“I don’t think that kind of thing will ever sink in,” Baby Queen tells MOOD about the realization of having fans from around the globe. The singer, born Arabella Latham, is one of the leading Gen Z female musicians who is slowly but surely taking the industry by storm with her witty observations on youth culture and relatable views on the image-obsessed world we now live in. In under three years, the 25-year-old has released a debut mixtape and EP, embarked on her own nationwide UK tour, supported Olivia Rodrigo across Europe and Conan Gray across North America, was shortlisted for the BBC Radio 1 Sound of 2022 list, and has written an original song for one of Netflix’s most popular television series. Not bad for a singer still working in Rough Trade in 2020, huh?
Listen to Baby Queen's latest single, “LAZY”out now.
Born in Durban, South Africa, Latham would spend 18 whole years in her home country before packing up her things and moving permanently. While she doesn’t credit African sounds or visual landscapes as something that influenced her musically, she still recognizes how much of an impact the country had on her passion for wanting to be an artist. “I was a daydreamer as a child. I lived mostly inside the version of the world I created in my head. South Africa is a great place to dream. It’s so beautiful and I was incredibly connected to nature growing up,” she says. Latham recalls going on road trips with her father where they would play music mixes he had created, a standout being when they blasted a CD that was a sonic journey through psychedelic rock (The Beatles, Pink Floyd). “I had the most amazing English teachers at school who encouraged me to write more and I’d always hand in extra poetry for them to read after class,” she continues.
Latham realized early on that the opportunities for her in South Africa were very limited, resulting in the main reason for her urge to move. “I would get home from school every day and spend hours upon hours in my bedroom making songs. By the time I was 18, it was all I could think about,” she says. “I convinced my parents to let me move because I was insufferable about it.” She is now a resident of London, where she has remained for the past seven years, and is the city where she would eventually get discovered. But, like anything, this would take its time.
“When I arrived in London, my vision wasn’t very clear and my music wasn’t at all unique. I spent months knocking on the doors of different record labels and management companies asking if I could give them my demos, but nobody takes you seriously when you’re begging for them to notice you,” Latham explains. “I realized quite quickly that if I wanted to make this happen, I had to just do it myself and that the people I was looking for needed to come looking for me. It was 3 or 4 years of agony before I finally started to get people’s attention.”
In order to survive in what she describes as “one of the hardest cities” to succeed in, Latham signed up to be a waitress at the BRIT Awards to earn some cash, and potentially get her foot in the door. “I remember seeing Chris Martin. Rihanna was there. I was starstruck by the whole event but there are NO fun stories to share,” she insists. “At the time I thought it was completely reasonable to believe I might be able to tell Chris Martin what a good songwriter I was and that he should listen to my music but I didn’t get to do anything like that.” What many would assume must have been a fun night for the aspiring star was in fact the complete opposite for the then-18-year-old. “I had watched every music awards show religiously as a kid and I think after having just moved from South Africa to London, I was standing there looking at the whole thing wearing a black suit I’d just bought from Primark, and I realized I was in way over my head,” she continues. “I cried the whole way home on the train and didn’t get another job until I worked at Rough Trade in 2019 because I told myself, rather childishly, that getting a job was admitting defeat.”
Latham remained at the independent record shop Rough Trade in Brick Lane until the beginning of 2020. She had spent the 3-4 years prior working on her material and developing herself. Instead of waiting for a record label to do it for her, she made sure to put herself through artist development so she was ready for when the big dogs would finally come knocking on her door. In this case, however, it would be sliding in her DMs as it was her Instagram page that would spark interest. “My A&R team from Polydor reached out to ask if I had any music, which unbeknownst to me, was a moment I had been preparing for for a long time. I was able to send them an album’s worth of music and they signed me before anybody had heard any of it, which I’m aware is quite unusual nowadays,” she says. And just like that, the wait was over.
Settling for the moniker Baby Queen wasn’t necessarily a hard decision to make, especially when she was already using it before signing her contract. That said, she did consider going by her birth name but wasn’t completely crazy about the idea. “It just felt very formal to me,” she admits. “Honestly, I think it was just this feeling that my own name wouldn’t carry the music. It was quite a juvenile process really. I made a list of names in my notes app that I thought sounded cool and could potentially bring the music to life in the right way. Ultimately I wanted whoever or whatever I presented myself as to reflect the music which, in my head, lived in a very specific visual space,” she says. Nevertheless, it’s not a stage name she has gone on to regret or wanted to change. “In hindsight, I think it was one of the best decisions I made. I like knowing that my name belongs to me, and being able to separate myself from Baby Queen makes it a little bit easier not to allow it to take over my whole life,” she continues.
After signing a deal with Polydor Records, the home to Billie Eilish, Gwen Stefani, and Olivia Rodrigo, and waiting years for her moment, Latham’s career would get going pretty quickly, releasing her first-ever single, “Internet Religion” just weeks later in May 2020. A string of singles as well as her debut EP, Medicine, would follow shortly thereafter and all be unleashed into the world within six months. Around this time, she also signed a deal with Island Records in the US and would gain herself a loyal fanbase along the way that she refers to as the Baby Kingdom.
