Lockdown has been a pivotal time for all of us, but one artist who has seen the most change is Bella Latham, more commonly known by her stage name, Baby Queen. While earlier this year she could be found working her 9-5 at London’s Rough Trade Records, that chapter of her life symbolically closed along with the store at the start of the government-mandated lockdown.
Between then and now, Baby Queen has officially signed a deal with Polydor Records, filmed her first music video while in lockdown and released her debut single, “Internet Religion”.
Baby Queen’s ascension to the Instagram throne would be interrupted by a sudden breakup initiated by her partner
The track is a scathing yet satirical critique of modern-day online culture and the shallowing hypothesis that plagues social media. However, she admits to, at times, being sucked in by the vapid lure of the influencer lifestyle. While the Durban-born artist moved to London in pursuit of her dreams of becoming a musician, she soon found herself sucked into a life of fashion events, influencer parties and prioritising her romantic relationship over the art she had ventured across the globe to create.
While the spellbinding lights of the big city almost pushed the once burgeoning socialite down the path of internet royalty, her ascension to the Instagram throne would be interrupted by a sudden breakup initiated by her partner.
“I was in a relationship at the time with my ex, who was immersed in the online influencer world. Because I was so obsessed with the relationship, that world became my reality, and I forgot that I wanted to be a musician…until I got dumped in Clissold Park. Being in that relationship was like being in a glass bubble, and when it suddenly burst, I was like, “sh*t!”.
With the valencia filtered veil now lifted from her previous life, Baby Queen channelled her heartbreak and newly recognised disdain for influencer culture into her debut single, ‘Internet Religion’. Laden with psychedelic synth shimmers, echoing vocal stabs and pop-rock guitar riffs, the track’s production features everything a classic pop hit should. However, the track’s foreboding lyricism sets it apart from the usual pop record we’ve come to expect in recent years.
I’m obsessed with satire; you’re taking the p**s out of everyone else, but at the same time, you are everyone else
Baby Queen joyously sings lyrics such as “Death and guns and beating the gay kids up, It doesn’t happen to you, so why give a f*ck” and “My friends own things you can’t buy, But all of them are broke, and most of them want to die”. Her delivery throughout the track is remarkably jovial, by design rendering the song uncomfortable to sing along to but infectious enough to try.
“I love that juxtaposition, and I love the fact that someone could hear the song on the radio and not realise what they’re saying,” she says. “I’m obsessed with satire; I think it’s the most intelligent way of conveying your opinion. You’re taking the p**s out of everyone else, but at the same time, you are everyone else.”Array
Being able to address negative lived experiences through music is the hallmark of all good songwriters, and Baby Queen is no stranger to laying her darkest moments from her past out on the page. Despite her young age, her journey thus far hasn’t been the straight line to stardom we’ve come to expect from debuting artists in a TikTok industry.
Having had to battle depression and addiction to anti-depressants has left the artist with a lot of trauma to write about – an act she considers a form of therapy.
In the depths of my depression, my ability to make art out of trauma gave purpose to the pain
“I feel like if you can’t turn pain into art, then there’s no point in feeling pain. In the depths of my depression, when I was in an awful place, my ability to make art out of trauma gave purpose to the pain.”
Baby Queen’s need to write about either her turmoils or fractures in society has also made her resentful of artists who in a world on fire, use their platforms to say nothing.
“I think that the world is in so much turmoil, the kids are depressed, suffering from anorexia, suicidal thoughts, and we’ve got bigots running countries yet still, some artists are choosing to sing songs that mean nothing to anyone. I feel it’s a waste of oxygen and it’s a waste of the platform people have.”
Despite her many critiques of the modern-day music industry, I was surprised with her determination to succeed within it. One would assume that all artists labelled “anti-pop” would staunchly oppose the accolades and awards that follow notoriety in the industry, but surprisingly, Baby Queen yearns for them.
In my head, if I don’t get a Grammy for the first record, I need to get it for the second, and I’m intent on that
When questioned about the most daunting aspects of her career, Baby Queen cites: “Living up to my expectations and the expectations of others. In my head, if I don’t get a Grammy for the first record, I need to get it for the second, and I’m intent on that. The biggest problem is going to be the pressure that I put on myself.
It’s refreshing to see such a young artist with the ambition of greatness but unwilling to bend to corrupt methods of obtaining it. In truth, Baby Queen is anti-pop only by her rebellion against the current systems which elevate mediocrity. She cites Taylor Swift, one of today’s most famous pop stars, as her most influential musical inspiration.
Swift seems a strange idol for the anti-establishment Baby Queen until you remember that Swift has often drawn criticism for writing about her personal experiences – something Baby Queen has vowed always to do.
“I absolutely love pop music, and as much as I try to stray away from it, it’s what my mind can write best. I did session writing when I first came to London for pop artists, and it drives me insane that some artists get awards and to the top of their game by regurgitating someone else’s music. I feel anti-pop is just pop music that breaks the boundaries.”
It drives me insane that some artists get awards and to the top of their game by regurgitating someone else’s music
Unlike Taylor Swift, however, Baby Queen’s upcoming music won’t include many romantic love songs, and she attributes their absence to the fact that she’s been single for two years now. While a devastating breakup may have birthed her debut, Baby Queen won’t be writing music about non-existent romantic attachments.
Instead, her next single will focus on her relationship with anti-depressants, delivered in the same satirical upbeat pop package as her debut. Entitled ‘Medicine’, it will once again aim to dismantle disillusions of acceptance offered by organisations which care little for the people that use them.
Baby Queen’s journey thus far certainly hasn’t been without its setbacks. However, her ability to convert her experiences into a marketable sound which connects with the youth will be her greatest strength.
Her music might make light of serious topics, but this is born from her need to bring happiness combined with wanting to call out industries which do the opposite. Time will only tell if this brand of anti-pop can succeed against industries built on numbers, likes and the need for people to feel less-than but Baby Queen – songwriting pen in hand – is ready for the fight.