By Izzy Fraser, Second Year English
I was overjoyed when I saw the opportunity to review Baby Queen and having seen the singer-songwriter at Brighton Pride in 2022 I was expecting a night of rock-pop-indie angst, characterised by a coming-of-age-feel. While the coming-of-age feel was ever-present, what I was not expecting was the small crowd, low lighting and to leave the gig genuinely feeling like I knew the artist. Arabella Latham, known better as Baby Queen took us on a journey of both new music and fan-beloved tracks, delving into her writing process for each song.
The artist explained how important it is to her to share the stories behind her art. As such, she frequently spoke on her upbringing in South Africa and her decision to move to London at 18 to pursue a career in music. This move catalysed a strained relationship with substances that she used to counteract depression; however, it was around this time in 2017 when she wrote “the first ever Baby Queen song”, 'Raw Thoughts'. The song took 20 minutes to write and adopts her characteristic stream-of-consciousness style, conversational lyrics and “uncomfortably honest” take on taboo topics such as drug use and mental health. “Bella”, (as her tour manager called her) found difficulty in obtaining a record deal, however after six years living in London she signed to Polydor Records, and that was the beginning of the Baby Queen project.
The relaxed tone of the gig was established before I entered the Rough Trade venue room, as Baby Queen herself was taking snapshots in the photo booth with her prod team. Coming out of the booth, she noticed a young fan of around 6 years old (parent of the year award goes to this tiny fan’s mum) and immediately came over to speak to the starstruck little one, taking photos with her and complimenting her home-made t-shirt. I will admit, this was one of the most wholesome interactions I’ve ever witnessed.
Upon entering the venue, fairy lights and a pink wash illuminated the stage, reflecting the feminine angst that Baby Queen’s songs retained despite the understated acoustic set. Only Bella and one other musician sat on stage; he accompanied with guitar or keyboard throughout and occasionally sung harmonies, which elevated the richness of the performance undeniably. The absence of a full band allowed space for the audience to focus on Bella both physically and within the music, exposing her vast range of vocals. The first track she played was 'Kid Genius', the second track on her upcoming album. This song encompassed the idea that "the internet gives everyone a voice even if they don’t deserve to be listened to." This quite serious message was juxtaposed by an upbeat rhythm, catchy chorus, and comic lyrics such as “you are so uncool if you don’t disable upper case”, a cultural reference that got a genuine laugh from the mostly Gen Z audience.
This light-hearted opening was contrasted by the next song, track four of her upcoming album, 'Die Alone' (cheery, I know). The rich tones of Bella’s low range were showcased in this self-depreciating, self-pitying but all too self-aware ballad accompanied by keyboard. Lyrics such as “everybody’s got somebody, I’ve got ADD”, along with extended pauses and staccato piano rhythms came together to create a truly unique musical experience. Bella followed these new tracks with the fan-favourite, quintessentially queer hit “Dream Girl” released in the summer of this year. While the artist is open about her own queerness and is also placed within a queer artistic culture due to her heavy featuring in the soundtrack of hit Netflix show Heartstopper, this wasn’t a topic that she delved into, unlike other aspects of her life. She simply stated, “It’s pretty clear what that one’s about”, which was received with a knowing laugh from the audience.
The next three songs (all from her upcoming album) focused on the topic of getting older and reminiscing on one’s younger self: 'Grow Up', track 6, 'A Letter to my 17-Year-Old Self', track 12, and 'Obvious', track 8 that she played herself on piano. She explained that when she wrote the refrain for 'Grow Up' she got goosebumps, which is something that “all songwriters wish for” and the track unlocked a completely new direction for the record. It was at this reminiscent part of the evening that Bella explained leaving her family in South Africa, and due to it having been a dream of hers to move to London to pursue music, she ever grieved leaving home. She deemed that this was something she “couldn’t ignore” in the album Quarter Life Crisis. In her authentic, humorous way, she provided light relief in this emotionally heavy part of the set by explaining “There were bangers [from the album] I couldn’t translate onto guitar and piano, so consequently this is just a really emo gig”.
Elevating the mood, Baby Queen played the already released 'Quarter Life Crisis', the titular song on the debut album being released on the 10th of November, and the singer-songwriter explained how she wrote the song after all other tracks in the album were completed. Finally, maintaining the upbeat mood, 'We Can be Anything', one of the artist’s most popular songs was played which was a complete crowd pleaser, involving audience participation. Standing in a room full of fans singing “We can be anything, that’s awesome don’t you think” was a truly joyful experience, and it felt like we all left the gig knowing so much more about the artist through her history, motivators, and inspirations, than when we stepped inside.
Featured Image: Nicole Ngai / Chuff Media
Baby Queen will be on tour from the 31 October- 21 November and is performing at the Trinity Centre in Bristol on the 14th of November. See you there.