With a lot of drive and ambition surrounding her future, Latham has a lot to be proud of having already packed in and accomplished so much in a short span of time. In September 2021, her second project, a mixtape titled The Yearbook, would hit shelves and contains what she considers a song she is most proud of: “Raw Thoughts.” She explains, “I just think there's something in that song that is kind of magical.” Two months after The Yearbook’s release, Latham performed three sold-out gigs at London’s Omeara before headlining her very first nationwide tour across the UK the following April. In June, she would begin to open up for Olivia Rodrigo on the European leg of her “Sour” tour.
Latham’s Baby Kingdom rapidly increased in fans overnight when she released her single “Colours Of You,” an original song provided for the soundtrack of Netflix’s hugely-popular “Heartstopper” — a coming-of-age romantic television series. Written about one of the lead characters’ journey to self-discovery and acceptance of their sexuality, the song would become a fan-favorite and intrigue a legion of new listeners. Coincidentally, it was her debut single “Internet Religion” that ultimately helped her get the gig. The show’s executive producer, Patrick Walters, sent the song to Alice Oseman, the author of the “Heartstopper” books, which resulted in the pair taking a deeper dive into Latham’s back catalogue. Her already-released songs, “Want Me,” “Buzzkill,” and “Dover Beach,” were already set to feature in the show when she had originally heard from the “Heartstopper” team. But, upon watching the first three episodes, Latham felt the story and her music were a perfect match. “Patrick told me they would love for me to be as involved as I’d like to be, so I went home that day and started writing more music. I sent them ‘Colours Of You’ two weeks later and the rest is history I guess,” Latham explains.
Her association with the show is what she considers to be a “dream come true” and something she feels “so lucky” to be a part of. Not only that, but Latham, who chooses not to define her sexuality, wishes she had this sort of uplifting representation when she was growing up in her teens. “I'm so happy a young person can turn on Netflix now and watch a show that isn't some weird sexualized taboo story, in which gay, bisexual, asexual, and trans people are represented,” she says. “It holds up a kind of mirror to people and they suddenly don't feel so alone. There was nothing like that on television when I was younger. The queer storylines were always secondary and scandalous or dark and twisted. Nobody could relate to it and there was no representation of real authentic love there.”
Latham continues: “Alice is a true visionary and really, a teacher to so many people. She is doing more for the LGBTQIA+ community than most people realize and I think probably changing the way a lot of people outside the community feel about it. Hatred towards a certain group of people comes from a place of misinformation and stays alive because of a lack of representation or humanization of that group. Alice is telling stories about love and life and the struggles of growing up in this generation through the eyes and ears of so many different characters from different races with different sexualities, and by doing that she's ultimately giving a voice to everybody who sees themselves in those characters. Being part of something like that is beautiful in every way.”
Reflecting over her recent milestones, it appears Latham can be her worst critic at times. That’s not because she isn’t happy with where she’s currently at or isn’t proud of her achievements or music. It’s down to the fact that she knows she has so much more to offer as an artist. “A few years ago I would’ve looked at somebody in my position and thought they were living the dream, but it’s hard to feel that way about yourself. I struggle to look at things with perspective because I’m still right in the thick of it and I’m very hard on myself,” she says. “I know my life has changed drastically in the past year and I couldn’t be more grateful for that, but the real stuff doesn’t change all that much. I’m still me at the end of the day and I still have so much I want to do.”
She’s fairly recently just finished being on the road with fellow singer-songwriter Conan Gray, who she opened up for each night during the North American leg of his tour. “It was a complete culture shock in the best way possible,” she says. “I flew into Chicago, for the first time ever, and then flew to play a show in Missouri the next day. I had only ever been to New York and Los Angeles before that, so it was honestly completely fascinating.” She states that Gray is one of the biggest musicians she has ever met, as well as one of the nicest too. “His fans were so welcoming. I was definitely tired by the time I got to America because I hadn't really had much of a break since August, two months before the tour started, so I had to push myself through a lot of it, but it was worth it.”
With a schedule that is clearly non-stop, we guess that debunks Latham’s claims in her latest single that she’s “too fucking lazing.” She says, “If I didn't love this job more than anything in the world, I would probably never turn up.” Fresh from a “glorious” two-week break, Latham has been in the studio every day and plans to keep it that way for the time being. “My only focus right now is making music,” she declares. After putting out two projects, the time has come for Latham to start mapping out her debut album, something which she is taking very seriously and hasn’t been the most laid-back process.
“It’s been the most mentally challenging experience for me. I’m so obsessed with the idea of an album and always have been, and I’ve been really afraid of making the wrong move sonically or creatively, so over-thinking has definitely been the biggest hurdle for me to overcome,” she explains. Latham shares that she recently had a meeting with her A&Rs for them to listen to the 60+ songs she has been working on and admits that she still doesn’t feel like she’s created enough records that are worthy of being part of a full-length LP. “The reality is that this album has changed direction in my head at least 3 different times,” Latham says. “I’ve reached a point where I just want the very best however-many songs to make up my first album, regardless of how people want to perceive the sound or the direction of the record.”
While fans patiently wait for Latham to finish what will become her first studio album, she hopes to have a career where she will no longer “have to worry that one-day people might not come to my shows.” She concludes: “I'd love to just know that I get to do this forever, but I'd also really like to stroke Taylor Swift's cats and go to the Grammys.”
Listen to Baby Queen's latest single, “LAZY”out now.