The Many Sides of Baby Queen: Decoding Debut Mixtape “The Yearbook”

There’s been a lot of conversation over the past year and a half about the artists whose careers have dramatically shifted course due to the thing we have continued to talk about for the past year and a half. Millions of them lost income. Lost the opportunities to tour and promote their music. To play shows. To travel the world and build their fanbases. Yeah, I know you get it. Then there are artists in the big leagues: ones like Taylor Swift who took the time to create not one, but two albums in 2020: one that led her to win her third Album of the Year at the Grammys. Other mid-level artists like Phoebe Bridgers became household names: going from selling out 400-500 cap venues in 2018 and 2019 into selling out shows of five to seven thousand in 2021.

Then we have Baby Queen, an artist (quickly) on-the-rise who has had to rely entirely on the power of the internet to grow and sustain her career: thanks to her debut single dropping smack dab in the middle (or really, the first six months), of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Bella Latham, the brains behind the moniker, is a South-African born, London-based artist who’s really only been on the scene for a little over a year at this point: with her debut track “Internet Religion” dropped in June of 2020.

Baby Queen is an artist who I humbly (or not so) have supported since the (almost) very beginning: one whose debut single, the one I mentioned above, won my pick for the best song of 2020: the track was also my sixth most-streamed song of the year: only coming behind Miss Swift herself.

I’ve explained how I feel about this track before, particularly when I interviewed Latham last July: but I can’t quite pinpoint another song since a handful of the tracks off of Lorde’s Pure Heroine that so effortlessly and quintessentially describe what it’s like to be a young person in the current era in which they’re living in. Even though Pure Heroine is not that old, the times are in fact changing. Baby Queen’s ability to encapsulate the stresses and depression of living life in the digital age shines brightly in everything she writes. Like I wrote last year: “Baby Queen writes for that feeling. The confusion, the discomfort, the clashing feelings, the melodrama of it all. She takes the feeling of anxiety and dread combined with the “I need to show off my new shoes!” and combines it all into one narrative—one that is catchy, snarky, and self-deprecating all in one. It’s like her writing is the love child of “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift and “Love It If We Made It” by The 1975.

With singles like “Buzzkill” (being “that person” who ruins the party with their cynicism), “Want Me” (the gross and uncontrollable feelings that arise when you have an undeniable crush on someone) and “Medicine” (dealing with mental health and anti-depressants), Baby Queen has proven herself to be a master of her songwriting: weaving through storylines filled with intimate details that build on the subject matter mentioned in the singles above.

Baby Queen: The Yearbook showcases every side of the singer: the confident woman, the cynic, the dork, the rebel, the popular kid, the goth girl. Within each of these characters (as seen on the cover art for the 10-track project), Baby Queen’s experiences growing up in Durban, South Africa and eventually convincing her parents to let her move to London to pursue her singing career at just 18-years-old. She attended music college there, staying with family and falling in love with the city’s blossoming music scene.

“I want the listener to feel like they’re on the top of a London bus, traveling through a city they’ve moved to for the very first time, seeing the world through new eyes,” she said in a press release.

The opening track, “Baby Kingdom,” brings that last quote to life: allowing the listener to paint a picture of the scene that Bella sets: almost like she’s narrating the opening scenes to the next great coming-of-age movie with a dramatic monologue. “I wore black, just so everybody would know that I’m still grieving the person I used to be.”

We continue the record with previously-released singles “Raw Thoughts,” “You Shaped Hole,” and “American Dream,” an interesting trio of songs that Baby Queen fans already know, but maybe drawing them in for a listening experience they’re familiar with is a tactic to get fans comfortable with what’s going on. I’m not entirely sure if this strategy works for me, as I’m the person who skips the singles that I’ve already heard when I’m listening to an entire body of work for the first time.

Regardless of your opinion on this method, it leads into the next track, “Narcissist,” a song that’s arguably the best on the mixtape and one of Baby Queen’s strongest. It feels like it’s a follow-up to “Internet Religion,” sort of like its cooler, hipper older sister: one who is more of a pessimist and deleted their Instagram three years ago. I’ve thought for awhile that a lot of Baby Queen’s music reminds me of The 1975, specifically Matty Healy, and the way that he enunciates when he sings, as well as the lyrics he writes about contemporary society, popular culture, and of course: the internet.

Funny enough, I’ve spoken with Bella via Instagram DMs a few times, and she has said in previous messages that she loves The 1975. It’s incredibly evident in “Narcissist,” a song that calls out the ridiculous, impossible to meet standards of society: particularly for women, and the way that the norms set by those in power are created to make us conform, then completely shit on us for conforming in the process, (“letting all you motherfuckers monetize my mental health“). While “Internet Religion” flirts with the chaos of the internet in an influencer-driven world, “Narcissist” goes a lot deeper: instead of flirting with the idea that we actually like ourselves on the internet and our obsession with materialism, the song exemplifies the way that it’s (arguably) more toxic than not.

I see the same magazine criticize my generation, and I find it kinda weird,
you’d critique your own creation
But you still go online, and call me self-obsessed
Wait! Did you forget who made the internet?
I hate it when you ask me what’s your problem, as if you don’t already know.

Another big influence of Baby Queen resides in Taylor Swift: an artist who inspired Latham to start writing her own songs, record them, and distribute demos around to radio stations. Sounds pretty familiar!

I hear this influence greatly in the autobiographical nature of her lyrics: especially in the song “Dover Beach,” arguably the biggest love song in all of Latham’s discography. A previous-released single, “Dover Beach,” tells the story of Baby Queen experiencing something she once shared with her ex-lover, coping with the feelings when you realize that person is no longer by your side and you’re experiencing it alone for the first time. It’s very reminiscent to “Cornelia Street,” a Swiftian song from Lover.

“Dover Beach Pt. 2” builds on the first part, but only features a two-minute spoken word piece by Latham, overlaying a beautifully produced melody that was first introduced in “Dover Beach.” Though it’s a beautiful addition to the album, I can’t help but relate it back to something I would read in Twilight when I was a teenager: not necessarily a knock on Bella, but just that (in my opinion), it feels like forced gravitas.

The last two songs, ones that are previously unreleased, seem to work in tandem: though sonically and lyrically different, they feel like they work together as two bookends that exist in one evening. “Fake Believe” is the idea that ignorance is bliss, that we’d all be better off if we knew less, and didn’t have to sit with the impending doom of the reality around us. It’s like that cynical attitude we all (or at least I do) have at the beginning of a fun night out: you’re questioning your outfit, wondering why on earth you’re planning to stay up this late, or why your idea of fun is paying $15 for a drink. But you do it anyway! “I’m A Mess” is the drunk shell of yourself who can’t text coherent sentences and stumbles out of the bar during last call.

On The Yearbook, Baby Queen solidifies her status as pop’s next big thing: showcasing the many sides of herself and the way that each of those sides have stories worth sharing. Perhaps this is why it’s being called a mixtape, or there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for that verbiage that involves more industry logistics, but I’d like to say it’s a mixtape because of its diversity coming together for a common theme.

The Yearbook drops tomorrow.

1 comment on “The Many Sides of Baby Queen: Decoding Debut Mixtape “The Yearbook”

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