It’s around 2pm on a surprisingly warm late September day when Arabella Latham joins me over the phone, much better known as Baby Queen. The alternative-pop star finds herself around halfway through a car journey from London to Nottingham, when on arrival she’ll perform an intimate stripped back set for her diehard supporters. “Driving back after the show is pretty exhausting – not for me, for the driver,” she says, laughing. Baby Queen may now find herself hopping from show to show across the country, but, of course, her journey to get to this point has been far from a smooth ride.
Eight years ago, the 26-year-old took a leap of faith, leaving her home country of South Africa to pursue her music career in London. Back home, she felt a lack of acceptance and struggled to come to terms with her identity and sexuality. So, at just 18, the artist found herself in an entirely new world, at points living on boats in Regents Canal and perhaps going too hard at a raucous house party or two (understandably). Still, these experiences not only helped shape the musician’s artistic identity, resulting in a blend of vulnerability, versatility, introspection and endearing relatability but also her personal development, as she finally had the freedom to become who she wanted to be.
Now, after years of traversing London’s underground music circuit and slowly but surely building up a cult following, Baby Queen is gearing up to release her purest (and most heart-wrenching) release to date: her debut album Quarter Life Crisis, arriving November 10th. As you can probably gather from its title, the project finds the singer-songwriter coming to terms with being in the incredibly isolating purgatory of adulthood and childhood. You know, that period of time where you’re helplessly holding onto your youth, but the impending doom of your 30s is edging ever closer. And although from the outside, it may seem like you have your shit together, compared to the other twenty-somethings around you, you couldn’t be further.
Throughout the album, she touches on unrequited love, tackles the suffocating loneliness that comes with a career in the music industry, and questions what’s the point of it all. Overall, Quarter Life Crisis acts as an amalgamation of all things that allowed Baby Queen to resonate with so many, in particular her confidence in pulling inspiration from some of the most difficult periods of her life. Think of it as a peek into Baby Queen’s diary over the past few years, with each and every detail – both the good and the bad – spelt out to you with visceral detail. It’s Baby Queen at her most raw and unfiltered, with each and every melody, lyric, and drum kick packing an emotional punch that sits with you long after the album is finished. And despite the immense pressure and self-doubt that came along during its production, it’s a defining project for the artist that cements herself as one of this generation’s most honest storytellers.
So, your album Quarter Life Crisis is coming in November. How are you feeling about it’s release right now?
Baby Queen: You know what, I’m actually feeling really good about it, and I’m really confident in it. I really think the more time that you get, the more space you get between the writing of it, the more you can appreciate it as a thing that you’re no longer picking apart and sort of deconstructing. So, I’m just excited for people to hear it.
How long have you been working on it overall?
Baby Queen: There are songs on there that I started writing maybe five years ago. But then there are a lot of songs that I only wrote in December of last year. And some of those songs I’ve taken three years, coming back to them consistently for them to get to a point where they were good enough to be on that record. So, I would say five years, but three years in a more focused way and probably like two months of hyper-focus bringing it all together.
Have you had time to unwind since it’s been turned in, or have you just been straight onto the next thing?
Baby Queen: When I turned it in, it was amazing. It felt like a full-circle moment for me, especially because of many of the themes I was dealing with in the album. So, yeah, I had some time to myself, which was nice because the writing process was incredibly intense.
I was reading an interview, and you said the whole process of making the album was “traumatic”, and that you had this fear of not being good enough throughout. Is that something you’ve always dealt with when making your music, or was it because of the pressure of a debut album?
Baby Queen: I think it’s a few things. I’m very self-critical, and I expect high standards from myself. So that’s always going to be there, and I’ll experience that on any album I write or anything I care about. But I definitely think that the word “album” is just a really heavy one for me. I just respect albums a lot. I worked at Rough Trade records store before signing to Polydor, and the album is like the most revered thing. For me, all my favourite artists, and my favourite music in my life have been defined by albums, so there was a lot of pressure on that moment. I also think it felt like I was writing a second album because of how much music I’d had out. So, it was like second album syndrome, but with the whole pressure of a debut album. I’m just very, very glad that it’s over.
So, the title is Quarter Life Crisis. What was the point where you realised that you were going through a quarter-life crisis?
Baby Queen: So I was working on getting all of these songs over the line, trying to figure out which ones were rising to the top and which were making it into the final tracklist. And I realised that many of the themes I was dealing with were me looking back at the past, looking forward to the future, and feeling an inability to grow up and be an adult. I was just questioning my life, questioning where I belong and what the point of all of it is.
I was having a conversation with my cousin’s girlfriend and explaining to her some of the themes on the album. And she said it sounded like a quarter-life crisis. And I was like, “Damn, that’s really cool, what is that?” Because I’d never heard of it. I didn’t know that there was another type of crisis other than a midlife crisis. And I googled it, and it was a phrase that I had, unbeknownst to me, been looking for for ages. Then I wrote that down, held on to that phrase, and I really wanted to write a song with that title. It was nice to give a name to the overriding feelings that I have been experiencing.
In the title track, you mention being stuck in this middle ground of adulthood and your younger years. Do you think having a fear of growing old is something you’ve struggled with?
