have been wrong about something you thought was supposed to be right for you. Be kind to yourself.”

Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside BEL’s Read the Room EP with Atwood Magazine as she takes us track-by-track through the music and lyrics of her latest release!

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:: stream/purchase Read the Room here ::
:: connect with BEL here ::
Stream: ‘Read the Room’ – BEL

:: Inside Read the Room ::

Read the Room - BEL

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Cold Brew

I wrote this song after being ghosted. It’s a tongue in cheek one about placating people and trying to be the chill girl even though I’m spiraling and hurt. The outro is one of my favorite parts. I had so much fun experimenting with sounds with producers Jack Laboz & Jon Santana when we made this one—just messing up sounds and speeding and slowing things down.

Are You Okay?

I wrote this song for a friend of mine going through a rocky time with her boyfriend. It was coming from a place of love and making sure she was being true to herself and questioning if he was the best person for her. I’m also kind of asking myself if I’m ok with being alone when it seems like everyone else has someone.


It’s about getting older and learning how to find red flags and patterns in relationships. It’s about being with someone and feeling like it’s not right deep down but being too afraid to be alone. It’s also about having self-awareness for your own flaws in a relationship.

Forget Everything

It’s about developing and acting on feelings for a friend and the aftermath of it. It’s me realizing my relationship with that person will never be the same and wishing we could forget it all and go back to the way we were before.

Carry Me To Bed

It’s about craving intimacy and feeling like people on dating apps just treat everyone like they’re dispensable. I’m poking fun at a lot of the emotionally unavailable, hot/funny people I’ve come across while dating in LA.

Read the Room

It’s about using humor as a defense mechanism and feeling unsure of what side of myself to show to someone when I’m first meeting them. It ties the whole theme of the project together, speaking on the struggles of dating and how it can be heavy and vulnerable yet lighthearted and unserious at the same time.

Woman on Fire

I wrote this song about being tired of finding myself in situations that dimmed my light, as an artist and woman. I wanted a way to celebrate healing from traumatic experiences and feel empowered in my body again. It’s a song to remind me of my worth in those inevitable moments when I don’t feel as confident.

Are You Okay? (Live from SiriusXM)

This is the live version from my SiriusXMU session I did earlier this year. “Are You Okay?” was the #1 song on SiriusXMU in April & May which was really unfathomable for me as an independent artist. I’ve been on my first tours this year and played a lot of these songs live in different arrangements so I thought it would be special to include the live version & show how different the lyrics can feel when it’s stripped back.

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:: stream/purchase Read the Room here ::
:: connect with BEL here ::

— — — —

Read the Room - BEL

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? © SJ Spreng

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