A sold-out show sparks conversations on Arabella Latham’s Baby Queen brand, the thematic treasures of her tunes, and how there’s no ‘U’ in AI
“Do you know how long I had to lie on a bed, like this,” with her boots scuffing faint marks on the armrest as she swivels herself round, Bella Latham is languidly laid upside down on the dressing room sofa, recounting the shooting process for her website’s design. “Blood rushing to my head, whilst they scanned the room – and after all that, I’m not even an interactive element on there!”
Technological tale aside, interactivity is the built-in software of the Baby Queen brand. She’s boisterous, and flamboyant, and is the epitome of all things attitude that Latham has personified in her work.
Baby Queen’s debut album, ‘Quarter Life Crisis’, is a visceral examination of (not) growing up. That purgatory between childhood and adulthood bleeds relatability like the ink of a diary. It’s in this moment of liminality, before the doors open and the crowd descends on the Rescue Rooms floor, that I’ve caught up with Bella to truly explore these two characters ahead of her sold-out gig.
“It’s funny, I do speak about Baby in the third person,” when asked on how closely intertwined this persona was to her real self. “Like, I’ll see something and think, ‘that’s so Baby Queen’.
“Obviously, Baby Queen is what people know, what I’ve chosen to share, say and post, but I’m a multifaceted person – we all are, we only show the best parts of our lives on social media – and I’d like to break down that barrier a bit more to merge the two things.
“We are the same person but, at the same time, it’s quite comforting to have that armour, in a way.” She clicks her tongue and chuckles when I mention her visit to Nottingham just under two months ago. The album launch at Rough Trade was a spectacle in itself, yet she admitted that she found it more nerve-wracking than a show.
“There’s something about that intimate setup that is quite… it strips down your barriers a bit and you kind of feel exposed; emotionally, vocally, and people can see you, you can see everyone very clearly. You can hear every single pin drop on stage.”
On the contrary, Latham doesn’t experience stage fright; “I don’t get nervous with these shows at all, but I think it’s that really intimate setting that I guess the character of Baby Queen comes out. I can stand behind it in a live show a lot more but when it’s just me, it feels like it’s me.
“I’d made an album’s worth of music by the time I’d named myself Baby Queen, and the music didn’t feel like Bella Latham, or Arabella Latham.”
Speaking of the sheer amount of music she’s produced since signing to Polydor Records in 2020 – particularly rising to chart prominence with her collaboration on Heartstopper – to the public, it may be surprising to hear that this is in fact her debut album. Latham agreed: “That’s why it was so difficult to write. It felt like a second album in the way that I was following up so much music.
“Before that, the EP and the mixtape were not written with the intention of being in one project. It’s been a long road to get to the album and I’m not going to go back and release more EPs – actually, f**k knows, we might be releasing more EPs.
“But to feel like I’ve made it as an album artist is such a buzz.” And I’m curious to know whether she’s had a ‘made it moment’ with all the buzz she’s currently getting. ‘Quarter Life Crisis’ peaked at the number five spot in the official top 100 album charts a week after its release.
Baby Queen filled the supporting slot for Olivia Rodrigo on her ‘Sour Tour’ in 2021.
(Image Credit: Talia Robinson)
“I haven’t broken as an artist,” Bella is adamant in her humbleness, to which I argue that the next time we see her in Nottingham she could be headlining Rock City next door. She responds with her “f**k it, it’s a big venue, but let’s f**king go for it” attitude that brought her to London from South Africa.
Moving continents is a life-altering prospect for anyone; for the then eighteen-year-old with an aspiring music career, it was a no-brainer, and Latham reminisces fondly on her younger self and admits: “My version is quite extreme, anything like that takes a lot of courage, and you don’t even remember or know where you got that from.”
Does she pinch herself and question how she managed to do it all of them years ago? “Yes! All the time! Yet at the same time, I think I just wanted it so badly that all of that goes away.
“I believed in myself to a delusional sense. When I first arrived, I wasn’t good, I showed promise–” She breaks off with a cackle. “Not me critiquing my younger self! Like, ‘she had potential’, aha! But I was s**t! And I think most people are s**t when they start something.
“I’ll vacillate between thinking I have faked this whole thing, that I have tricked everyone into thinking I can do this and then I’ll be like, ‘I’m the greatest song writer that has ever stepped foot on the planet.’ And that’s what you have to do.
“Think you’re the f**king s**t to get through life, because life is weird.”
Weird enough that she still can’t believe she’s on a tour, for her music, and that there’s people screaming the words back to her; that people are as passionate about her music as she is; that she’s harnessed a connection to the listener through her nihilistic and witty songwriting.
“There are moments where you have this encompassing feeling of ‘oh my f**king god’ level-wow. Playing Reading and Leeds main stages, and going on tour with Olivia, it doesn’t feel like it’s real. That’s as close as I’ve felt to ‘making it’, I suppose.
“But as an artist, you’re always chasing that next thing. It’s never good enough, it’s never big enough, and especially with the state of the industry as it is, it’s never you enough.
Baby Queen’s ‘Quarter Life Crisis’ is available to stream and purchase now.
(Image Credit: Talia Robinson)
Dichotomy is the ever-present thread in our conversation. I’m keen to understand Latham’s sense of self with her songwriting, especially given the musical landscape in the age of social media and rising prominence of AI.
“Labels can’t break anyone because the market is so oversaturated. There’s always been a focus on numbers, but the industry’s problem now is that statistics no longer mean anything in a world where anyone can be famous, and everyone can live off millions and millions of views.
“The audience has a very small attention span, and we are now getting the biggest songs in the world coming from fifteen second soundbites of that song. AI is able to write songs and what’s to say that in two year’s time, we won’t even give a f**k about where those fifteen second soundbites came from?”
When argued that people can sense the lack of human touch in a song, she deliberates: “I think humans have this innate desire to idolise other people. Although you can tell now that something’s AI generated, I don’t think you’ll be able to soon.”
The significance of songwriting, then: does she class herself as a lyricist or an instrumentalist? Is it the words or the music that comes first in her writing process?
“Sometimes it’s a phrase – ‘Internet Religion’, ‘Buzzkill’, ‘Quarter Life Crisis’. I had the names of the song; they were punchy, and you can flesh out from the ultimate topic. It’s easier to write when you know what you’re writing about, and what the vibe you’re going for is.
“Sometimes it’s more production. I like to create a sound bed, which is what happened with ‘Dover Beach’, that elicited this emotion from me that then informs the melody and everything else. It’s different every time, but I’d say I’m very lyrically focused and obsessed with lyrics.”
As a concept album, ‘Quarter Life Crisis’ has the niche of stylising a narrative. Baby Queen draws from her vulnerability, endearing relatability, and nihilistic freedom to be who she wants to be. I asked whether the album was intended as a concept piece and Bella agreed: “That’s what I always wanted. It’s really important to find some sort of topical thread that pulls it altogether. Whether that’s a visual, or a storyline.
“I was trying to dig into what I was genuinely feeling at the time of making it. I haven’t been in love or heartbroken for the longest time, which is obviously the best way to harvest music and art.
“Songwriting doesn’t exist, like it literally doesn’t exist, if I hadn’t written any songs before – where are they? I have to create it in order for it to be a thing. I can’t touch it. They’re not tangible objects. It’s a f**king weird thing to do.
“It’s been very solipsistic. Reflecting inward and thinking; what do I think? What do I feel? What is actually going on here? It’s been a therapy session for me and now it’s finally out there, the fans have really latched onto it. It feels good.”
Featured Image Credit: Talia Robinson