Baby Queen: I think so. I think I fear death in general, getting old and no longer existing. That’s really horrible to me. I’m very childish and immature, and I think that my inner child is still very much alive. So I think that I’m definitely scared of growing up, and more so now that it’s actually happening.
I’m about to turn 25, so I completely understand the feeling!
Baby Queen: Good luck, that’s all I’ll say!
Do you think you’ve come to accept it a bit more now that you’ve put it all out there in this album?
Baby Queen: I think so. Writing music is always a way to understand and make sense of the things you’re feeling, to unpack it all, and I think the process of writing this album really made me grow up in a way. What was expected of me as having to hit all those deadlines and turn up and show up every day actually made me grow up, which is the antithesis of what I’m singing about. So it’s quite funny that that happened, but I don’t ever think that you find any resolution. I think there are no real answers, but I guess you feel more comfortable in your own skin.
One of my personal favourites on the album is ‘Die Alone’, where you’re talking about the difficulties of maintaining relationships alongside your career. How much of a struggle has that aspect of things been like?
Baby Queen: That’s one of my favourites too! And yeah, it’s been Impossible. I think initially, the space that Baby Queen took up in my life and the space that it took up in my brain meant that there was no space for anything else. And I always feel like it’d be a horrible situation if I were to date someone – it would be like bringing somebody into this encompassing thing that revolves around Baby Queen. It’s difficult, and I have tried to date people since it all began, but there’s just been so much touring in the past two years, and everything just sort of fizzles out.
It must be incredibly difficult to maintain. Do you think you’re envious of the people who don’t have that restriction?
Baby Queen: Yeah, I definitely am. I’m envious of people that have a person in their life. Everyone wants to be loved and understood. So, I definitely am jealous of people that have that. But I also know the grass is always greener on the other side. And when I speak to people in relationships, they always say it’s not all great and awesome. I wanted this life so much that you have to accept that there are some things you must give up or forfeit.
What would you say was the most difficult song for you to write on the album from an emotional standpoint?
Baby Queen: From an emotional point of view, it was a song that I put off for a really long time, which was ‘Obvious’. Every time I sat down and tried to put lyrics to that melody, I would just cry, and I didn’t finish it for a really long time.
You left South Africa at 18 to come to the UK and pursue music. Do you think you would ever develop into the musician you are today who’s confident enough to talk about all these issues like mental health and your sexuality If you stayed in South Africa?
Baby Queen: No, definitely not. I think that my identity was quite repressed, and I had a lot of hatred towards myself for my sexuality, and I was really ashamed of it. It was only after moving to London that I felt like I had the space and the freedom to become who I always wanted to be, but I never would have had the courage to become that person if I didn’t get space from those expectations back home.
I think London’s just such an accepting place where you can be whoever you want to be because everyone’s focused on their own shit, and it’s kind of like nobody cares. Which can be harsh, but it can also be really freeing. It’s been a long, long, long journey. It’s only now that I feel I’m not pretending or playing, and I no longer hate myself for being myself anymore.
You recently featured on the Heartstopper soundtrack for the second time, and you also made a cameo in the new season. Is acting something you’d like to get into in the future?
Baby Queen: Yeah, I was “Prom Singer” on IMDB [laughs]. And actually, drama was my major in school. I really wanted to be an actress. I didn’t know whether I’d be better at music or at acting. But I think that you just sort of do one thing, and you stick to it because it’s very difficult to do it all.
I liked music’s ability to be part of the creation. I know, as an actress, you can be, but maybe I’d be more drawn to writing scripts. I want to be like a Phoebe Waller-Bridge type. Write the script and then act in it as well.
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have of Baby Queen?
Baby Queen: I think the biggest misconception might be about me as a songstress. I’ve always been very aware that people want to understand something and the parameters of it and put it into a box. I love writing music and making it, and throughout my life, I’ve made music in many different genres. So, when it came to creating Baby Queen, in a way, because you really are creating an alter ego in a sense, I was very aware of the parameters of Baby Queen. I could sit down at a piano and write a song that’s not hyper-satirical and cynical, but would it feel like it’s quintessentially Baby Queen?
I’ve been down a rabbit hole recently of listening to old demos that I made before the Baby Queen music, the era of songwriting just before that. It was so different. It really was. So, yeah, I can definitely still expand the parameters of it all.
What would you say has been the most fulfilling moment or aspect of your career?
Baby Queen: I think when you’re younger, you feel like the most fulfilling thing is the attention you get. You think that’s what will fill the hole when you go into a career like this. But I think recently, for me, my greatest happiness and sense of accomplishment has come from finishing this album. The harrowing process of creating something really important to you and ending that process with that sense of fulfilment is the greatest happiness I’ve ever experienced.
So, one last question. Obviously, you have the album coming very soon. Is there anything else you have planned for the year, both personally and music-wise?
Baby Queen: On October 31st, we go on tour in the UK, and then we go to America and play two shows, which will be so much fun. And then I’m going to South Africa soon to film some stuff out there. I feel very excited, but It’s a very heavy schedule from now until the end of the year, so I’m just trying to stay calm.