Meg Atkinson | 10/06/2021
All hail Baby Queen. The one who creates songs with the lyricism that will have you crying in the middle of a supermarket (yes, that’s true! I did that). Bella, AKA Baby Queen, graces us with her longest form of music so far. This 10-track mixtape, The Yearbook, released on the 3rd of September, captures the feeling of our lost and depressed generation. She gets it. She creates the soundtrack. It feels like Therapy. Pop has never felt so imperfectly perfect.
But how is Baby Queen and what’s happening now the mixtape is out to the world? As soon as I greet Bella on Zoom, she apologises for not being well from a Summer filled with performing at festivals such as Reading and Leads and 110 Above. She reveals, “I just think my body just cannot hack it. I’m just not fit enough so I’m going to need to start running or some sh*t.”
Even though Bella has not been feeling great, we talk about the release of the mixtape and what the reaction has been over the past week.
“For me, it feels like a really nice chapter closing and fresh chapter opening. Obviously, I’ve been in bed for most of it and just been pretty crazy and I’ve been feeling like shit so haven’t gauged the response as much as I usually would have. But it feels really nice to feel like I can sort of close off an era and just focus on writing a little bit. So that’s a nice feeling.”
I think we all want to know what track I was crying to around the supermarket, “Dover Beach Pt. 2.” Its truth cuts right through you. Brutal honestly with oneself. Wanting to know more about the track that comes before, “Dover Beach”, we talk about how I used to go to Dover a lot as a child and why Bella decided to dedicate songs to that coastline.
“I studied a poem in school called “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold and it’s really melancholic, like grey, but really beautiful kind of painful description of “Dover beach” with the wide cliffs and the stone beach. I remember in school just being like, ‘Oh man, I really want to go and visit that place.’ So, I went on a writing trip to go write music and I was like, ‘I’m going to go there,’ and I actually wanted to write a song called “Dover Beach.
“I love that song because you can sort of hear the magic of the place. I mean, I thought it was beautiful. I was staying near a place called St. Margaret’s Bay and it was just so pretty. I loved it. I thought it was magical.”
The yearbook shows Bella bare her soul to the listener in such a matter-of-fact way. There is no flamboyancy given. Like an open book, it feels like her feelings are there on a page. Every track, whether that’s “These Drugs”, “You Shaped Whole”, “Raw Thoughts” or “Fake Believe”, they each have a purpose and original story yet collectively coming together to fit this general mood within the mixtape of being very introspective whilst recognising the generational issues around us. I ask Bella how important it is, to be honest within her music.
“I think it’s the most important thing in the world to me! I never wanted to specifically write about mental health, but I think Cuz I’m such a mentally ill human being. Being honest means speaking about mental health.”
“I think that so many people struggle with mental health and so many different degrees in so many different types of mental health like anxiety and body dysmorphia and depression and as our relationship with our identities online becomes more intertwined, our mental stability is kind of weakened. I think that we’re basically f*cked, everyone’s basically absolutely f*cked.
“So, when I started releasing music, speaking about my struggles, it was amazing to see that so many people well, not amazing, obviously, but a real wake up call to me that so many people are going through so much all the time. And so, you know, honesty has become even more important to me. I want to push honesty as far as I possibly can. The more honest I can be, the more I can really connect to the music and the less alone we’ll all feel.”
Listening to Bella talk as honestly as her music lets on, I want to take a deeper dive into some of the tracks that really do focus on the struggles of mental health. The closing track on the mixtape, “I’m A Mess”, holds this stream of consciousness within its verses and a clear repetitive realisation that “I’m a mess” in the chorus. There is a line within this track that hits me with my own struggles ‘and I plan for self-improvement, but I never really change.’ I ask Bella about this line within the track.
