First releases can be so hard. How does an artist get across everything about themselves with one bold piece of music to their name? For Baby Queen, the wait was a long one.
“I felt for so long that I was just waiting for my life to start, y’ know?” she explains. “You’re in this state of limbo, so to suddenly see this response this year to me putting music out has been really incredible. That people are connecting and understanding what I’m doing. It sort of authenticates everything you go through before this time, the highs and the lows…”
Bella Latham – currently nestled in an Airbnb in Bath where she’s spending time between recording/writing trying to load up episodes of Modern Family with a dodgy internet connection – is all about drive. “Since I was 11, I just ruthlessly wanted to be the biggest artist in the world,” she states. “I packed my bags and said to my mum, I’m going to be a pop star… cheers, I’m leaving! Like, see you soon hun!'”
That determination perfectly captures who Baby Queen is. A side of Bella full of brash confidence and feverish energy, the results so far pinpoint an artist with her finger firmly on the pulse of a modern generation refusing to fall into the lanes laid out for them.
Growing up in South Africa staying up to watch the Grammys, having Fleetwood Mac playing around the house, and eventually building an unbreakable connection with Taylor Swift (“I had a fan page when I was 13 years old!”), she sits as a result of all these influences.
“I got obsessed with listening to country music when I was younger,” recalls Bella. “That came from listening to Taylor a lot and then from there I discovered Shania Twain, the Dixie Chicks and more. I just got really into it and learnt to write songs by emulating that country music storytelling way, which I only really broke away from later, but initially, I just loved chart music. I was there listening to Katy Perry knowing all those records off by heart. Straight-up pop”.
Embracing American culture, she knew that to reach those heights, she would have to move somewhere else. “It may sound shallow to want to be the biggest artist in the world, but when you start to unpack things, it comes down to feeling like there’s a part of you that never got the attention or affirmation you felt like you deserved growing up. I think I had a bit of that. You seek the affirmation elsewhere; I got really obsessive, and I couldn’t stop. It’s the only thing I ever think about.”
It’s how Bella found herself moving to London. Leaving home at 19 to chase the dream, she was met with a new world full of artists and sounds that never would have passed through her life back in South Africa. Picking up a job at London’s famed Rough Trade East record store, a new breadth of artists were there and in front of Bella. The 1975 and their twisting viewpoint on modern pop, the immediacy of Little Simz and the stories she would weave – each played a pivotal role in Bella growing into the artist she wanted to become. “I literally got here, lived out of a suitcase and didn’t really know anyone,” remembers Bella, “but I was like, it has to happen. There is no other choice. I literally have left my entire family and everyone I knew to chase this. I can’t not succeed. It’s not an option.”
One listen to Baby Queen, and you’ll understand why she’s about to become a pretty big deal. Debut release ‘Internet Religion’ arrived like a shot out of the blue, fizzing indie-pop breakdowns and biting social commentary on the digital age. On follow-up ‘Buzzkill’, that alt-pop slanting magic stands in full force, sounding like the sort of track that’ll live on phone screens and personal playlists for the foreseeable future.
Most importantly, it’s the sound of an artist growing up in the modern world and perfectly detailing the human reaction and cost associated with a complex world where scrutiny and perception is an unneeded must. “When I started working with my producer, I don’t think either of us knew what we were doing. We just knew that we had a couple of demos and wanted to create something beyond what is the protocol in pop. Creating something that has a lasting impact and has its own identity and sound. That could stand the test of time.”
Breaking down the boundaries of pop is a natural next step. After moving to London, Bella describes how she “got really cool and was like ‘fuck pop music, that’s shit’.” As you can imagine, it was a resistance that didn’t last. Bella laughs, thinking back. “It actually got to the point where we made ‘Buzzkill’, and we made it and I was like ‘oh for fuck sake it’s so pop, this is dreadful’. As time went by, though, I realised it was what people were reacting to the most. Where we were really sitting on that brink, where we were really pushing that boundary of pop in a sarcastic and intelligent way – that was where the best reactions were coming from, and then I was like, hell yeah. This is it.”
“I’ve settled on this word, anti-pop,” continues Bella. “Anti-pop is pop music for people who don’t like pop music, or don’t like the idea of it. I think that sort of feels right because a lot of what I do is reject the sort-of normal expectations and parameters of pop music and the way it’s all done. Especially in my lyrics, I think it’s about a huge rejection of this huge session-writing pop machine because for me that’s the death of pop music. It has to be personal to me, it couldn’t be anything else.
“My whole thing is that pop music doesn’t have to be shit.”
The reaction so far has been surreal to see for Bella, with Baby Queen already standing for something greater. “The project is brighter and bigger than just me and I’m happy to let it go there, y’know?” Bella adds. “I want this to be music people can listen to and feel like they don’t have to change anything about themselves. Every single weird thought they have in their heads, they know exists in everyone else’s head and exists in mine too.
“It’s like a huge pendulum swinging and rejecting this Facetune world of ‘your life is presented perfectly blemish-free’. The world doesn’t want that anymore. The biggest thing I can ever stand for is just to be honest, even if that means it’s uncomfortable to listen to. I have songs that are coming out next year where I had to go and re-record the vocals for them, and I wasn’t in the same space I was when writing it. I cried in the studio trying to do it, because I think – and this is my entire philosophy – the more honest I can be about my life, the more the listener can connect.”
For some new artists, every new step is a surprise. That idea that, yes – this is happening, can be quite an experience to digest. In Baby Queen’s case, the goal is clear, and she’s not about to let this slip through her fingers.
Work on her debut album is already well underway. Bella is already obsessed with the different eras and avenues she can take Baby Queen down, and plans are already shaping up for how the next two years are about to look for Bella’s diary. Spoiler: it’s going to be busy.
“I actually asked my managers if they could schedule in a relationship for me at some point because it’s just not going to happen otherwise. I don’t care about anything else but music,” Bella cracks. “But I struggle to see how you can even do this if you didn’t have that drive. It’s taxing emotionally, and you have to make a lot of sacrifices, so you wouldn’t go to this extent if it isn’t everything you want. I want that big moment.
“I feel like the sky’s the limit, it’s how I’ve always felt.”
For Baby Queen, it’s not about if, but when she has that big moment. Two songs down but with the world waiting on every word, you can guarantee it will be coming sooner rather than later. This is Baby Queen’s world now.
Taken from the September issue of Dork.
Words: Jamie Muir