In the world of Baby Queen, honesty is the jewel in her crown. It’s what the rising pop star – real name Bella Latham – has built the project around, never shying away from the tropics that might be difficult or uncomfortable to broach. Much of the small-but-solid back catalogue she’s released over the last 15 months has tackled big subjects, from mental health and the effects of anti-depressants (‘Medicine’) to social media’s grip on our relationship with our bodies and sense of self (‘Pretty Girl Lie’).
“I think it’s really important right now for pop music to be saying something,” the 24-year-old says, sitting at the end of a mustard yellow couch in a creative studio in east London. “Pop music is the music that has the greatest reach. So you’re reaching all these people and young kids that are struggling with real-world issues. You’ve got this megaphone to be able to communicate with people.”
On her debut mixtape, ‘The Yearbook’, Latham continues her brutally unfiltered streak. On the melancholy glisten of ‘These Drugs’, she sings of self-medicating with narcotics and the dawning realisation that it’s just “a bandaid on a broken arm” that’s doing more harm than good. The half-spoken word, synth slow build of ‘I’m A Mess’ contains moments of deliciously dark humour (“Cos when I try to drown my sorrows, the fuckers learn to breathe”), while surveying the state of the South African-born, London-based artist’s mental health.
While some people might be scared to share quite such intimate insights into their personal lives, for Baby Queen the opposite is the problem. Instead, her fear is not being open enough and there’s a certain feeling she gets when she’s hit her transparency target. “When you’re touching a topic that’s spiky, you start to feel spiky inside yourself,” she explains. “That’s when you start to feel, ‘OK, I’m hitting things’ and that’s when you keep going into it. Those are songs you can just fall into and get carried away, and they come to life because you’re digging for the most honest thing you can say.”
Being quite so candid in work you’re sharing with so many people could come with its pitfalls though – putting all of yourself out there until you have nothing left that’s sacred for yourself. “I’ve honestly never felt that way,” Latham says, shaking her head. “My mum’s sitting over there and she’s gonna laugh because I’ll meet someone new and I’ll just be like, ‘This happened this weekend and I did this and that’, and she’s like, ‘Why are you telling people all this stuff?!’”
‘The Yearbook’ shows there’s another side to Baby Queen’s honesty though – one that might not be quite as weighty but is just as important in building a picture of who she is as a person. ‘American Dream’, which features Aussie newcomer MAY-A, is a crush fantasy that boasts the immortal line: “The things I could do in a hotel room all alone with you/ That I can’t say aloud.” The baggy lope of ‘You Shaped Hole’ tackles heartbreak in the most cathartic, jubilant way. “Sometimes being honest is writing some stupid little love song about someone you fancy,” she reasons. “It’s just important to make sure that you’re always speaking your truth.”
Talking so freely about her life in her songs has brought Latham the biggest reward of all – a fanbase, dubbed Baby Kingdom, with whom she has such a unique and strong connection. Before she sits down with NME today, she’s greeted by a stack of letters and presents from her fans, who she writes her own missives to and hosts big Zoom hangouts with. “I’m really grateful for the decision that I made to be as honest as I was in songs like ‘These Drugs’,” she nods, “because that’s where this feeling of connecting to people in such a really intimate way comes from and I don’t think I would have achieved if I had not just let it all out.”
To the musician, ‘The Yearbook’ is a “coming-of-age” project that she describes as a being written during her “most developmental years”. To get to that part of our lives when we figure who we are out, we have to move through a lot of versions of ourselves and that’s reflected in the host of characters that make up the record’s visual identity. The cover features Latham dressed up as a goth, a cheerleader, a prom queen and more. “I wanted to bring the songs and story to life and make everyone listening feel like they could grow up with me and come on that journey,” she explains. While she admits some of the personalities she’s assigned to each track are “a bit of a reach”, she wanted to add that element in to give each song “a human element”.
It’s a moment of creativity that is typical of the world Latham has been building since her debut single ‘Internet Religion’ was released in May 2020. Like most artists who’ve started their careers in the last 18 months, all she’s known so far has been a very online pop star existence. But last month, she finally got to enter the real world, play her first festival shows and meet her fans IRL for the first time.
“I was so depressed before those festivals, I felt really powerless and I had a complete identity crisis,” she says, but those shows were transformative for her. “It reignited this feeling of ‘This is why I’m doing it’. It’s a fucking dream come true – I could never have been prepared for what that feeling is when you come off that stage.”
It’s a feeling that she’ll be getting very used to soon. She’s soon to hit the road as Sea Girls’ support act on their UK tour and has three sold-out shows at London’s Omeara coming up. “I’ve realised that Baby Queen is such a live thing,” she smiles. “That energy [from the show] is so infectious now – I can feel it every day when I’m walking around. It feels real to me, so it’s really exciting.”
Latham is also hard at work on her debut album, which will arrive next year and holds a similar level of exhilaration for her as her gigs. “I think it’s the best music I’ve ever made,” she says proudly. “Which is great, because I would have hated to have gotten to this point and thought my best stuff is behind me. I thought that ‘Raw Thoughts’ would haunt me to the grave [as my best song].” With everything she does getting stronger and stronger, it’s not hard to believe that the best is yet to come for Baby Queen, who is consistently putting herself forward as a future leader of pop. Better get her throne ready now.
Baby Queen’s ‘The Yearbook’ mixtape is out September 3