Baby Queen named her debut mixtape The Yearbook because she wanted it to feel like a coming-of-age film. "This whole body of work was written during a time of my life that was so developmental," the artist born Bella Latham tells Apple Music. "When I listen to it now, it sounds like all the different characters you play when you're growing up, and all the intense emotions you feel, like extreme happiness and extreme pain. I wanted people to feel like they could grow up with me listening to the music." The South Africa-born East Londoner says she always knew this savagely honest and personal body of work was a mixtape rather than a traditional album. "For me, an album is something that is incredibly sonically cohesive, whereas these songs were sort of written as singles," she says. "Each song has its own character and we followed specifically what it wanted in terms of production—not necessarily what the project as a whole wanted."
For this reason, The Yearbook serves as a catchy showcase for the breadth of Baby Queen's spiky alt-pop sound, pinging between synthy anthems ("Raw Thoughts"), melancholic midtempo ("Dover Beach"), and chugging guitar pop ("American Dream"). Along the way, there are also affecting spoken-word interludes that matter hugely to an artist who takes palpable pride in her lyrics. "I liked the idea of breaking up this mixtape with poetry because it's really nice to have a moment where the words can just completely shine through," she says. Read on for Latham’s track-by-track recollections on The Yearbook.
"This was originally a poem I wrote about the desire to rebel against the way people want you to fit a certain mold and life. I guess it's a manifesto about freedom and finding a space that is entirely yours. That's what the ‘Baby Kingdom’ is for me, and what being Baby Queen has really brought to life."
"I think this song is going to haunt me for a really long time because it's just a really good song. And annoyingly, it came [to me] in about 15-20 minutes. I started writing it after a really crazy night out in East London, when I was honestly so hung over. I was going through a really bad breakup at the time—my ex was in LA with this beautiful supermodel and I was living this sort of broke-ass gremlin life running around London getting wasted. So this song is really about the confusion of being so heartbroken but also having all this newfound freedom."
"You Shaped Hole"
"This is about the same breakup. I can remember writing the melody while walking through the park. I don't know where I was going, but I just started singing, 'There's a hole inside of me and it's shaped like you,' into my voice notes. I love the concept of having this hole that was cut out of my body that I was trying to fill by cramming with so many things. But because the hole was shaped like one particular person, all these things could never reach the corners. I was trying to fill the hole with alcohol, kissing people, new experiences—all the stuff you do during a breakup to try and escape your feelings. At that point in my life, I was just on a rampage."
"American Dream" (feat. MAY-A)
"I came up with the concept when I went on a writing trip to this farm in Bath—it was just one horse, one cow, and me. And I had this idea of comparing the desire to be with someone—and the dream or illusion that you have of someone—with the American dream, which is something that people also have such preconceived notions about. In both cases you think something is going to be a certain way, but it often isn't what you expect, and that was a really interesting concept to me.”
"This song is very specific and opinionated. I don't think anyone else could sing these words but Baby Queen, which is why I like it so much. My generation, Gen Z, is criticized for being narcissistic, but there are very specific reasons why we are this way. We grew up with social media and the internet, being fed this message: 'Focus on yourself, obsess over yourself. It's all about aesthetics and how you're perceived.' I wanted to take back ownership of that word and say, 'Yeah, I am a fucking narcissist, but here's why: You started it.' Because if you don't accept your flaws, how can you even begin to work through them?"
"One of my favorite poems as a kid was ‘Dover Beach’ by Matthew Arnold, so it was always this really romanticized place in my head. So when I had time for another writing trip, I was like, 'I'm going to Dover!' It was a pretty amazing experience to write a song called 'Dover Beach' when you're actually there. There's something very magical about the white cliffs and the sea air and seeing the ocean in front of you. The concept of this song is very romantic in a way. It's about going to a place you've dreamed about your whole life, but instead of experiencing it fully and having a great time, everything you see is taken over by the object of your affection. So it's a bit like: ‘Fuck you! Now you've even stolen Dover Beach from me!’"
"Dover Beach, Pt. 2"
"This is a poem I wrote at the same time about the same person—it’s a continuation of the story that adds depth to those feelings. Originally we were going to outro ‘Dover Beach’ with the piano sound you hear here, but I remember saying: 'This feels like something else; I think there's room for another story here.' So I went through my notebooks and found these ideas that became the lyrics."
"This song really changed my career because it's so starkly honest and seeing people respond to that was incredible for me. I've never been addicted to anything really, but I have definitely had a bad relationship with substances and partying—especially during this dark time of my life where I felt like a failure. Because I hated myself so much, I would go out partying all night so I could reach this point where it was like I could switch off my brain. Really, this song is about my deep self-hatred and realizing you can't block out that feeling with anything, because if you do, you wake up feeling worse and it becomes this vicious cycle. I felt like I had a duty to tell this story, which is a really great feeling to have when you're writing a song, because it drives you to say something that feels really important."
"I find it really hard to speak about social issues online. The best way for me to say something is through my songs. I wrote this last year when so many Black Lives Matter protests were happening and Donald Trump was in power and I felt really fucking powerless about what was happening in the world. The way that I deal with things is through satire, so this song is written from the perspective of someone who would go to a BLM march with an 'All Lives Matter' sign, or someone who would go to a Pride march and say, 'You're going to hell because you’re gay.' I want to laugh at them because being laughed at is what they would like the least."
"I'm a Mess"
"Lyrically, this is my favorite song I've ever written. It details what it's like to have depression, because at the time, I felt like I couldn't even be bothered to get out of bed. It's kind of weird for me to listen back to this song now, because it's like: 'Wow, that was a really bad place for me to be in.' I'm sure there will be moments where I go back to feeling that way again, but putting those thoughts out there definitely helped me. I think being honest allows you to take responsibility and own your faults, so you can kind of become one with them. From that point on, at least you're not deceiving yourself anymore."