Baby Queen: „At least I’m following my heart here“

Bella Latham aka Baby Queen has got quite a special relationship with her fans. During the pandemic she hosted little gatherings via Zoom, where she not only performed a couple of her songs, but also listened to what her fans had to say. They showed off their pets, talked about their problems and worries and discussed which kind of meds are the most effective against depression and anxiety. That’s what life is like within the „Baby Kingdom“, as Bella likes to call her community, which is more than a random group of people who casually fancy the same artist. The day I get to meet her, when she is playing a small show in Berlin, some of them are already sitting outside the gate in the afternoon, chatting excitedly, while I make my way through to enter the building. 

We end up sitting on the terrace, right by the river Spree, and the first thing Bella tells me is how much she likes being close to the water and that in London, she used to live on a house boat. „It wasn’t as romantic as it sounds“, she laughs. „Especially during winter.“ This little anecdote tells something about Bella, who has got something vulnerable and soft about her, but at the same time appears to be a tough cookie. And that is basically Baby Queen in a nutshell: don’t make the mistake to expect a shiny, pink pop princess, who never trips and therefore never has to adjust her crown. Bella Latham grew up in South Africa, then moved to London to pursue her career as a musician. She learned what it means to start a career from scratch in the midst of a global pandemic. Without questions, hearing her first hit „Want Me“ or her current single „Lazy“, it becomes obvious that she knows how to write big pop anthems. But Baby Queen is also open like a fresh wound, she intives us to witness her vulnerability and her darker hours. And therefore she speaks especially to young people, who feel similar lost in this crazy world. 

While obviously being happy to sit by the water and chat, Bella is mainly one thing: exhausted. But even when at one point she apologises for unloading all of her panic onto me, our conversation is just as direct and honest as her lyrics, her music and her performance, she is very open and completely unapologetic. We talk about how much under pressure she is, physically and emotionally, about her special relationship with her fans and about the making of her debut album, which is expected to be released next year.

I’ve me a couple of young artists like you, who literally started their career within the pandemic. I’ve heard most of them say it’s okay, because you don’t know anything else. But don’t you feel like you missed something?

Totally, that is the case for me. When I signed with my record label, I signed over Zoom at my kitchen table. It’s kind of this moment that you dream of your whole life, being around this boardroom, you sign the piece of paper and everyone pops up. It was over Zoom, everyone was like wohooo! And then it was like: okay, bye! Cool. So, exactly what you say, I didn’t have anything to compare it to. It’s not like I’ve been an artist for a year before and everything suddenly changed. That was just it for me. So at the time I was like oh, this is great, this is fun. But looking back now that I sort of know it for what it is, I think it completely has stunted my growth as a musician. Especially because playing live shows has become such an important part of Baby Queen. It became so clear that this is a live experience. And I think that not being able to have that and just not really being able to go anywhere and understand how big the world is… like, I went to America for the first time this year, as soon as I could get there, because of Covid. And it was like, wow! This world is massive. It makes you up your game, because you see what’s out there. I couldn’t see what was out there! I totally, totally think I would have been a bigger artist sooner, had that not been the case. But at the time it was just what it was, it was all I knew and it was fun. And maybe good to have had a sheltered experience with being an artist before being thrown into it. So it was a bit of a slow growing situation. Very strange. It’s really hard to understand who you are as an artist until you stood on a stage. Because it’s the one moment when the music, the visuals, your personality, the way you move, everything about you comes together in that moment. When I finally got onto the stage I was like: fuck, I hate this one song that I’ve done! I’m not like this dancing, singing pop star. It’s more dangerous than that. And it took me a very long time to get to a point where I could understand who I wanted to be. That was because I didn’t get the opportunity to test that. And I’m sad about that. I went through so many moments of regretting things that I’ve done in the past, decisions I’ve made. But ultimately, what can you do? This is who you are and all you can do is look forward and say, going forward I’m gonna do it this way. But yeah, it was fucking hard. 

I can also imagine it to be such a mindfuck, when you come to the US for the first time and people there know you and your music.

Oh yeah, it’s very strange! It’s one of those things where you go: okay, I guess this is my life now. Now I’m going to play this show in New York and there are going to be people that know me. Obviously, I’m not playing these huge shows yet, they are still small shows. But of course it’s strange. Even coming here and having people that want to come to my gig. It’s very weird and very nice. But I think what’s been the most trying part of it is just how much the workload really is. I don’t think people understand that. I haven’t had a day off in a month and I’m exhausted. I literally came straight back from Los Angeles, flew in and was working the next day. It’s very intense and there is no time to really let anything sink in, because you are always looking forward onto the next thing, bigger, bigger, do you know what I mean? That’s the way it’s all designed. You’re never supposed to get complacent, always striving for more. It’s a strange litte job (laughs).

There is a conversation going on at the moment, about how much you can handle, especially as a young performer. With people like Sam Fender and Arlo Parks cancelling their shows because they are burned out. 

I read that article in the Guardian about all those artists cancelling their shows. I’ve been fine this whole year. But right now I’m like… I read a line in that article that was like: if you are thinking ‚is this what burnout feels like?‘, you are already past that point. And I’ve been feeling like that. I’m in this position where I’m like: there’s nothing I can cancel. I just feel like I have to do it. And next year is going to be so busy. You get used to it though. A year ago, I would have not been able to cope with this. I think you get used to what’s required of you. You become stronger and your stamina gets higher. But I totally understand it, there is so much pressure on artists after Covid to go out there and play all these shows and do all this shit. And also the pressure of social media, to be present on it, to be posting on there. There is a lot more to being an artist than just making songs and playing shows now. An artist is now expected to be so many different things. I think it’s a lot. It’s a lot. And your brain is in twenty million different places at once. That’s how I feel right now. I feel like I’m doing everything twenty percent because I can’t give a hundred percent to anything. Because I don’t have the time. And that’s really annoying to me, because I am such a perfectionist. I’m navigating it. But right now I’m not feeling so good actually. I’m having a bit of a tough time, to be honest. 

