Baby Queen is everywhere. No, we're not just talking about being 'the future of pop music', or being the name on everyone's lips when it comes to artists destined to turn 2021 into their own personal playground. That should be a given by now. We're talking quite literally about the contents of Bella Latham's bedroom. There's posters, music video props, and a hefty batch of fan mail that she picked up earlier in the day. Stacks of vinyl copies of debut EP 'Medicine' abound. Everything you can possibly imagine, it's here somewhere. Oh, and a giant prop version of her own head. "It actually fell on me the other day," Bella laughs. "I swear I look like such a narcissist, surrounded by myself all the time, but this is everything to me. I go to sleep and dream about the songs, what I want to next, how to go bigger and better than what I've done before. This is all I have."
This is what happens when the dream starts to become a reality. At the start of 2020, only a had few heard rumblings of Baby Queen - a pop star redefining the preconceptions of a genre. One with tracks biting into what it means to be alive, to grow up and to deal with a modern world content to drive you to your knees. Those early whispers have grown far louder now. Shaking away at the very structures pop music is built upon, what's about to follow is nothing short of a game-changing earthquake.
It's not just a new artist to fall in love with, but an artist understanding that, for a new era, pop needs to be real again. "Different generations have different demands for what they want from music," Bella lays out. "Like, the reason Billie Eilish is the pop star figurehead of this generation is that she's honest. Everyone who is breaking now is real." That idea of hiding behind a look or a narrative? Baby Queen isn't about that. If anything, Bella stands as a mirror to what's really going on in so many lives.
"It really is the pendulum swinging back from the era of airbrushed perfection; the pop stars who stand there looking pretty, singing their songs about the perfect life written by someone else. None of the kids growing up now, and I'm actually getting goosebumps talking about it, but none of them want that. They're growing up fucking sick to death of your bullshit, and it's not going to fly anymore."
These aren't just statements for the sake of it. It's a movement that makes up Bella's entire being, born from risking so much to reach platforms that her idols stand on. To be that artist to others, rather than simply putting out music for the sake of it. It comes from that undeniable human desire to be loved and to accept loving yourself. "I think a lot of art comes out of trying to make somebody love you. That's where my best work has come - trying to make somebody think that I am good enough.
"That's where it really began."
When Bella Latham was 12, she had a flipbook filled with observations and notes she was willing into existence. Alongside Taylor Swift quotes and lyrics, there'd be lines like 'you will never drink alcohol' and 'you will never smoke a cigarette' scribbled inside. 'You will win a Grammy' follows. It isn't always as easy as that, though. "I'm really interested in understanding why you yearn for certain things in life," she notes. Growing up in the coastal city of Durban in South Africa, music was an outlet for the teenage Bella to delve into her love of poetry. She was drawn to the warm country sounds of Fleetwood Mac, but developed an instant love of Swift. Finding comfort in feeling like she was being heard by someone else, it changed her life.
"There's a difference in wanting to make music and then wanting your music to be heard," she elaborates. "It sounds really shallow when you say that you wanted to be a star from a young age, but there's a lot of pain which pushes in that direction."
It's a pain which Bella pinpoints as a "feeling your true worth was never seen. That you were overlooked. You project those feelings onto everyone else; that you simply aren't good enough." It became a survival mechanism, "a way for me to say - everything you didn't see in me, there are other people who appreciate it. It was a way for me to look forward when I was younger and say - fine, you can be mean to me at school, but fuck you!"
The refrains of a favourite Taylor Swift song (that one day she'd be 'living in a big old city, and all you're ever gonna be is mean') became an unshakable goal. It's what drove Bella to get on a plane, move over to London and set about achieving that dream. "I'd made this demo CD and said to my family that within three months I'd be signed to a label," recalls Bella, shaking her head. "It was such a childish idea of what it would be like. I had this spreadsheet of everything - labels, management companies and everything - but nobody wanted to hear a thing. I was 19 years old, sleeping on people's floors and thinking - fuck, I'm not going to do it, it's not going to work."
She describes those early years as ones that left a lasting impact. From working at the famed Rough Trade East to being out of control but relentless in her desire to meet people, it reached a turning point. "I went through this really intense breakup, and I almost went back home to South Africa. Nothing was happening with my music, I was broke and in this basement flat that was like the size of a couch. I remember saying to my best friend from Essex, 'I better go back, then'."
"She was like" - cue impression - "'babes, honestly babes, give it one more year babes'. And I just thought, yeah, fuck it. You dumped me, now I'm going to become the biggest artist in the world."
That fire, honesty and attitude gave birth to Baby Queen. Satirical, brash and brimming with the sound of human connection in the modern age - she's an artist turning news feeds and WhatsApp chats into sign-of-the-times anthems. Of city-life, late-night moments and stand-your-ground honesty. Refusing to paint fake pictures, that essence of 'anti-pop' breathes in the stories of 'Buzzkill', or the pressured social media demands of perfection on 'Pretty Girl Lie'. Baby Queen has found a voice, cutting through the bullshit like a diary of angst, anxiety and inner-dialogues that show you're never entirely on your own.
"I find because my music deals with so many really personal issues, other people who are listening can open up that side of them too," explains Bella. "People find comfort like I did before. These kids need to compare their real lives with another real life, because they don't have that."
