Providing a voice to a disenchanted generation through satirical lyrics and euphoric, crashing guitar-led soundscapes, Baby Queen is on a mission to change the meaning of pop music.
Behind the moniker Baby Queen, Bella Latham is the witty young musician disillusioned with life but fizzing with creativity. Starting her musical journey writing hazy guitar-pop numbers that exposed society’s failings, she devised the name Baby Queen, feeling her songs were both “childish and immature” yet “mature” at the same time. Armed with a newly armoured sense of identity, Bella started releasing satirical yet euphoric songs.
It was this brand of self-effacing observational social commentary that quickly gained Bella fans around the world. From witty lyrics such as “Edit my legs ’til the doorway bends… We don’t give a fuck about the message we send / If we look perfect when we play pretend / I get more likes when I don’t look like me” in “Pretty Girl Lie to relatable lines about mental health on “Medicine” [I don’t cry / Because my medication confiscates emotions”], it’s no wonder people are relating – and hard.
When we catch up over Zoom, Bella is in the studio, working on some music for 2022. A mix of impressive organisational skills and an unrelenting drive to create meant that she had already completed her work for this year so thought she might as well get ahead for the next, despite it still only being January. It’s even more impressive then, considering that Bella had battled depression towards the end of last year. It’s a real testament to her spirit that she managed to find the silver lining on the dark clouds. “The great thing about being depressed as an artist is that you do find some little nuggets of gold down there”, she says. “So I’ve pulled them back up. Got to make something good come out of it”. In fact, she reveals she’s currently working on her debut album.
Working on a full-length record has been different, Bella tells me, to working on separately-released singles. “It’s a lot more exciting because it’s a whole full body of work that is all going to be sonically cohesive. It’s really fun”.
It’s lucky that she’s got so much time to work on it then, as opposed to being rushed through the process and potentially end up with something that doesn’t feel right down the line. “Yeah, I think that’s what I’m trying to avoid”, she replies. “Like, I’ve heard the worst stories of artists that haven’t had their stuff ready. And then they’re [the label] like, okay, now you’ve got to write this album in two months”.
Whilst she’s still gathering momentum, it’s this feet-on-the-ground approach that has earned Baby Queen spots on countless Ones to Watch lists for 2021. In control of her own image and sound, she’s identified her place in the heavily-saturated music landscape early on. In fact, Bella’s latest track, “Raw Thoughts”, was actually the catalyst for her current sound.
Notion spoke with Baby Queen about everything from the evolution of her music to the story behind her drive to succeed, pressure, and much more. Dive in!
Let’s talk about your recent song, “Raw Thoughts”, which has just dropped. You said it was “the song that catalysed what has become the sound of Baby Queen”. How did you arrive at that sound?
As a writer, you go through so many errors of songwriting. And I think if someone’s releasing music whilst going through these errors, you get to see it unfold; you see the difference in what you’re writing about and how you’re writing. I went through so many errors before, but I think that because I wasn’t releasing, no one knows that those errors existed. I came out of this one era where I was writing super sad, almost more like Lana Del Rey type stuff that felt more poetic, less direct, less satirical, because it was less straight up. But nothing really struck me as extraordinary or different. I wrote the song [“Raw Thoughts”] I was actually on the biggest, biggest, biggest hangover / comedown of my life! I’d been on a massive bender the night before. The song came out like a stream of consciousness or like word vomit, which I’d never done before, and there was something distinctively different about it. It really solidified this voice but the sort of satirical, cynical, very honest… This was sort of the first time that I felt that that something was different about what I was doing. So yeah, I definitely feel like it was the starting point of a new era of writing.
You do have such a distinctive voice and sound – it’s very observational and witty. That’s why I’m sure so many magazines have picked you as One to Watch. How has that been for you though? After putting so much work in, getting so much recognition, all at the same time?
It was quite weird, because throughout last year, I saw a really good response to everything, which was amazing because you really never know how people are going to connect to what you’re doing. All I knew is that I thought what I was doing was fucking great. I thought what I was doing was revolutionary and world-changing. But everyone thinks that about what they do. To keep doing this, you have to think that you are the precipice of greatness, otherwise, you would just not do it. But maybe I’m just a narcissist [laughs]. It was amazing to have people understand my words as I meant them. They felt so deeply personal that I wasn’t sure if people would get it. There’s so many people making music, how the fuck do you stand out of anything? It gave me huge confidence in my abilities and what I’m able to do, which was really nice coming into writing this album now, to be able to think, ‘you know, I am good at this’ because, in the beginning, you don’t know. You don’t know you have no idea whether you’re good or average. But towards the end of last year, when all the tips [the Ones to Watch lists] started coming in, I think that was a bit mad. And then I was like, now the pressure’s fucking on. I’m kind of scared. Because I have to live up to it now.
Where’s that pressure coming from? Yourself, your label, your fans?
It’s definitely 90% from me. I was so obsessive about doing this as a kid. I left home when I was 19, which is one of the biggest sacrifices in my life, and you don’t know if it’s ever going to pay off. And so then it does start to pay off, there’s really no other option than to do it, really, because you’ve left everything else behind. So I think most of the pressure comes from myself. I put so much pressure on myself that it’s actually quite intense to cope with a lot of the time. But then I do feel responsible for other people. I know a lot of people have invested time and energy and a lot of people believe in me. I don’t ever want to let other people down.
