Over the past few months, Baby Queen, the musical project of 23-year-old singer-songwriter Bella Latham, has consistently made waves within the pop blogosphere and on streaming playlists thanks to a string of whip-smart singles. Latham, who was born in South Africa and since relocated to London, has an uncanny knack for synthesizing a wide range of influences — bubblegum, alternative rock, grunge and synth-pop among them — and injecting her deadpan, lightly sardonic perspective into durable hooks.
After releasing her debut EP, Medicine, last November, Baby Queen quickly returned last month with “Raw Thoughts,” which races through personal pain points and boasts her most dizzying chorus to date. In between releasing top-notch pop singles, Baby Queen checked in with Billboard to answer 20 questions about the superstar who helped inspire her artistry, the genesis of her first songs, recording in a cardboard box, and more.
1. What’s the first piece of music that you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
God this is going to seem like an awful way to start my first interview with Billboard, but I think it was the Twilight soundtrack on CD. I’m just saying… the soundtracks for those films actually SLAP. They do. I listened to them on repeat as teenager, waiting for Edward Cullen to arrive at my bedroom window.
2. What was the first concert you saw?
I probably saw a few I don’t remember, but the first concert I ever bought tickets to go and see with my friends was a Lady Gaga show in Cape Town. It was her Monster Ball world tour, and it was electrifying.
3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid?
My dad has an art supply company in Durban and my mum worked with him when I was growing up. They both love visual art, and my dad is an incredible painter. They also had a little art gallery above their shop. They’re very hard workers.
4. Who made you realize you could be an artist full-time?
I mean, in a delusional way, I would say Taylor Swift, because I saw her doing it when I was 14 and immediately thought “I can do this,” but I only really believed I could make a living out of music when I met my manager Seb. During our first meeting he said to me, “You have to be prepared to work harder than anybody has ever worked before,” and I was like, “Work?!?!?” He was right. It’s a full-time, 24/7 job.
5. What’s at the top of your professional bucket list?
The Grammys! If it’s Grammy related, it’s on the list.
6. How did your hometown/city shape who you are?
I think I owe my confidence and personality to my hometown. South Africans are so friendly and so loud! Coming to London was a bit of a culture shock in comparison. I also think my ambition is rooted in the deep desire I had to break out of that small town syndrome.
7. What’s the last song you listened to?
I had to open my Spotify to check… it’s “1979 (remastered 2012)” by the Smashing Pumpkins.
8. If you could see any artist in concert, dead or alive, who would it be?
It would have to be The Beatles during the Magical Mystery Tour era.
9. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in the crowd of one of your sets?
I’ve only played two Baby Queen shows and both of them were to my closest friends in really small, half-empty rooms. My friend Amy gave me a tequila shot on stage while I was singing “Buzzkill” at the last one, so that was nice, lol.
10. How has the pandemic affected your creative process?
I’m not sure it has all that much. I’ve always been the most creative in times of personal isolation and I’ve been really focused this past year. I like being alone. I need a lot of time to think when I’m making music. There is obviously less personal experience to draw on because I haven’t really been seeing anybody, but I write a lot about depression, and pandemics and depression go hand in hand.
11. What would you say are the defining qualities of the Baby Queen persona?
Wit, satire, cynicism, boldness, honesty, self-deprecation and self-criticism.
12. When, and how, did the songs on last year’s Medicine EP come together?
Well, “Buzzkill” was written in 2018, but the others all sort of came to be in late 2019, early 2020. Some were written in a day; others were ideas that I revisited countless times… sometimes over months. The vocals for “Medicine,” “Want Me” and “Online Dating” were actually recorded in a cardboard box in my bedroom because I obviously couldn’t go into the studio during lockdown. A lot of the work was done remotely. My producer and I wrote “Pretty Girl Lie” over Zoom last year. It’s a pretty crazy story really.
13. Your new single, “Raw Thoughts,” carries a deep sense of hurt. What inspired it?
I went through the most horrendous, soul-destroying breakup in 2017. It was the worst thing in the world. My ex started dating this really beautiful model shortly afterwards and I was completely broken. When I wrote this song, I had just started to feel like I could breathe again. I went on this massive night out in East London (which still stands, to this day, as the wildest experience of my life), and wrote “Raw Thoughts” the next morning in the depths of my despair, with this euphoric feeling of freedom mixed with the pain of holding onto something that made me feel safe for so long. I haven’t been in a relationship since.
14. What’s one thing you would like to see more of in modern pop?
Good lyrics that mean something.
15. What’s one thing that even your most devoted fans don’t know about you?
It’s times like this when I realize I might have been too honest in my lyrics. I’m trying to think of something about myself I haven’t already said before… I’m writing a book about sadness – I don’t think anybody knows that. It’s a study on sadness. I really wanted to understand why I’m intrinsically sad and other people aren’t, and I couldn’t find everything I was looking for, so I started putting it all together. I literally study sadness in my spare time in a very serious way. Yikes!
16. If you were not a musician, what would you be?
A writer, an author or a poet. Something tortured.
17. What’s your karaoke go-to?
“Love Story” by Taylor Swift, always!
18. What movie, or song, always makes you cry?
“Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder. I used to dance around my childhood living room with my family while that song played in the background, so it’s very nostalgic.
19. What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
You will never be your goal weight because you don’t have a goal weight; you are simply perpetually dissatisfied, so get over it and live your life.
20. What does a successful 2021 look like for you?
I would really like to get to the end of this year without being depressed. If I can just be happy then I can do my job properly, and that’s what success looks like to me.