“I was just speaking to my therapist about like, ‘I’m gonna start exercising next week. I’m going to do this; I’m going to do this.’ I think it’s like a little sort of to make yourself feel better in the present things are going to change, which I think is kind of like a survival mechanism in a way. But I think it’s a constant work in progress. You never arrive at the end of any sort of journey, because it’s just sort of spherical. I don’t want to get too serious.
“I wrote that song about just driving myself fucking mad because you want to be a certain person and you just can’t fucking do it. You just can’t and probably never will. You know what I mean? I think it’s like that, like, I never stopped being a mess. I think I just came to terms with the fact that that’s what I am and you’re not, you know what I mean? It’s like, Fuck, man. I still struggle with it all the time.”
“Narcissist” is another track on The Yearbook that needs dissecting further. With the growth of Instagram life, warped interpretations of everyone’s lives and appearances, why the hell aren’t we all narcissists? I ask Bella about this almost self-reflection track.
“I knew that I wanted to write a song called “narcissist”. Sometimes I’ll find a word and I know it’s a great concept or whatever. I wrote it a bunch of times and the first time I wrote it; it was about all the reasons why I’m a narcissist, and it was a very different song. I sort of went back and rewrote it.
“Honestly, I think we go through the school of narcissism growing up and being on social media, it’s everything. The whole of society and the whole of consumer culture is designed to make us dislike ourselves but more importantly, to focus on ourselves, like our face, our exterior, presents our means to success or popularity or fame and to focus on ourselves.
“So, I think that we’re taught to promote ourselves, you know, we’re taught the pictures of yourself get the most likes. I guess it’s just a situation. And I think, with social media, it’s something that’s literally only getting worse. I guess we’ll see what happens. I’m not going to have any kids, but someone else’s kids can figure it out.”
Releasing this mixtape must be very cathartic for Bella to release, it’s been cathartic for me but, how does Baby Queen deal with everyday life and the struggles of life as an artist? Bella talks so openly about her recent struggles with depression.
“Everything’s like a learning curve. I was so depressed about three months ago that I thought that I had to quit being Baby Queen, like genuinely 100%. I was like, either I have to not be alive like I have to end my life or quit, and that’s a place that I never thought that I’d be in.
“So, you think that you have stuff figured out, but you never really do. More important to me is just having really, really strong good quality relationships with other people in my life. There’s no one left in my life that is a relationship that doesn’t fully feed both sides. Just really good quality people that really care about you. That’s been really important to me.
“I’m really bad at it, but I think a routine is massive and being able to exercise is massive. Looking after yourself can be really helpful to me and creating. Constantly feeling like you’re doing something that is significant because the feeling of depression obviously often comes from feeling pointless. So, I feel like to create some sort of purpose and to be able to separate the long span of time, that is like a year or whatever, and be able to punctuate it with things and keep setting things that you are excited for. I mean, who knows? I mean, I’m still f*cking depressed so...”
And keeping Busy is what Bella is doing. From having a summer filled with shows, just playing TRNSMT festival in Edinburgh, what’s next for Baby Queen and the Baby Kingdom?
“I’ve got going on tour with Sea Girls and have some headline shows in London at the end of the year; working on finishing the debut album which hopefully finish that before the end of this year; Then a whole bunch more touring. It’s going to be really nice to have a break from releasing for a little bit because I think I’m just like sick to death of myself right now. So, it’s gonna be nice.”
Coming to the end of our very therapeutic chat, I must ask Bella what we can expect from her debut album?
“The album to me feels very much like I sort of just have reached an artistic place where I’m very much accessing something which I feel like is really authentic, which is great, but it also feels a lot more refined. It’s definitely the best work that I’ve ever done. Topically, I feel like it’s just sort of sky rising where I am in my life at the moment, and it feels like there’s a lot of freedom in it. So, I’m excited. It’s gonna be good.”
Baby Queen is the queen of pop music in my mind right now. Her openness and honesty are what draws you near. There is no pretence. As a listener, we feel heard and seen but we also see and hear her struggles too.
Words: Meg Atkinson