She’s the recording artist you probably haven’t heard of yet, but London-based Arabella Latham — better known by her stage name, Baby Queen — will soon enough be taking this side of the pond by storm. In the queer community, she already has, as her songs from Netflix’s Heartstopper soundtrack have seen a huge boost in streams since the series launched in late April. Her two songs in the series' first episode are among the reasons why the show gets you hooked, and fast.
Born and raised in Durban, South Africa, Latham felt her aspirations for a music career would eventually stall in her home country. So she moved to the U.K. at the age of 18 and soon started work at the Rough Trade East record shop in London. Knowing zero people in the recording industry at first, she scrambled however she could to network within London’s music scene. Meanwhile, she constantly scribbled ideas of lyrics on sticky notes, many of which ended up on what her co-workers called “Bella’s Wall” at the store. The struggle went on for several years, as she hit rough patch after rough patch. Then, to top it off, she lost her job at Rough Trade when the pandemic hit. But several weeks after lockdowns started, Baby Queen signed her first recording deal with Polydor Records.
There’s far more to Baby Queen than her quick rise to stardom. Countless profiles and interviews sum her up as embodying the hopes — and anxieties — of Gen Z. But her music can also resonate with anyone who has become part of, or is thinking of joining, the so-called “Great Resignation," as her lyrics express exasperation with a toxic workplace, social media, homophobia, gender tropes, beauty standards and dismissive attitudes toward mental health.
Editor's note: Be sure to subscribe to our Brands Taking Stands newsletter, which comes out every Wednesday.
Let’s start with one of her breakout songs, “Internet Religion,” which is as much about the impact (or lack thereof, despite what the press releases say) that many of our institutions — including the business community, often has on society — as the lyrics speak about Gen Z angst:
Death and guns and beating the gay kids up
It doesn't happen to you, so why give a f---?
If you can go online just to become
The identity that you construct
Yeah, let's warp the standard of beauty
So none of our little sisters want to eat
Yeah, that's f---ing cool and it's a pity
We can't Facetune personality…
While we’re on the subject of angst and for those who still don’t understand what’s driving Gen Z’s mistrust of our institutions, including technology and media, then be sure to favorite “Narcissist” on YouTube or your preferred streaming app:
When I was just a girl, I read a magazine
It said, "You can have the world if you look pretty
But you'll never be enough, so avoid humiliation
And stop looking for love when all you need is validation"
So I grew up kind of hating myself
And letting all you m-----f-----s monetize my mental health
By making me believe that my personal success
Was dependent on my weight and the way that I dress
I see the same magazine criticize my generation
And I find it kinda weird you'd critique your own creation
But you still go online and call me self-obsessed
Wait! Did you forget who made the internet?
I hate it when you ask me "What's your problem?"
As if you don't already know
For those working within a company that spins its purpose and culture one way publicly, but IRL exhibits a completely different reality — whether internally or by resisting any meaningful social impact — listeners can certainly relate to “Buzzkill:”
Well, I was changing the world, but got distracted by my telephone
In every crowded room I feel unnaturally alone
It's like I'm living in a dream but all the characters are me
I'm disillusioned by the world and I am filled with apathy
All of the cheaters prosper and all of the quitters win
And he's your president because you voted for him…
And while we’re on the topic of whether one truly can contribute — or even be recognized for creativity and strategic thinking — where we work (i.e., that hijacked buzzword, “inclusion"), direct your AirPods at "Wannabe:"
I'm way too clever to talk about the weather
And every rumor ever made up to fit in
F--- being thinner, I'm done with skipping dinner
And looking in the mirror for my ambition
To all the critics who listen to my lyrics
I'm totally prolific and capable of ruling the world
But to the bitches in West born into riches
Who think it's odd that I kiss girls…
Now, before our Baby Queen playlist suggestions trigger you further, there’s a lighter side to Latham’s work, that is, if life’s complexities and themes of unrequited love qualify as breezier than daily reminders about unfair beauty standards and outdated gender roles. We can start with “Colours of You," the theme song of the teasers Netflix dropped before Heartstopper launched. It's a loving yet haunting poem that illustrates one of the show’s lead character’s journey toward understanding and accepting his sexuality.
Then, of course, there’s "Dover Beach," which is beautifully shot, though Baby Queen does a nice job reminding us that 10 consecutive days of PTO might not be enough to shake one’s current romantic obsession:
Image credit: Treveales via Wiki Commons
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.