Your song “Want Me” was written as an ode to Killing Eve star Jodie Comer. She heard it and messaged you on Instagram, right?
The song came out because I was like, I really fancy this person – which never ever happens to me. But then when it does, it’s like, I’m definitely gonna write 10 songs and be weird about it. I thought maybe she’s like heard it and thinks I’m a lunatic and she’s specifically pretending that she doesn’t know that it exists [laughs]. Then one day, I was in the studio in a co-writing session. I left my phone charging, went back in the room and had like 20 messages from my manager like, “Jodie’s DM’d you on Instagram!!!!” I was in here with Ed [ [her producer] and we both just looked at each other like, what the fuck? I went on Instagram and sure enough, she had seen the song, which is crazy. She was so nice about it. I had to take a deep breath.
You said in a previous interview that “Want Me” is the closest we’ll get to a Baby Queen love song any time soon. Is that going to change in the new music you’ve been working on?
You know what, that was before I actually wrote one of the really big songs for this year. That is more of a love song. “Raw Thoughts” is a breakup song. And then there’s actually another one. Things have changed since then, things have changed [chuckles]! There’s been a definite shift in the waters – not much. I don’t particularly like to write about love because I think that there’s more important things to write about. But when it is the thing on your mind, you have to write about it. We’re definitely going to get closer to love song territory this year, which is quite exciting, actually. It’s quite nice to have that side to this to this body of work because last year, everything was so observational. I was like, ‘I hate the internet! I hate body editing apps!’ Like, I hate this, I hate that. It’s quite nice to have something that is less clinically observational.
How do you feel generally when you’re releasing new music? Is there anything in particular that makes you nervous or excited when you’re putting a new song out into the world?
I hate having time in between releasing music. I like it to constantly move. I think that in the beginning, it felt more nerve-wracking. I would constantly check Spotify to see what playlist I had been added to; what has this person said? And now it’s more a sense of – the song is going to do what it’s going to do, and I feel more relaxed about that. What was really nice is on the first day, the fans really reacted really well to the song [“Raw Thoughts”]. And so for me, that’s all that ultimately matters. I think I’ve learned that the immediate reaction from streaming services or press is not the ultimate success of the song.
Nothing ever feels finished. Maybe musically a bit more than visually. You just do your best to make it what the vision was in the beginning and do the best that you can. Then suddenly, it’s released, and then it’s gone, and then you have to focus on the next thing. It’s weird. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s very exciting.
When you said that you feel nothing is ever finished, do you mean your musical journey is never finished because you want to keep creating for as long as you can? Or do you mean the songs never feel finished, even once they’ve been released?
I’m not going to feel finished for a very long time. There’s a lot of stories that I want to tell through a number of albums. I already know what those albums are, so there’s a lot of space to fill between here and then. But the idea comes to life for me when I know what the song sounds like. With the artwork and visual stuff, you’ll sit there and conceptualise it, but it’ll never look exactly like what you pictured it. I’m quite a perfectionist so nothing ever feels done because there’s always something that could be done. I’m really obsessive.
Having a busy release schedule must have been a good focus during the turbulence of the past year?
Yeah, definitely. I was so, so lucky. I was working at Rough Trade on Brick Lane in mail order, packing up the records. When we went into lockdown, that’s when I signed my record deal and then that job ceased to exist. So I would have been jobless but I became the busiest I’ve ever been.
What are your plans with gigs and touring this year? Have you announced anything or holding off to see what happens?
We had so many things, so many shows, and the Great Escape festival, so many festivals that we booked and not announced. I had a tour with Sea Girls through the UK that was happening in October – which we’re still really hopeful for. There’s so much stuff that I haven’t announced. I’m just gonna hold fire on announcing stuff because I would have hoped that it would have been a live year because next year will come around and the shows will be even bigger – and I haven’t played any shows! So I don’t want to walk out onto massive stages all of a sudden having not played anything. I think if I played this year, it would be easier to go into next year as things get bigger. It’s also kind of weird as a musician, not to be able to see what you’re doing coming into fruition. If nothing’s ever tangible, if you can’t ever meet the people and play those gigs, it’s kind of depressing. I think that a lot of people are struggling with the same thing. The whole job of being a musician is primarily touring and playing shows. But hopefully, it’ll be worth it on the other side. I think it’s gonna be like the booming 20s. Everyone’s gonna be at gigs. It’s going to be an exciting time for live music when it eventually opens up again.
Lastly, what do you want your legacy to be?
I like it when people say that I’ve provided a voice to a generation of quite unhappy, disillusioned people that are navigating being young in the world and society as it exists today and ultimately finding it quite difficult. I really liked the idea of being able to mirror the exact thoughts that somebody else is thinking but couldn’t put into words. I ultimately want pop music to be seen as a different thing to what is now. Pop music doesn’t have to be vapid. Pop means popular. It means it has the greatest reach; the most amount of people are hearing those words. And so it annoys me when a pop artist sings the same word 10 times through a chorus and doesn’t say anything important, because you’ve got the biggest reach! I’d really love to be a part of the movement that changes the face of pop music and makes it actually fucking mean something again.