Baby Queen Interview: The Music Industry Pits Female Artists Against Each Other

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aby Queen, real name Bella Lathum, may only be at the start of her career, but she already counts Courtney Love among her friends and mentors. “I went through a period where we were hanging out a bit and she gave me the best advice in the whole world,” the 24-year-old smiles from her London flat. “She said, ‘don’t call yourself a pop star, call yourself a rock star – they stay longer and they get away with more.

The Hole singer posted her love for Lathum’s music on social media and the pair began messaging each other online. Shortly after, Love asked Lathum to meet, and she flew to America at Love’s house. “I went there and I was like, ‘Who’s knocking on Courtney Love’s door?! That was absolutely ridiculous,’ she laughs, saying that standing on Love’s porch, waiting for her to answer , was a surreal experience.She offered Lathum some “inspirational” advice – something she could have done at the age of 18, when she left her home and family in South Africa for London, with the dream of pursuing a career in music.

The journey to Lathum’s acclaimed 2021 mixtape, the agonizing pop-punk collection The Yearbook, hasn’t been easy. Once here in the UK, Lathum initially attended music school and found the experience difficult, not least because the environment did little to support his ADHD. This meant that she often talked in class, fidgeted or daydreamed – something that often got her into trouble. “My teachers said, ‘Stop drifting, come back to earth!’ But I said to myself, ‘don’t come back to earth’, because that’s where I was in my little magical world and that’s where the music came from. It didn’t come from the environment in which I was: I must have imagined it.

Lathum soon stopped attending classes. “My attendance was horrible because I was just smoking weed in a nearby park,” she laughs. “Songwriting isn’t something you can sit and learn in a room and that’s what I was doing. What happened was I met [music industry] people across [college] and I was very driven, meeting people, staying with them,” she explains, saying she would play her music to anyone who listened in between shipping demos to labels. The experience was much harder than she ever imagined. “I went to all the record companies… and nobody gave any away,” she recalls. Eventually, some showed an interest – but they didn’t have his best interests at heart.

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Her early managers wanted her to follow what everyone else was doing, hoping to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible. “A manager’s responsibility is to look after the artist’s health. There were a lot of things that no one had prepared me for and there were a lot of things that I didn’t feel supported for…it was nothing more than a business deal. Lathum says they constantly asked her to look at what other “more successful” female artists were doing in hopes that she would emulate them.

“It was very good: ‘you are do this trend,’” she says of how she was pushed to her limits by industry professionals. “It got to a point where I had a complete identity crisis. I was lying on the couch and couldn’t move for days… it became very difficult for me to piece together what I stood for as an artist and what I was forced to do on the internet It’s been the hardest thing of my fucking life trying to stay true to who I am The more you let other people get in your ear and tell you to do things, [the more] you’re going to get away from what you really represent as an artist.

“The music industry is designed to pit female artists against each other,” she continues. “Tags will be like ‘Look what she’s doing…have you seen her TikTok? You are designed to be compared and that is the thief of success. I always say if you put on your blinders and run your race you’ll get there but if you watch this [another person] fact, you will stumble and not reach your finish line.

For a time, Lathum was in very real danger of not reaching that finish line. The pressure to keep up with others continued, both in music and behind the scenes where she was now introduced to a world of drink and drugs at a young age. Unhappy with the direction in which she was being taken (“I was really, really depressed,” she says), she began to “empty herself” frequently as a means of escape. “The music industry is the worst,” she frowns, saying she has done little to protect vulnerable teenagers entering it for the first time. “The whole industry is screwed up and everyone’s wasted, all the time. When you’re really broke you’re lost, you feel like shit, you feel like a failure and I felt like a fucking joke , it’s really easy to feel like it’s pointless, and it’s easy to pick up bad habits when you’re so down.

Things continued to spin around. “It got really, really bad, so bad that I was completely suicidal.” Recognizing how serious things had become, she made the decision to eliminate many people from her life, including those who were in charge of her career as well as friends at the time. “They all f**king hated me for it and they thought I was ab****, but I realized…being with them meant I was going to be on drugs for the rest of my life .”

A turning point came when she was offered a major label deal and found herself surrounded by people concerned about her mental health and well-being for the first time since arriving in the UK. “I am in a good situation now, but I was in a terrible situation,” she says. “I can’t stop thinking about the next girl to be found,” she said, thinking in distress about what happened to her. “I had no idea I was the boss.”

Her new label gave her carte blanche to pursue the musical direction she wanted to follow, rather than anyone else’s and she saw herself, for the first time, as that boss. She channeled her previous experiences into the critically acclaimed The Yearbook, with each song a cinematic vignette or film reel of a moment in her life, be it her depression, her undefinable sexuality (she refuses to put that in a category), his problems with drug addiction or the pressure of being compared to others in the digital age.

The latter in particular resonated with a generation of young people who spent their teenage years growing up through the lens of social media. On the standout mixtape track, ‘Internet Religion’, Lathum sings “If you can go online just to become / The identity you build /… let’s twist the standard of beauty / So that none of our little sisters will eat.” She says social media caused her many problems growing up, including body dysmorphia. “It’s all so fake,” she says of the platforms, “so tasteless and unreal…nobody can be real on the internet…even by nature deciding which part of yourself you’re going to show , you will never be real.

She continues, “I think jealousy and bragging and all those aspects of the internet are still really, really bad. I lost my phone on Friday so I had a weekend without my phone and that’s the first five days I’ve gone without comparing myself to another artist… that’s because we don’t post only the best things that happen to us, so it really becomes a bragging platform…we’ve been focusing on that numbers thing,” she says of the amount of “likes” that a message receives. “It becomes a way of classifying how significant and important you are.”

Lathum says she’ll continue to explore topics like this on her new album as she continues to “get it all figured out.” She writes this now and points to three guitars that hang on the wall behind her. “There’s more guitars than I’ve ever had before,” she says, like on preview track Wannabe, which arrived late last year. “I used to listen to a lot of ’90s rock,” Lathum says of writing the track, Love having made him a playlist with bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead. The result? “It’s the best shit ever,” she says enthusiastically of her new songs.

As for the future, she’s in it for the long haul and goes back to Love’s quote about rock star longevity. “I was very driven to get where I wanted to go…the thing about music [industry] is that he constantly depresses you. You’ll be screwed, but I left my fucking house when I was 18, my whole family, so there’s no giving up,” she says determinedly. “There is death and there is pursuit, literally. You get the f**k, you sort your shit out and off you go.

Baby Queen performs at the Electric Ballroom on April 27. Her single Colors of You is out now.