That community, or the Baby Kingdom, is an essential home for many. It's not just another fanbase moniker to sell t-shirts, but a place they can find acceptance and love. In a lot of cases, it's a personal connection too. "My fans are just incredible. It's actually like a small devoted family, and that's a shock to me. Nothing can prepare you for that. I think a lot of my fans are very similar to who I am. I call them every night, like some of them have my actual phone number and we facetime 24/7."
That must be quite a responsibility? "Definitely. I feel like the more I learn about myself, the more I can really help people. It's kinda my duty to do the work on myself, so I can be there for people who are relying on me."
It's a refreshing openness in a pop world dominated by giant machines that crank into gear each and every time a new star emerges. With Baby Queen, that mechanism is being dismantled in favour of a togetherness that can take on the world. When debut single 'Internet Religion' first landed, it was like a light being switched on. "It felt like before then, I was at a stoplight, and everything was on hold," remembers Bella. "For years, I felt like I was just waiting to actually be alive. That time was horrible, it was the most painful thing. Like I can't explain how awful that feeling is of wanting something so bad and not knowing how to get it. You don't feel like a real person until it really begins. With 'Internet Religion', releasing it felt like I could eventually breathe out after holding my breath for like three years. It's where my life began, and now I'm entering new chapters that look and sound different every few months."
One thing has led to another. From signing a record deal over Zoom (cheers, pandemic) to meeting musical heroes, there's not a moment to pause. "Meeting Matty Healy, now that was a pinch-yourself moment," she laughs. "His stylist was styling the 'Buzzkill' video, and I was talking about my love for Taylor Swift and Matty, and she was like 'I'm going to text him and say you're a fan'. Next thing I know, he was there, and I was just like, what the fuck is going on?! The whole video was huge, and I…" Bella pauses with a smile. "I just think it's amazing what you can manifest. Sometimes I'm like how did you, a little kid from South Africa, come here and climb that ladder to be where I am now. I feel really proud of that journey, going from the lowest low to like turning my whole life around. No fucking idea how I managed that!"
Now with a taste for those superstar heights, it's no surprise that Baby Queen's path is firmly set. With that hunger to reach more and more ("honestly, I'm one of those people who are never quite satisfied"), Bella is ready to continue blazing a path. "This year, it felt like there were three things I needed to say before I could creatively move on. I hate the internet, I hate the way you edit your pictures online, and I am depressed and take antidepressants," she lays out. "I've said it, and now I'm onto what comes next."
"It's very much going to remain as that stream of consciousness, but there's a bit of love in there, a bit of heartbreak, and everything in-between. Like, there are a couple of songs coming out next year that are so honest I thought my label were going to say that I couldn't put them out." Bella describes what's to come as being "very adolescent. It feels really angsty". Bursting with even more confidence and bolder in sound and scope - it may seem silly to point out that the best is yet to come but… the best is yet to come.
"Right now, I'm just so excited to show people what's coming next," she beams, putting into action a plan that she's been sketching in her mind for years. "Like, it's amazing to be putting out music right now, but I'm like guys… you don't understand what's coming in January 2023. Now that's huge!"
It should be no surprise that the future sits squarely on Bella's mind. After years struggling to make it, and with the world at her feet - there's a new sheriff in town. "My producer asked me the other day, how do you feel? And to be honest, I don't really know. It's such a whirlwind, and most of the time I'm in survival mode just getting everything done. There's not really a moment to bring my head up and be like, oh I'm here. You never know what you want to achieve. You can plan for stuff, but you can never really anticipate it actually being a reality."
What Bella does know is that, as Baby Queen, she can shape a future and connect in a way that she long dreamed of when she was scribbling away in those notebooks at home. Of being that person who can reflect the everyday truths and worries that everyone feels on a grand scale. Of being that reassuring voice, that you're not alone in all of this. "My whole thing is that you can't help other people or change people's realities, you can only be completely honest about yours and not pick and choose the parts that you show. I want to be in a good place for those people who look to me and my music. If you're all over the place, then you can't be that person, and I know that my fans just want me to be okay."
What makes Baby Queen so exciting is precisely that. Pop can be fun, silly and everything else in-between - but the world needs more. In a lot of ways, Baby Queen is anyone trying to navigate this thing we call life. We're not always perfect. We're not this unattainable vision. We're human, and every flaw, terrible decision and wrong move we make helps makes us who we are. "I think a lot of people have that mindset now," continues Bella, unwavering in the mission statement. "That mindset of - just be real with me and tell me something that means something, or don't tell me anything. If you're going to put yourself out there and you're going to sing these meaningless songs, then we don't want to hear it. We don't give a fuck. We want to see a real representation of our actual lives. Genuinely, zip it."
Pop has reached a pivotal moment. In a world reeling from division - where what's actually truthful can be buried under lies - there's a cry for a dose of reality. In Baby Queen, 2021 looks set to welcome a new voice. "The only thing that will ever get in my way is me and my mental health, so there's constant work there that I have to keep doing," Bella admits, "but I think it goes back to being a fan and having seen it happen before. I don't think I could be more prepared than I am now. I'm just going to put my head down and grind to album two, and then I can tell you what this all feels like!"
There simply isn't a timeline where Bella Latham isn't leading a new pop wave. Baby Queen's throne is indisputably hers for the taking. Now that's leadership we can get behind.
Taken from the December 2020 / January 2021 issue of Dork.
Stylist: Riya Hollings.
Make-up: Francesca Brazzo at The Wall Group.
Hair stylist: Rohmarra Kerr.
Photographers Assistant: Dani Willgress.
Featuring YUNGBLUD, Baby Queen, BENEE, Joe Keery and loads more.