NME Radar: Breakout

Baby Queen: sharp, satirical and infectious bangers from one of pop’s most essential new voices

South Africa-born, London-based musician Bella Latham on the importance of honesty in her songwriting, hiding from Matty Healy and writing songs about 'Killing Eve' star Jodie Comer.

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

Although she’s only three singles into her journey, Baby Queen — aka South Africa-born, London-based musician Bella Latham — has already marked herself out as one of the most essential new voices in pop. Her debut offering ‘Internet Religion’, released back in May, skewered our extremely online existence and the identities we hide behind on social media, before July’s ’Buzzkill’ turned bringing all your friends down at a party into one of the most infectious bangers of 2020.

I used to wanna die / But now I wanna live forever,” Latham sings on her latest single ‘Medicine’, a subdued but shiny track that explores the side effects and salves of anti-depressants. Each Baby Queen song may sound different but they’re tied together by a common thread: their writer’s sharp observations and wry humour, placing Latham in the same lyrical lineage as The 1975’s Matty Healy or Lorde.

With ‘Buzzkill’ and now ‘Medicine’ blowing up, NME jumped on Zoom with Latham to talk partying, honesty in songwriting and writing odes to Killing Eve star Jodie Comer.

‘Buzzkill’ has brought a lot of attention your way – how are you coping with everything?

“The workload and the schedule is so different to what my life was before signing [a record deal] and initially I was having massive meltdowns; just, like, anxiety through the roof. But I’m managing. It’s weird, I speak to a lot of musicians who didn’t want this side of it — they only wanted to make music. I’m lucky in that I always wanted this. As a kid I was like: ‘I’m going to go to Hollywood!’”

You’ve been plotting your career for a while. Are you where you thought you would be at 23?

“No, I thought I would be here so much sooner. I’ve been making music since I was 10 and I was 16 when I got really serious about it. Even when I came over to London, I thought it was too late. I was 18 and I was like: ‘I’ve fucked it.’ But it’s much better timing now because I feel like I’m old enough to cope with it. It’s also taken a long time to get everything conceptually to the right place. Before now, it would have been uncooked. I feel like everything is right, but then I look at Billie Eilish — who I love — and I’m like: ‘I hate you for being 18 right now!’”

‘Buzzkill’ is about being depressed at a party – was there one party in particular that inspired it?

“It was actually a stage in my life, but I wrote the song after this mad night out in east London. It was meant to be great vibes and I started crying. My friends were like: ‘You’re so young, chill out. Life’s so good!’ It was almost like [they were] asking me out of my anxiety spell. I have a guilt complex with partying and I was going through a break-up then, too. I went home and was like [sings the melody that leads to the chorus]: ‘I don’t wanna be a buzzkill’. The chorus came that night, but the song was actually written over a few months.”

What do you mean when you say you have a guilt complex about partying?

“Without getting too deep, I feel a lot of responsibility to a lot of people in my life and to always look after them and make sure they’re happy. I also have this thing in my head where I’m like: ‘I want to be a good person’. I don’t really party that much anymore, but I was partying really heavily during that time of writing ‘Buzzkill’. Do you know when you wake up and just regret your whole life? You feel like an awful human being and I started to pre-empt the guilt before the next morning and be like: ‘Oh my god, I’m horrible’.”

You said on Twitter recently that there was a point where you thought you wouldn’t out-write ‘Buzzkill’. Were you scared that you’d peaked when you wrote it?

“It’s weird because I think I attached so much adoration to that song. I was like: ‘‘Buzzkill’ is it’. But now there’s a song coming out at the end of the year that I think I’m never going to out-write — it’s about Jodie Comer from Killing Eve. And the day that ‘Buzzkill’ came out, we had this idea for a song that is coming out next year and I remember coming home from the studio that day and being like: ‘Fuck! It’s also a song about Jodie Comer’. I can’t fall in love with anyone else.”

Baby Queen
Baby Queen (Picture: Press)

Are you writing a whole album about Jodie Comer?

“[Laughs] No, honestly it’s so bad, she’s going to think I’m a psychopath. I’ve got a song coming at the end of the year about her and now two next year. I’m like: ‘Stop. Someone just stop me’. She’s dating a man, I don’t have a chance.”

Someone else you love did come down to the ‘Buzzkill’ video shoot though…

“Oh my god! I’m a really big 1975 fan — I remember when I was 17 and discovering that first record of theirs. This was when I was rebelling and I just remember playing it on repeat and being obsessed with Matty Healy’s lyricism. I became really good friends with the hair stylists and makeup artists on the ‘Buzzkill’ shoot, and my stylist Patricia is Matty’s main stylist. She was texting him so I was like: ‘Just tell him I’m a fan’. And then she was like [adopts Italian accent]: ‘OK, Matty is-a coming’. I was so nervous but I held it together and he was so nice. Then when he left I picked up a plastic chair — Patricia threw me under the bus, by the way — and as he was walking away she went: ‘Matty! Look at what Bella’s doing!’ He looked back and I had this chair on top of my head, hiding underneath it.”

Oops! You also have a ‘Buzzkill’ tattoo on your arm – why?

“I wanted to get it on the inside of my lip but my mum said no. It was a very rash decision. You know that immediate regret you get afterwards? I had that, but now I’m used to it. It’s the song where I felt, when I wrote it, I really knew what Baby Queen was. Initially when I wrote it I thought it was shit and then everyone else was like: ‘This is sick’. That was also the first song I wrote that had that really interesting satirical voice, and that’s what has carried through maybe 80% of the music that’s coming out this year and next.”

Your new single ‘Medicine’ seems happier than ‘Buzzkill’ on first listen, but when you listen closer it also sounds quite cynical and sarcastic.

“Totally. I’ve been on anti-depressants since I was 16 and then I went off them for a little while and then started taking them again, and I wrote it during that period of time. There’s a really bad two-week period when you get really bad side effects and the song is basically a narrative of those. It’s a weird thing because it sounds very negative towards them, however I take them every day and I wouldn’t be able to live without them. It’s like: ‘Thank god for my medicine, but I’ve lost everything about myself’. I’m glad that I wrote it, but I don’t think anti-depressants are a bad thing – they’re incredible.”

Why is it important to you to be so open and honest about mental health in your songs?

“I think it’s important and honest in general. The only thing that I can bring to the table that’s different is the way that I think, the way my brain works and what I’m personally experiencing — everyone can write a melody. The reason I’ve been so honest about mental health is because, through this period of time, it’s been the biggest thing in my life. I haven’t had anyone to write about. I went through a massive break-up just before this period of writing this Baby Queen music and I feel like you really, really focus on you when that happens. It’s almost like a window breaks and you suddenly see everything that’s going on. Honesty is the biggest defining characteristic of what I do.”

You’ve been in the studio today – are you working on an album?

“I was meant to be. I went away to write in a cottage in Bath recently and that was meant to be to write the album for 2022. But then I wrote these songs and then, with the stuff that was coming out next year, I was like: ‘Hmm, let’s swap it out’. I just want next year to be as strong as this one.”

You have lots more music that’s still to come this year. What can we expect from it?

“After ‘Medicine’, it’s the two biggest bangers of the year — so fuck everything else! Everything else is irrelevant. I love ‘Buzzkill’ the most because it means the most, but these ones are just huge songs. The next one’s coming out four weeks after ‘Medicine’, then there’ll be another one after that and then it’s a six-track EP. It’s exciting, it’s gonna be really cool.”

Baby Queen’s latest single ‘Medicine’ is out now.