I wonder how you can actually be fine in these times. It’s so much.

It’s too much. It’s too much for one person. I always say if I could duplicate myself and have one of me over there and one of me over there, but there’s only one of me. At the end of the day it comes down to the fact that everyone of your team, at your label, at your management company, they’re doing  a job and this is your life. And it comes down to: ‚you chose this. You wanted this“. Did I want all of this?

Well, you can’t know unless you’re in it.

You have no idea!

I also feel like you are one of these artists who is  giving so much. It makes you vulnerable. And also you invite your fans to open up to you in a very intense way. I imagine that must  be quite a lot to handle.

It’s a lot. When you’re so honest with people I think they open up in the same way. It’s tough, because I think people want to lean on me in a way. But I’m also just trying to keep my head above the water in my own life. It becomes this very difficult thing, that is something that I had to learn to navigate. Because I think that I let people into my life so much that I drowned in it. Because I actually do really care. But I can’t take on all of it. I can’t do it. It’s a very strange situation, to be honest. A lot of things about this are quite unnatural. But obviously it’s amazing. You are right, it’s not for me, it’s not just making music. I care so much about what I’m putting out there. Especially about this album that I’m working on. Sometimes it’s so much that it’s paralysing  and I can’t do anything. Because I want it to be so perfect. I want to  deliver so many different types of messages. I think I put a lot of pressure on myself. And you don’t know what you’re doing the whole time. You can only do what you think is right. You make this kind of music because you think that’s the right decision, you take this direction because you think that is the right thing to do. But how can I know? I could make a wrong decision and I could fail as a result of my wrong decision. You’re just dealing with all of my panic right now (laughs).

It’s fine! And the beauty of it is, that this is why people connect so much with what you do. People are in need for something honest to connect to. They are sitting out there waiting for you.

I know! It’s crazy. And it’s sweet. They really connect on a deep level. And I think that there is something different between my fandom and the way people feel a sense of belonging to like… I know it’s special. Not all artists have that. It might not be the biggest show, but everyone’s gonna care so much. That’s the way that it touches people, and I’m very aware of that. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. I’m so lucky. And I always feel bad when I’m complaining about things, because I’m so lucky. 

I do believe it is important to appreciate your job and still draw a line. I think we have moved past the point, where you are forced to cope with everything. At least I hope so.

Yeah, where you have to put on a brave face. Just because it’s like what people perceive to be a good, exciting, wonderful life, it doesn’t mean that it’s not difficult. That’s it! (laughs)

It must make such a  difference that you can play shows now. I noticed that you said there are some songs you don’t  much enjoy playing live. Because I feel like your sound has already shifted, and I’m wondering if that’s due to the live experience.

That’s interesting that you’ve heard that. Because that kind of started for me when my song „Wannabe“ came out and then „Nobody Really Cares“. I have this new one called „Lazy“. I made the decision going into this album that I didn’t want to write a song that any other artist could sing. I have this song called „Buzzkill“. It was the second song I ever put out. It’s got such a sense of character identity. The Baby Queen character identity is this really sarcastic, jaded, little bitchy voice. This is really what Baby Queen is. If someone was to say ‚who is Baby Queen?‘ I’d play them this song. And I really wanted to make an album of those kinds of songs. Baby Queen is dirty and rough around the edges and dangerous and fun and chaotic. There is nothing shiny and perfect about it. That was my decision going into this album. Initially I was like „No guitars on this album, we’re making a pop album!“  I started making this pop album and I was like: this sucks (laughs). Now it’s like loads of guitars, super rocky and a little bit psychedelic. I love it! I think people are going to prefer my shiny pop stuff, but fuck that! If people don’t like it, at least if I fail, I’ve failed because of  a decision that I made. Then I can blame myself. It would be terrible if you made this pop album and it didn’t do well and you go like: „I knew in my soul that I shouldn’t have done that“. Then you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. At least I’m following my heart here. 

You do have quite a distinctive songwriting style. I believe that if a song is good at its core, it doesn’t matter if it’s got guitars or if it’s super pop. And I come from a generation that’s always been told that pop is shit. 

I come from that generation now (laughs). I’m joining that club. But yeah, if a song has a brilliant concept, and a good name is always an amazing thing, the lyrics are good and there’s a good melody, that’s it really. People are gonna connect to something that makes them feel something. If I get a certain feeling when I’m writing a song, if I get the feeling that I’m fucking obsessed with it, then I can stand on stage every night and I can represent this song, because I’m proud of it. I’ve written so many songs that are like „hits“. My label is like: put them on your album. And I’m like: no! Because I’m not proud of this. How can you do that? And then you’re like: I should never have put that song out. I should have listened to myself. Which I didn’t do in the past, I think I put a few songs out that… but I was also wrong in the past. And I could go down that whole road, I could tell you everything I did that was wrong. But I don’t think it’s very constructive (laughs). I’ve been through moments like (cries): “Have I ruined everything? Is it past the point of no return? Have I fucked it up completely?“And people are like: „No, it’s fine!“ So yeah. Nuts! 

Photo © Universal Music