Baby Queen

Baby Queen

  • Saturday 17 August
Glitzy grunge-pop spectacle
South Africa
  • Pop
  • Alternative
For fans of
Wasia Project, Maisie Peters, Holly Humberstone

Baby Queen has seen some shit. Since she moved to London from South Africa aged 18, the musician (real name Bella Latham) has lived in boats on Regents Canal, gotten messy at raucous house parties, and spent a lot of time looking out into the city with a sense of sharp-edged cynicism. 

For much of her teenage years and early twenties, she used all of this to write alternative pop songs that transformed her into her genre’s reigning star; a fiery totem for a generation falling out of love with social media, the pressures of adhering to an “ideal” body image, and adult responsibilities. But now, Baby Queen finds herself growing up too, learning how to grapple with the realities of leaving angst and adolescence behind. She’s not quite ready to fully let go, though: “I want to be a reprobate again,” she says.

As the musician enters a new era, having spent the best part of the 2020s taking over London’s anarchic pop scene, she’s leaning into that feral mood to make new art. At the same time, she’s discovering the more grounded and introspective side of herself too, leading to the creation of some of the most pure, excellent and affecting music of her life so far. 

Blending her pop hook tendencies with the punkish aggression she’s made her own, her new single “Dream Girl” is the perfect, compromise-free meeting of these two sides of herself. An achingly honest song, it chronicles a kind of unrequited love she felt for a woman who was in a relationship with a man. She wrote it a few years ago – lovelorn and pining for someone out of reach – on the same trip that inspired The Yearbook single “Dover Beach”. But back then, she didn’t feel ready to release it. “I actually had, like, heart palpitations over it,” Baby Queen says. For one, such an open expression of sapphic love felt dangerous; but it was also an unabashed pop song, antithetical to the sound she was trying to put forth. Now though, she’s learned that leaning into either of these sides of herself doesn't have to be a personal betrayal. “When I first started making music, I was like, ‘No one can know that I'm bisexual. I have to keep it a secret’.” She shrugs. “I just don’t give a fuck anymore.”

It’s a personal progression that ties in perfectly with a moment that marked a new movement in Baby Queen’s career. In the early summer of 2022 – just before she joined pop behemoth Olivia Rodrigo on her UK tour – a Netflix show named Heartstopper had an unexpected break-out moment. A queer TV series based on the blossoming relationship between two high school boys in England, it became a global hit. To date, it’s racked up over 53 million watch hours; two more seasons are on the way, the next one dropping in August. But Baby Queen was there when it was a modest prospect for the streaming giant. “I remember being invited into their offices to watch the first three episodes, and they were like, ‘Oh, do you want to make a song for this?’.” She wrote the wistful and romantic track “Colours of You” for the soundtrack, while her own tracks, “Want Me”, “Dover Beach” and “Buzzkill”, were synced for it. “At the time it was so cool, but you have no idea about the size or the weight of what you're signing up to.” 

No one did really, but it made stars of its cast, and Baby Queen’s fanbase widened, with a new gaggle of queer fans entering her oeuvre. “So many kids said ‘Colours of You’ made them come out to their parents,” she says. “I would never have imagined that for myself. The music means so much to them, you know? They really feel like it's their stories.”

There is this deep, introspective burrowing that Baby Queen is doing in pop songs that traditionally don’t warrant it. Big, mind-bendingly good choruses and hooks; euphoric production – the word of an artist in full command of her sound. If the inspirations have shifted somewhat, her output has always remained staunchly Baby Queen. You hear a song and instantly know who made it. 

It all filters back to a childhood spent seeking refuge in the songs of Taylor Swift. Growing up in Durban, South Africa, Taylor’s music was a refuge from the conservative community around Baby Queen. She began playing guitar and piano, enlightening herself to a life in which she could not only listen to music but make it, and the subsequent lo-fi demos she recorded were sent to local radio stations. She was so dogged and relentless that, when she asked to move to London and stay with her aunt and uncle, her parents accepted. 

She joined rock bands and made herself a mainstay presence in all the right music circles when she arrived, dropping demos at the doors of major labels and working in Rough Trade. Eventually, she landed a creative collaborator who believed in her message, Ed King. (They still work on everything together today.) They made the songs that would put Baby Queen on the map – she was signed to Polydor in 2020. 

Songs like “Internet Religion” and “Buzzkill” were her career’s “introductory essay” she called it; part of the Medicine EP that acted as a tonic for the torrid state of the world we are all forced to live in. But by shaking off all that bullshit, she found beneath it a person willing to speak more openly about how she felt. The Yearbook mixtape, released in 2021, did just that: her version of an American coming-of-age movie in sonic form. 

But time passes, and from it, new ideas bloom. In the process of making the music she’s creating right now, she’s learned things. “I had to grow up to write this all out,” Baby Queen says. Now, she’s ready for you to hear it.